Editor’s note: We are continuing our blog series on mentoring using the Mentoring Pillars written by the late Jim Feiker, a former member of SEND International. This fifth pillar talks about the need to mentor in such a way as to respect the God-given personal design of each mentee.

In the last pillar of mentoring, we dealt with the significance of working with God. We must partner with God in what He is doing in people’s lives. But we are also to be working with people according to their differences and design. To be most effective in mentoring, both where God is working in their life and how God has designed them must be on our radar screen. To overlook their design and desires is to violate a person’s very personhood and value before God. It is to disregard the principle of differences in the Body.

The animals’ school

The animals had a school.1This fable can be found on the web in a number of places, but here is one example. The version that Jim Feiker used was adapted by Lorne C. Sanny from a speech by Dr. A. R. Broadhurst. The curriculum consisted of running, climbing, flying and swimming. All the animals took all the subjects.

The duck was good in swimming and fair in flying. However, he was terrible in running, so he had to drop his swimming class and stay after school in order to practice his running. He kept this up until he was only average in swimming. But average was acceptable. The others (including the teacher) were no longer threatened by the duck’s swimming ability. So, everyone felt more comfortable – except the duck.

The school considered the eagle a problem student. For instance, in climbing class, he beat all others to the top of the tree but used his own method of getting there. He had to be severely disciplined. Finally, because of non-cooperation in swimming, the eagle was expelled for insubordination.

The rabbit started at the top of the class in running but was obviously inadequate in other areas. Because of so much makeup work in swimming, he had a nervous breakdown and had to drop out of school.

Of course, the turtle was a failure in most every course. Because his shell was probably the main cause of his failures, the faculty removed it. That did help his running a bit, but sadly he became the first casualty when a horse stepped on him. The faculty was quite disappointed.

But overall, it was a good school in humility. There were no real successes. None seemed to measure up to the others. But they did concentrate on their weak points and some progress was made.

Scriptural Basis for God’s unique design

Fearfully and wonderfully made

Psalm 139:14-15 say God has fearfully and wonderfully made each of us. We are each God’s unique artwork, his workmanship, his individual tapestry, different from any other. Someone who is mature acknowledges and accepts their unique differences, and then courageously lives out their true personality and God-given talents. Therefore, we are not to compare ourselves with others. Neither should we project our personal design on others. We are true servants before God when we acknowledge, joyfully accept, and verbally affirm each person and their unique differences and value before God.

In mentoring, we are called to progressively help unwrap a person’s unique design and desires, and to affirm and encourage them to develop these before God. Then, together with others in the Body, we can discover how they can best function or fit within the Body of Christ and the world for his glory.

Differences in the Body

1 Corinthians 12 is a critical chapter on the diversity of members in the Body. It shows us that we need to accept, value and allow each member to function in line with their unique differences. All the parts are to be working together for the good of the Body, rather than working in isolation. The Spirit has given each member a uniquely different set of spiritual gifts so that they can serve others in the Body (1 Cor 12:4).

We do not all play the same instrument in the symphony. Each has their unique contribution to make. No one person possesses all the gifts. God has created blank spots in each of us to create an intense need for Him and for the rest of the community of faith. Therefore, we need each other’s functioning with our gifts in the Body for balance and to help each other grow to maturity. Operating within our giftedness, we will sense the pleasure, joy, and fulfillment God has put into our lives.

We also have different kinds of service (1 Cor 12:5). This is referring to the style, or method through which we express our gifts in ministry. We will not all function in the same way, play the same notes, have the same vision, use the same method, or have the same calling from God. Each has his distinctive service under the direction of the same Lord.

The last thing that is different for each person is that they will have different kinds of workings (1 Cor 12:6). The manifestation of God’s power and character, as well as the results from their unique ministries will be different, since that is up to God.

Work according to their personal design

An effective mentor will understand these major differences in each person and joyfully accept, value, and respect each one, tailoring his ministry of care and development to the person according to these differences.

As we progressively grow in our understanding of a person, we become more sensitive and better equipped to spur them on in their growth. This will take time and require us to be authentic in our relationship. But it will prove worthwhile. Keep a journal of the new understanding you gain about those you mentor and feedback reflections of them. This will be a great encouragement for them, both in seeing you take the time to know them and in hearing you reflect back your observations. People seldom get this kind of feedback, but it is so important for their growth.

Defining Personal Design

The major ingredients of a person’s design are their life calling/life purpose, their vision, their set of spiritual gifts, their life messages, their learning style and their personality.

As we mentor a person with a deep understanding of these God-given elements, they will light up with joy and excitement. People are most motivated when we understand and relate their personal design to their growth in Christ, when we tie a person’s gifts to their dreams and life calling, and when we help them learn and grow by using their individual learning style.

How to Mentor in Sync with Personal Design

Verbally affirm their design. When we know a person’s design and desires and verbally affirm them, this confirms their design to them, and greatly encourages them.

Teach in line with their learning style. As we identify how a person learns best, the fire and desire for learning and growing will greatly increase. In contrast, if we use a logical, sequential Bible study method with a person with more of a cyclical learning style, they will learn less and be less motivated.

Focus on their strengths. Our teaching and instruction should focus more on developing their strengths and gifts than correcting their problems and weaknesses.

Equip them for their calling. Training for their ministry role should be related to their calling, spiritual gifts, and vision.

Don’t make your experience normative. It is not uncommon for Christians to be thrown into confusion by another who insists that their experience parallel his own in every way.

Oswald Chambers has wisely said,

Never make a principle of your experience; let God be as original with others as He has been with you.

Oswald Chambers

Serve as a model of ministry based on personal design.  Those we mentor will reproduce this same approach to ministry. They will consider personal design as a vital component in helping others.

How to discover someone’s personal design

Spend time with them to observe and discuss the unique design that God is forming in them. Ask others who know them well, who can help unlock their personal design. Give those you are mentoring inventory questions to prepare and discuss with you. People love to learn who they are, and what they are like.  

Questions to ask the mentee

  1. What do you believe are your spiritual gifts?  How do you plan to develop them?
  2. What is your calling from God and how has God has confirmed it?
  3. What life messages do you believe God has given you?

Questions to ask yourself

These questions can aid you in preparing for mentoring:

  1. Where are they now in their spiritual and life journey?
  2. What do they see as their unique, God-given designs and desires?
  3. What are their primary developmental needs? Needs are not just their problems. What gifts need to be further developed?
  4. Where is the Spirit of God now working in their life? Which of their needs is most urgent (a question of God’s timing)?
  5. What is the best way to join God in the process of meeting their most urgent needs?  What spiritual resources (the Scriptures, prayer, community, ministry experience, etc.) should we use?
  6. How can I help them to discover biblical principles on their own? Where in the Scriptures should we go to discover God’s truth on the issue?
  7. Will this method be accepted and easily duplicated or reproduced in their culture?
  8. Can I best meet this need or should I refer them to someone else?

In mentoring, we are involved in one of the most exciting adventures in life. It is impacting men and women for Jesus Christ who will influence this generation and future generations with the Gospel. To bypass personal design in these people is a major violation of their design by the Creator, their value before God, and our responsibility as a steward of God’s people.