Here is my definition of spiritual mentoring:
“Spiritual mentoring is an intentional, relational process for spiritual formation by which one person becomes a spiritual guide for one or several others.”
I think a definition is better than a title, such as a spiritual parent or mentor. The bigger question is, what is the relationship about?
A mentor is a guide, not a know-it-all guru.
We need mentors to help guide our development in different areas such as growing into maturity, helping to discern our calling or equipping us for a ministry role like leadership.
Why do I need a mentor or spiritual parent? What if I don’t have one?
A mentor provides at least 4 things that can guide our development. Indeed, you should find these S-A-M-E benefits to be provided in any mentoring relationship:
- Safe place
A mentor provides a safe place to raise questions. Each person’s encounter with life is different as they seek to follow Christ. When they reach a crossroads or encounter difficult or ambiguous situations, a mentor provides a safe place to process questions.
A mentor also provides accountability. Even when we know the right path to take, we need loving accountability — someone to remind us and to nudge us in the right direction.
A mentor models. A mentor teaches by his or her life. They model the truths they want to convey.
Finally, a mentor offers encouragement. Following Jesus in a fallen world is costly. We need loving mentors to encourage us on our journey.
A mentor doesn’t direct us to what we should do. He or she guides us to discover the truth for ourselves through asking questions, listening and sharing stories where appropriate.
Since this is spiritual mentoring, the given is that the Bible properly interpreted is our final authority for belief and practice.
Before inviting a mentor into your life, you must be motivated by a desire to grow so that when tough questions arise, you can remind yourself that they are part of the growth journey.
How do I find a mentor or spiritual parent?
There are no perfect mentors, though great ones have good qualities you can look out for.
Look out for their maturity. Are they people who are compassionate and have genuine respect for others?
Do they have the ability to keep things confidential? In the same vein, do they have a willingness for self-disclosure such that the mentoring relationship is authentic and mutual?
… the best mentoring is mutual. I have learnt so much from the younger people I have mentored.
Look for a mentor who continually reflects on personal questions and experiences, in his or her relationship with God.
Find someone who has the ability to discern the movements of the heart; what the Spirit is doing in the heart of the mentee.
Seek out those who are skilled in the hard labour of attentive, reflective listening — and those who are gifted in recognising potential in people.
Great mentors have an ability to foster an atmosphere of trust, acceptance and space. They are those who can create a relationship of accountability with the mentee.
Generally, the mentor should be older than the mentee.
That said, the best mentoring is mutual. I have learnt so much from the younger people I have mentored.
We need to learn from both men and women depending on the context.
We will learn different things from those in our church and those from other churches. The key thing is that mentors must be mature and biblical.
What does a journey with a mentor or spiritual parent look like?
Most mentoring journeys have four phases:
- Get to know each other
- Agree on the details of the journey
- Walk together
- End well
Details of the mentoring journey depend on whether it is ad hoc or formal.
In a formal mentoring journey, the mentor and mentee agree on the details such as how many times to meet, when, how long, etc.
In ad hoc mentoring, the mentor and mentee meet up as and when either feel a need to meet up.
In a formal mentoring journey, both mentor and mentee will agree on every aspect of how the meetings will look like, such as the way they share, the Bible books or materials they will study, how they pray together, etc.
In ad hoc mentoring, either mentor or mentee can set the agenda.
That said, all kinds of mentoring will need some sharing of life from both parties since mentoring is relational.
We live in challenging times.
As such, what God requires is for humanity to be His agents in the world. For that, He has given us His Spirit and His Word.
But He has also given us His guides.
So let us seek out mentors, guides who will help us be our best selves for Him!
If you enjoyed Rev Dr Tan Soo-Inn’s insights on mentoring, you can glean more wisdom from his books and writings at Graceworks. For even more on mentoring, Rev Tan also offers a 2-hour micro learning course at just $20, broken down into 10-minute segments for easy learning.