Developing Emerging Leaders Through Mentoring

The massive shift of the Christian center of gravity from the North and West to the southern and eastern regions of the globe has been fueled by explosive church growth in many countries of Africa, Asia and Latin America. Increased numbers of converts and of local churches has not resulted, however, in a corresponding increase of competent and Christ-like leaders. At the 2004 Forum for World Evangelization, the Lausanne Issue Group on Future Leadership called for a movement on every continent to develop emerging leaders to meet this pressing need.

Formal educational models cannot possibly keep pace with the leadership needs of the burgeoning Church of the southern hemisphere. One strategy for developing emerging leaders in an informal setting is mentoring. A mentor can be described as a person who intentionally seeks to facilitate the spiritual and ministerial growth of another individual. Mentors come alongside mentees to help them achieve God’s purposes for their lives. The mentoring relationship that results can bring benefits to both mentor and mentee, even as it serves as a catalyst for leadership development.

Scriptural Basis for Mentoring
A Colombian friend of mine with a vision for developing emerging leaders through mentoring gives a concise definition of mentoring when he is queried about it. He just responds, “Mentoring is discipleship the way Jesus did it.” What he means is that it is relational, transmits knowledge in the context of life experience and is focused on God’s purposes in following Christ. While written materials can be of benefit, mentoring is not about going through a book. The example of Jesus as a mentor is one of intentionality and focuses on individuals in order to see them grow in godliness, in effective ministry and in leadership. It is a model of servant leadership and sacrificial love that seeks to guide individuals into a deeper knowledge of God and a deeper understanding of God’s purposes in the world, even as it empowers them to fulfill those purposes.

When Jesus ascended into heaven he did not leave the disciples orphaned and alone. He sent the comforter, the Holy Spirit. Jesus called the Holy Spirit in John 14:26 the paraclete, or “one who is called to someone’s aid.” Paraclete is translated differently in modern versions as “comforter,” “helper” or “counselor.” The Holy Spirit teaches believers and guides them into truth (John 16:13). In the same way, mentors help, counsel and guide mentees in their pilgrimage in life and ministry, always bearing witness of Christ (John 15:26) so that the mentee grows in relationship with the Lord.

One can see mentoring principles in other biblical contexts. For example, Moses seems to mentor Joshua to succeed him as leader of Israel. Elisha was the mentee of Elijah. Paul’s writings indicate his mentoring of his missionary colleagues, Titus and Timothy. Even Paul himself was mentored by Barnabas, who stood by him and sponsored him before the apostles. Barnabas opened doors for Paul in ministry that the Lord used to spread the gospel throughout the Roman Empire. These biblical examples give us insight both to the importance and to the practice of mentoring in the kingdom of God.

The Mentor’s Heart
Mentors are not perfect. Some people may hesitate to mentor an emerging leader because they feel inadequate. Mentors are models for their mentees, and any human model is fallible. But the mentor’s transparency will help the mentee to deal with his or her own struggles. Mentors need to be authentic God-seekers and Christ-followers who are willing to help others in their own development.

Biblical mentors seem to share some key values. They do not attempt to build their own kingdoms, but focus on the kingdom of God. Their leadership is based not on the manipulation of power, but on an attitude of servanthood. Brokenness before the Lord characterized by humility makes their lives compelling to others. They are not lone rangers; they are team players. They have decided to invest in others and make leadership development of others a priority in their ministry.

Putting Mentoring into Practice
Some organizations implement formal mentoring programs where more experienced members are teamed up with younger individuals in order to help them learn the ropes. Studies have shown, however, that informal mentoring based on mutual willingness of the participants is more effective in the long run. Mentoring relationships go through at least three stages.

The first stage is initiation or attraction. At this stage, mentors and mentees see characteristics that draw them together. Mentors may identify potential in an emerging leader and approach that individual to develop a mentoring relationship with him or her. On the other hand, emerging leaders may see individual qualities in a more experienced individual that they may want to emulate, or skills that they wish to develop. When I was in college, I was drawn to the dean of the college by his administrative skills, Christ-like character and steady demeanor. Without any formal agreement, he has become a life-long mentor whom I still seek out for guidance and wisdom.

A second stage in mentoring relationships is the cultivation stage. In the first stage, mentor and mentee often lay out the expectations they have of the relationship. Some commitments may be made as to frequency of communication and the level of transparency they wish to maintain. In the cultivation stage, the relationship begins to bear fruit as mentor and mentee share with one another and face challenges and opportunities together.

The third stage is separation. Most mentoring relationships last anywhere from three to five years. Some may last longer, but separation eventually comes, whether due to changes in assignment, location or the felt needs of the participants. Paul and Barnabas separated even after Barnabas had been used of the Lord to open great doors of opportunity to Paul. This stage can be painful, but it is necessary as the mentee continues to grow developmentally. Often, mentoring relationships will evolve into peer relationships marked by continued mutual support. Wise mentors will be sensitive to this need and will release mentees to pursue God’s vision for his or her life.   

Mentoring Tips
Mentoring is not an exact science, but there are some basic principles that can guide mentors in developing mentoring relationships with mentees. The following are six.

1. Mentors are role models. Mentees are often drawn to mentors because they want to be like them in some area. While communicating information and knowledge is important, mentors should first keep watch over their own lives and ministry so as to maintain an effective example for the mentee to follow.

2. Mentors should pray for and pray with the mentee. The Holy Spirit is the primary agent of spiritual development. Apart from his working in the mentee’s life, the mentor labors in vain.

3. Mentors should seek to provide opportunities for the mentee to gain ministry experience. By sponsoring the mentee, the mentor can often open doors to new leadership development.

4. Mentors should learn to listen to the mentee. Sometimes well-meaning mentors have pat answers for life problems. Trust will grow in the relationship as the mentee senses that the mentor is truly seeking to hear and understand the mentee’s needs.

5. Mentors should give guidance to the mentee. However, unless there are clear scriptural commands at issue, allow the mentee to make his or her own decisions before the Lord. For instance, in considering a change of ministry, help the mentee examine matters of spiritual gifting, call and future goals. But the final decision must rest upon the mentee as he or she takes responsibility for discerning and following God’s will.

6. Mentors should be sensitive to cultural differences that influence the expectations that mentees have of mentoring relationships. Some cultures expect that mentors be more or less directive. Others may require the mentor to be much more paternal and to become much more involved in the mentee’s family and personal life. Some mentors may want to keep a strict schedule, while the host culture may consider relationships far more important than schedules. Cultural sensitivity, wise transparency and a winsome spirit will go a long way in nurturing the mentoring relationship.

Mentoring Resources
Helps for mentors in the leadership development task are readily available. For example, Mentorlink International offers training materials for mentors in several languages, as well as “web-assisted mentoring” for those who cannot find a mentor in their own context. Another interesting site is Mentor and Multiply which offers a number of materials related to mentoring, as well as access to a number of experienced mentors who can be contacted via email for advice and encouragement.

Recommended Reading
Krallmann, Günter. 2002. Mentoring for Mission: A Handbook on Leadership Principles Exemplified by Jesus Christ. Krallmann is a Bible teacher with Youth With A Mission (YWAM) and presents mentoring within the context of world evangelization. He draws principles from Jesus’ own mentoring ministry.

Sanders, Martin. 2004. The Power of Mentoring: Shaping People Who Will Shape the World. Sanders, professor at Alliance Theological Seminary and international leadership consultant, focuses on the key aspect of character development through mentoring.

Johnson, W. Brad and Ridley, Charles. 2004. The Elements of Mentoring. Johnson, a US Naval Academy professor, and Ridley, Johnson’s former teacher at Fuller Theological Seminary, offer fifty-seven concise, practical chapters on the skills and traits of effective mentoring.

Steve Irvin has been a missionary with The Christian and Missionary Alliance since 1982. After twenty years in Colombia, he and his wife now serve in Buenos Aires, Argentina in church planting and leadership development. Irvin is also mentor at large with Mentorlink International.