My ideas about mentoring have been shaped (as it is for us all) by my own experiences as the mentee and also as the mentor. Mentor in the dictionary is defined as “a trusted counselor or guide; one who acts as a coach or tutor.” When I think about mentoring I am reminded of a song by Michael Card, called “The Bearers of Light”:
The Light we must bear is the Light we must share is the Light that illumines the darkness. The promises kept give us strength to accept this burden of bearing the Light. He will walk beside us a strong friend, Barnabas; he will be that sure shoulder to lean on. The promise we share is our burden to bear and our Light tells the darkness to be gone. He will come after me, a young Timothy looking for someone to guide him. I will kindle his Light, make him strong for the fight, I will promise to be there beside him. And so we must claim by His powerful Name the Promise the Bible has spoken. We must understand that a cord of three strands cannot be easily broken. The great need of us all: a true mentor, a Paul, who has traveled the road that's before us. He has made good the pledge to take the Light on ahead; we can follow his footsteps before us.The Light we must bear is the Light we must share is the Light that illumines the darkness. The promises kept give us strength to accept this burden of bearing the Light.
The spiritual relationship that we all need and yet rarely experience in the church today is revealed here in this song. We all need a collection of individuals in our lives to act as anchors and compasses guiding us to a strong walk in Christ.
The first is a “Barnabas” walking alongside us as we negotiate and live out this life in Christ, a brother who encourages and lifts us up and for whom we do the same in close intimate friendship.
Secondly, there is a “Paul” over us and acting as our mentor: teaching, modeling, correcting, and yes, sometimes even admonishing us for how we live, speak, and act as believers.
Finally, there should be at least one Timothy for whom we act as a mentor just as we have been mentored, in whom we raise up the next generation of believers who will carry on this journey of bearing the light for Jesus. This mentee or disciple is someone into whom we pour faithfully what we have learned in this life in Christ.
This seems to be the ideal, to have one of each: a mentor, a brother, and a mentee. But even as I consider this ideal, I have not fully experienced it and I greatly long for it. As I write this, I am struck with the paucity of mentoring by “Pauls” in the church. In an age where it seems that so many men lack the internal drive to grow in Christ and walk faithfully in the world, why does it appear that there are so few mentors around?
I have been mentored by some men, mostly informally and vicariously as I sought to learn from them what they had seemed to have already learned in Christ. I stood at a distance and, for only brief periods, watched carefully and asked questions as to how they lived out this life in Christ and tried to take mental notes and mimic them. Currently, at 55, it is hard to find many men who are drawn to mentor me, seemingly due to a lack of time, lack of knowledge, lack of wisdom, lack of courage, lack of growth, or for lack of a teachable, responsive, and moldable mentee in me.
While time is usually a problem for us all, mentoring relationships seem foreign in the church despite a clear desire for them among many younger men in the church; even wives crave this for their husbands. [Why is there a lack of time despite such a high demand?] A lack of knowledge might be a perceived “intimidation factor” for some potential mentors in that few seem scripturally experienced or at least lack the confidence that they have much to share with another, especially as a mentor for other men near their age. Men may feel similarly about a lack of wisdom, or the ability to see the end of a choice and choose well knowing the likely outcome. And yet finding wise men in our lives that are willing to simultaneously share their wisdom with other men and help them avoid their failings and experience their victories is something that we truly long for. This is hard for me; as men we learn early to not show weakness to others and to put on an air of invincibility and perfection. This then becomes a lack of courage in that it is hard to be vulnerable, transparent, and willing to share our shortcomings with other men through admitting our weaknesses.
Finally, a lack of growth in the church might be the real problem in that it has not taught or emphasized this need among men, even though it seems more evident among the women of the church. I cannot recall a sermon or teaching on mentoring among the many churches, conferences, podcasts, and radio programs I have listened to over the last 34 years.
In contrast, I have had many Christian brothers walking alongside me and still have these relationships currently, and they are a source of great encouragement to me as a male in Christ, keeping me going during times of struggles and trials. I have also had my Timothy’s: those whom I attempt to mentor and openly share my life in Technicolor with all of its weakness and occasional strengths. These relationships have been more numerous as I have sought to do that which I wish I had more of in my own life and have valued so much in my past.
So what are we left with? Continue in the same path we are going or choose to live differently. For me that means I should unashamedly ask those “Paul’s” whom I see to consider mentoring me for a time. It also means that I should double down and invest in more men as their mentors, all the while not neglecting the encouraging the“Barnabaus’es” in my life whom I should also encourage to mentor others.
We all have choices. We all have desires. We all have needs. But we need Someone above us leading and guiding the way, someone alongside us walking with us as a friend; and someone to whom we are leading and guiding as well (at least one). I have been convicted to invest more in mentees and pray more for mentors and as I continue to invest in my fellow “alongside friends” who will hold me accountable and hear my heart and encourage me to continue on.
Scott Stringfield, faculty physician at Via Christi Family Medicine in Kansas also serves as Associate Director and Director of Recruitment for Via Christi Family Residency in Wichita.
My ideas about mentoring have been shaped (as it is for us all) by my own experiences as the mentee and also as the mentor. Mentor in the dictionary is defined as “a trusted counselor or guide; one who acts as a coach or tutor.” When I think about mentoring I am reminded of a song by Michael Card, called “The Bearers of Light”