Typically, mentors are viewed as older, wiser, and more seasoned. The "mentoree" or "mentee" is usually a novice looking for ways to improve job performance. While that description remains as a part of mentoring, much about good mentoring has changed, along with the advances in leadership development.
Rob Prince, senior pastor of Central Church of the Nazarene in Lenexa, Kansas, has committed himself to mentoring and to being mentored; in part, because he remembers that as a young pastor starting out in Bad Axe, Michigan, he was too hesitant to ask a seasoned pastor he admired to be his mentor. He has recently invited two other pastors to meet with him in what might be called mutual mentoring.
When he started out as a youth pastor in Shawnee, Kansas, David Busic, who now serves as president of Nazarene Theological Seminary, was mentored by his (not much older) senior pastor, Jeren Rowell. Even when they were joined in a boss/employee staff relationship, they stepped out of those roles to begin what has become a lifelong journey of personal leadership growth for both of them.
In his book, Mentoring: The Promise of Relational Leadership, Walter Wright, who until recently served as the executive director of the Max De Pree Leadership Center at Fuller Theological Seminary, describes “formal mentoring” as, “An intentional, intensive, voluntary relationship in which the mentor learns along with the mentee.”1
In Taking Clergy Mentoring to the Next Level, the Lewis Center for Church Leadership provides two video-based resources in which mentoring is traced from its biblical roots to an essential component of contemporary leadership development. Even though, as demonstrated by Lewis Center research, most pastors and other clergy leaders credit mentors with the single most important relationship in their leadership growth, most have not had the benefit of formal mentoring.
Formal mentoring is more than conversations with friends and relatives. While similar, it is distinct from other relationships leaders may enjoy, such as coaching, counseling, training, spiritual direction, or discipling. Formal mentoring includes training for those seeking mentors as in Mentoring Leaders: Wisdom for Developing Character, Calling and Competency, in which Carson Pue, President of Arrow Leadership Ministries, provides guidelines for mentees, as well as mentors. George Barna, in the introduction to Pue’s book, claims that mentoring is “one of those areas that people value but are ignorant of.” He adds, “Too few leaders have had a good mentor.”
The books and websites with training resources for mentors and mentees dispel several mentoring myths from the past. Some of these are:
Mentors are always older - Mentoring, as with wisdom, is not age-specific. Older leaders keep in touch with new trends and generational differences through younger mentors.
Mentors decide who and when to mentor - Wrong. Mentees decide who will be their mentors. They take the initiative to arrange meetings and set the agenda.
Mentors are perfect role models - Although they lead by example, mentees are not clones of their mentors. Good mentors are transparent about their own mistakes and lessons learned.
The mentor is the ultimate leader - A mentor is more of an experienced guide responding to a mentee’s self-directed journey of leadership development.
Mentors are experts in giving advice - Good mentors avoid giving advice. Active listening and asking good questions are the best ways to help leaders become more effective.
Rather than giving advice, training for formal mentoring emphasizes the skill of active listening and asking good questions at the appropriate time. Walter Wright, in his book on mentoring, suggests that mentors consider some of these questions.
• Who are you, and who do you intend to be?
• What is important here?
• What is at stake?
• Are there more choices?
• What do you fear?
• Where do you need to grow?
• What does failure teach?
• What does trust look like?
• Who cares?
• What might change?
• How deeply are you invested personally?
• Why should people trust you?
• How are you communicating?
• What are you communicating?
• Where does insecurity constrain you?
• Where do you experience conflict?
• How do you manage conflict?
• What does flexibility mean?
• To whom and how are you accountable?
• What is important to you?
• How healthy are your relationships?
• What are you teaching your children?
• What are you learning?
• What gives you energy?
• What legacy are you leaving?
• What does integrity mean?
• What would your granddaughter learn by following you
around at work?
In his 2010 doctoral dissertation, “Clergy Retention in the Church of the Nazarene,” Jeren Rowell, district superintendent of the Kansas City District, adds urgency to the need for formal mentoring. His research documents that younger clergy are dropping out at an alarming rate—41% within the first 15 years of ministry.2 Rowell found that judicatory leaders, like himself, are usually the last to know when a pastor has decided to quit. I heard another district superintendent lament, “If only the pastors had someone to talk with.”
That’s mentoring—someone to talk with. It’s more important now than ever.
TOM NEES, formerly director of the USA/Canada Mission/Evangelism Department for the Church of the Nazarene, now serves as president of Leading to Serve (www.leadingtoserve.com), an organization dedicated to leadership and mentor training.
2. Rowell, Jeren L., "Clergy Retention in the Church of the Nazarene, the Role of the District Superintendent in Clergy Decision-Making Regarding Persistence in Active Vocational Ministry" (2010). Ed.D. Dissertations. Paper 13. http://digitalcommons.olivet.edu/edd_diss/13. See page 9.