Editor’s note: A number of years ago, I received a CD of a dozen articles on the topic of mentoring. This collection was entitled “Mentoring Pillars” and were written by Jim Feiker. Jim and his wife Bev served with SEND International for 12 years (1988-2000) in a mentoring and training capacity. Jim passed away back in 2012, leaving behind scores of people whom he had mentored and coached. His legacy lives on in their ministries. But Jim, with editorial help from his wife, also wrote extensively about the art of mentoring.
Cross-cultural workers realize that mentoring is vital in discipling new believers and in training church leaders. As an organization, we have also become increasingly aware of the need for older missionaries to mentor younger co-workers. Those of us from the Boomer generation will soon be passing on the baton of leadership to millennials and Generation Z. So, ore multiple reasons, we all need to become more proficient in mentoring.
As I have focused my attention recently on strengthening mentoring within SEND (see my recent blog post), I revisited these “mentoring pillars.” Recognizing how full of wisdom they really are, I was surprised that I could not find them published anywhere on the Internet or in print. With Bev Feiker’s blessing, I have decided to post a number of them in our blog over the next few months.
The Mentor’s Magnet – A life manifesting Christ
Over the years God has put a particular burden in my heart for mentoring young men and women. This vision, birthed when I was 18 and discipled the first person I led to Christ, has grown and matured through my various ministry contexts with The Navigators, as a Christian and Missionary Alliance pastor, with SEND International, and now with Barnabas International. Mentoring has been a thread and primary focus in my ministry over these 50 years. I have learned most about mentoring through failure and just watching God at work in lives.
Many times, I have had to put lessons I learned about mentoring on the anvil of the Scriptures to see if it was based on a scriptural principle. Sometimes I felt like giving up on the whole idea, believing that I didn’t have the gifts or knowledge to really help someone. But in these times of struggle, God put a deeper desire in my heart to be the best possible mentor I could be. I knew the impact it had in my life, and in the lives of countless believers I had known. So, I kept learning and giving myself to people.
But I am still in the process of learning. Why? Because mentoring is an art form, in that everyone is uniquely different, and God is working in his or her life in a distinct way. We are only channels and dispensers of God’s grace to others.
Most of what we learn about mentoring comes from trial and error and from God’s unique shaping of our lives. Everyone’s mentoring style is different, based on his or her gifting, capacity, personality, and vision. But there are some key principles that are universal, principles that we need to apply differently to each potential mentor. Principles are fixed, but applications are uniquely personal.
For some time, I have had the desire to boil down what I have learned into what I feel are essential values or principles. I have chosen twelve of these. This will be helpful for me and hopefully for many of you who are engaged in the exciting adventure of discipling, coaching, or mentoring others.
So, let’s get on with it.
Effective mentoring always begins with the mentor’s character
Effective mentoring must begin with us, for ministry is an overflow of Christ’s life in us to others. God is not looking for perfect mentors, but rather mentors who are progressing in their growth. Progressing character models or patterns are what God wants others to follow (1 Timothy 4:15). Notice I did not say “perfect,” but “progressing.” If we wait until we are perfect, we will never make a strategic investment of our lives into people. It is not our skills, experiences, or degrees, that make the significant difference. It is our character as a mentor. The crisis in today’s leadership is often described as a crisis of character, and the crisis of character is a crisis of not being deeply rooted in God.
Why focus first on the mentor’s character?
We minister out of the overflow
We minister to others out of an overflow of our walk with God. Abiding in Christ results in fruitfulness (John 15:5). We will not be sensitive to the Spirit in someone else’s life if we are not walking in the Spirit. Mentors need to keep nourishing themselves with the Scripture, significant relationships, community fellowship and healing, and prayer. Only then will they have the skills to use these resources in helping others (1 Tim. 4:6-8).
People need to see Christ
The life of Christ manifested in our lives is most critical. In John 17:4, Jesus summarizes his ministry to the Twelve, “I have glorified, or manifested Your person and character to these men”. A life-on-life encounter with God is vital for transformation to take place. So, people need to encounter Jesus in us if their lives are to be transformed. People are to follow our faith and the outcome of our life (Heb 13:7). Our life, patterned after Christ, has been proven worthy of being followed.
We need to keep learning
We must minister from a bubbling brook of a fresh encounter with God, and not from a stagnant well of past experience. I know people who at age 25 stopped learning. But we must never quit learning! Lifelong learners, growing in their personal design, giftedness, vision, life messages, and values will be fragrant and fresh in mentoring others. God’s process of transforming us to His Son’s likeness goes on until we enter Heaven. That’s a lifetime of learning and growing in character.
We can never take a person any further than we are. If we stop learning, so does our mentoring. Our continuing to learn sets up a model of growth that often draws people to us who want to be growing, learning people. It is a law of nature that we reproduce after our own kind. The word “disciple” in Greek means, “a learner,” especially one taught by God. It is a person under Christ’s Lordship in the vital process of learning from Him.
We are stewards of what we have received
We are the stewards of the wisdom God has given us. What we have learned and are learning is to be shared with others and with future generations.
Growing in these characteristics
The mentor’s character must be growing in the following areas.
- A flourishing walk with God. The mentor is God-sensitive, God-focused, and rooted in Scripture. He must point others to Jesus, not to himself.
- Authentic and transparent. She willingly shares her life’s struggles and victories. She is vulnerable, willing to let people in her life help her.
- Maintaining confidentiality with secrets and sins. Mentors do not reveal someone else’s life “cracks” to others.
- Safe and approachable, creating an environment of acceptance, understanding, and grace. Mentors seek permission to enter someone’s heart. We must recognize that we too are cracked jars in a broken world.
- An active listener, drawing people out to understand their hearts.
- A grace-dispenser rather than a law-keeper, speaking truth and hope into others.
- A replenishing and affirming friend, focusing on the positive.
- A lifelong learner. He is open to others’ opinions and wild thoughts without judging.
- Fun-loving, with a sense of humor. The mentor has a life/hobby outside of ministry.
- Maintaining a balanced perspective rather than moving often to extremes.
A flourishing life
Psalm 92:12-15 uses the palm and cedar trees to illustrate the life of a godly person – a life that grows and flourishes despite the environment. We can draw some principles about the mentor’s character from these verses.
The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of the LORD, they will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green, proclaiming, “The LORD is upright; he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him.”Psalm 92:12-15, NIV
Psalm 92:14-15 reveal the earmarks of a flourishing tree and God-focused life. These qualities are evident in every season, stage of life, and circumstance.
The first nourishment goes to the roots of a tree, then to the leaves, next to the branches and trunk, and finally to producing the fruit. The fruit is the result of excess nourishment. Fruit is the natural result of a life continually absorbing God’s resources and power. It is often seasonal (Psalms 1:3). The word “fruit” in Greek means ornament or ornaments of beauty. Fruit is an ornament of Christ’s beauty and character. It reveals the nature of the tree and is an earmark of a God-dependent person. Fruit in Scripture is both the fruit of our character and our spiritual offspring. It is the by-product of an abiding life (John 15:5).
Still fresh, green, and growing
Green leaves reveal the tree is healthy and growing. Healthy vital signs of a God-focused person are that they are still learning, growing, and that spiritual breathing is taking place.
Still fragrant with sap
It is the sap that is the tree’s blood system. It nourishes the entire tree. The sap has an aroma unique to the tree and is most noticeable when the sap is the freshest and its production is at a peak. Its unmistakable scent penetrates everything around it. With the believer, it is the distinct aroma of the presence and character of Christ (2 Cor. 2:14-16).
We proclaim that the LORD Yahweh, with whom we have a personal relationship, is the source of our life. He is upright, he is faithful and good, and he is our Rock. He has always been faithful to his word to us and to His character, and he is holy. Therefore, we are to be living testimonials (proclaimers) of God’s character.
The secret of a flourishing life
Ps 92:13 says that the secret of a flourishing life is “being planted” or rooted deeply into a living, relational God. God is the ultimate life-giving water that nourishes us. The secret is not in the fruit, leaves, or branches. They result from a healthy internal root system.1 See a related blog post on the importance of deep roots. Flourishing roots will produce a flourishing life (Proverbs 12:12).
“Planted” is in the past tense in this verse, meaning that it has taken root over a period of time, and assumes that the roots are continually drawing resources from underground water veins and nutrients from the soil. A tree just planted needs external nutrients and rain for it to survive until the main taproots are able to grown downward to the water below the surface. Roots must grow downward before it can grow upward (Isaiah 37:31). If the roots decay and are unhealthy the whole tree will become unhealthy.
Planted in God
The God-focused life is to be planted in God’s person, character, and promises. Being rooted deeply through significant fellowship with God, meditation on the Scriptures, dependence, and worship is the source of our flourishing life. Therefore, we must plunge the taproots of our life into God’s divine resources and find there all we need to live the Christian life and be effective in bearing fruit. This is what John 15 describes as abiding in Christ. Colossians 2:6-7 gives further light on being rooted in Christ.
The mentor’s magnet is Christ in us
So, what is the magnet in a mentor’s life that draws people to learn how to walk with Jesus Christ? It is not our spiritual gifts, our experience, or our great ministry skills. Instead, it is the mentor’s character, which is the very fragrance of God’s presence in their lives. It is Christ resident within us, living His life in us and reflecting His life through us. At every stage of life, God-scented people are still growing, still vibrant and fragrant, still fruitful, and still proclaiming God’s presence and character, drawing people to a closer relationship with Christ