Editor’s note: We are continuing our blog series on mentoring using the Mentoring Pillars written by Jim Feiker. This third pillar emphasizes how important healthy, authentic relationships are to the mentoring process.

What I regret

The thing that I regret most about my earlier years in mentoring is that not every relationship was a close, healthy one. Though with some, we were meeting one-on-one, there was not that dynamic plus factor of a friendship that bonds people together for maximum mutual growth.

In those early years, I tended to be much more content-oriented and guarded in sharing my struggles and negative emotions. I was not very vulnerable with people, which greatly impacted the effectiveness of our relationship. People could not identify with me as a fellow traveler, still in process, and therefore could not easily share their own struggles. We often had a spiritual relationship, but not a holistic one. We stayed on the surface where it was comfortable and did not risk revealing ourselves to one another in love.

The greatest impact

Christian mentoring is a dynamic, intentional, incarnational relationship of trust. In this relationship, one person empowers another by sharing God-given resources to maximize the grace of God in their life and service. Mentoring best occurs in the context of these healthy, God-focused relationships and community. Here the greatest life-on-life impact occurs in each person. The very definition of mentoring is relationship – one that influences and enables people. It is a relationship of investment.

More than one method in mentoring

One of the major paradigm changes in my thinking on mentoring in the last eight years has been the realization that “one-on-one” is just one method of mentoring. The big biblical principle we pursue is healthy, God-focused relationships. Close relationships can happen both in the context of “one-on-one”. But they can also happen in small groups when there is close interaction and involvement in each other’s lives.

Close regular association with those you are mentoring is essential. There should be a strong mutual relationship between you, one which affects each other’s worldview and values. One can have “one-on-one” ministry and still have an unhealthy relationship. It can become authoritarian – lording it over people, creating an unhealthy dependence on the mentor. It can also be based on our agenda and content, without discernment of where God is at work in the person.

One-on-one format

Looking at I Thess. 2:11-12 and 1 Thess. 5:11 in the Greek, one sees strong support for spending individual time with people. “One-on-one” provides a format to recognize individual uniqueness and needs. This recognition is necessary to enable each person to reach his or her full potential in Christ.

After recognizing what is unique about the mentee, personal attention is then essential for meeting individual needs. Meeting one-on-one makes it possible to develop the person in light of their unique gifts, learning style, and vision. This format is also necessary for speaking truth in discipline (Matthew 18). Furthermore, it is essential in developing leaders.

Group format

Group or community settings also have a role. This format recognizes the corporate life of the Body. Group meetings are necessary because of our individual limitations so that the Body functions as a whole and is dependent on each other (Romans 12:4-8; 1 Corinthians 12).1Although not mentioned by Jim Feiker in this article, the value of mentoring in groups is further heightened in collective cultures. See Evelyn and Richard Hibbert’s “Walking “Together on the Jesus Road“, which is also reviewed on this blog.

So, both individual and small group mentoring are essential for a person’s healthy development in Christ.

Key biblical passages

What are some key biblical passages about healthy relationships in mentoring?

Jesus’ model

He appointed twelve that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach.

Mark 3:14

Jesus called the disciples first to be with Him, and then to send them forth to preach. He did not call them to a classroom or seminary setting. Jesus took the disciples into the middle of his life and heart. He wanted to be able to teach them in the context of real life and relationship (John 17:12). Jesus associated with the Twelve in life-based mentoring. As He was close to them, He openly shared His life and ministry with them. Jesus spent time with them both as a team and individually. Both types of contact were significant. These relationships were bonded by close interaction, listening to one another, sharing with each other, learning from one another. In these life-on-life informal experiences, living and interacting together, Jesus gave them God’s words and displayed the very presence, character, and glory of the Father.

Family setting

These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.

Deuteronomy 6:6–8

Live, demonstrative teaching of our children is to be in the context of real experiences and everyday life. “Talk about the Scriptures when you sit at home, and when you walk along the road” (vs. 6). Instruction is both done in the informality of the home and as you go about your daily life outside the home, such as walking along the road. Reading this portion, we observe both informal and formal education is utilized. But relationship again is the critical context for growth to occur. We reproduce who we are, not simply what we say.

Paul and Timothy

You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, sufferings—what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured. Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them.

2 Timothy 3:10–11

Paul refers to Timothy’s knowing him fully (his persecutions, struggles, way of life, victories, etc.). This depth of knowledge implies a close, authentic relationship.

What is our theology of people?

If we are going to have a significant mentoring relationship, we must develop a biblical view of people, for mentoring at its core is relating to people. We need to view, value, and treat people the way God does. These perceptions will deeply affect the way we mentor and minister to people.

Characteristics of healthy relationships

  • Caring for one another. Showing care in a relationship opens the door for development. Without care, we do not have credibility and cannot develop an atmosphere of safety.
  • Open and honest communication. We seek to listen to understand each other’s mind and heart. We share not just facts, but the emotions and feelings of each other. Effective communication defines the quality of a relationship.
  • Authentic transparency and vulnerability. We are willing to show the cracks in our lives and to allow each other to help us.
  • Immediate confession and forgiveness. We keep short accounts, not holding grudges and covering one another’s faults. This involves admitting wrong and seeking forgiveness.
  • Commitment to resolve conflicts in love. We grow in our loyalty to one another, including our commitment to deal with conflict in our relationship.
  • Unconditional acceptance and respect. We honour one another by accepting and treating them with dignity as God does.
  • Affirmation and encouragement. We continually bless each other and build one another up.
  • Accountability and confrontation. We practice a lifestyle of mutual submission and responsibility, confronting where necessary.
  • Confidentiality and trust. We keep secrets and promises.

Healthy relationships are the result of a sense of being brought together by God, being given permission to minister to each other, and a mutual commitment to be proactive in the relationship to make it work and to seek each other out.

God-focused relationships:

  • treat people as God would, in purity, dignity and honor (1 Tim. 5:1-2).
  • are motivated by love, grace and care (1 Peter 5:1-3)
  • cause people to depend on God, not on us (Romans 1:12; 2 Cor. 1:24).
  • point people to Christ and the Scriptures for answers to life (1 Thess. 2:12).
  • consider what is best for the other person from God’s perspective – what bent He has put there (Proverbs 22:6).
  • help identify and develop another’s vision and gifts, not projecting our own vision and gifts on them.
  • release people to do what God wants them to be and do without controlling them or lording it over them.
  • see others entrusted to us by God as a steward, and not as “our people,” or “our disciples.”

Results of healthy God-focused relationships

When healthy, God-focused relationships are built, we experience a high degree of effective communication. We identify with each other so that we might understand each other more. Mentors and mentees help one another to become authentic brothers and sisters, on similar life journeys and growth.

We observe character and God’s presence in one another. This is the best visual aid, up close and personal.

Permission into one another’s hearts

Healthy mentoring relationships give permission into one another’s hearts, not just our minds. As love, trust and safety are built, we are able to reach a person’s deep issues where God is working. In other words, a bridge of love is built to support the weight of speaking truth and confronting. Accountability and commitment, both vital for growth, are increased. We are able to identify real needs in people, and this makes it possible so that we can mutually help each other with root causes, not just symptoms. All of this promotes internal changes in values and worldview so that biblical ones are adopted.

The stronger the relationship, the greater the mutual influence on a person’s life values and worldview. Relationships affect the heart of a person where character is formed.

Through the relationship, we also gain a better interpretation of God’s truth, since total light is not given to one person. The healthy relationship allows us to see ourselves more objectively from another’s viewpoint. Thereby, we maximize the spiritual growth process.

Healthy relationships impact not only us. They also increase the Gospel’s spread into our spheres of influence.

Critical questions

  1. Is mentoring from a distance through e-mail or letter effective if there is no relationship beforehand?
  2. What are some of your relational values and insights that determine the way you treat and honor people? Have you intentionally written them out?
  3. Without a healthy, God-focused relationship, what are the likely results of a mentoring experience?
  4. What are some spoilers and enhancers in building strong relationships?
  5. Did Paul have a healthy, God-focused relationship with men like Titus and Timothy? Where do you see this in Scripture?
  6. How would you describe Jesus’ relationship with the Twelve?
  7. Why are pastors often warned about having too close a friendship with individuals in their churches? Is this valid or not? Why or why not?
  8. What values on relationship are key to mentoring the Millennial and X generations? Note that Caleb was a man who could relate to those of a different generation. He mentored and led a new generation of leaders after all the men 20 years and older died off in the wilderness.
  9. How are our roles in relationships apt to change over the course of our mentoring someone?

Effective mentoring is born in the context of healthy God-focused relationships. May our desire be to cultivate deep, loving, authentic, healthy relationships with those we mentor.