Christian Mentoring and Coaching: Investing in a few for the sake of the many
Mentoring is a dynamic, intentional relationship of trust in which one person, the mentor, invests in another, the mentee, by accompanying them on their spiritual journey, and in sharing time, experience and insights in order to help them partner with God and become fully human. The skills required for this relationship are primarily, though not exclusively, listening, asking good questions, rapport building, personal orderliness and action planning. It is also vital to be open to the leading of the Holy Spirit at all times and to use scripture as and when helpful or appropriate. In many ways, mentoring is counter-cultural in that it is not necessarily about looking for spectacular, large scale results, but rather ‘trusting in the slow work of God’ (Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J.). For those in leadership it is about seeking to ensure that the outer life has integrity with the inner life, or to use an analogy from the theatrical world, that the ‘on stage life’ is congruent with the ‘back stage life’. In the latter illustration, the mentor’s role is very much ‘in the wings’ and supportive, rather than about seeking any recognition or notoriety for themselves. There are not many famous mentors! Implicit within the mentoring process is the expectation that the mentee, on experiencing transformation, encouragement and accountability in their own lives will feel propelled to invest in others, thereby paying it forwards for the sake of the many. Mentors tend to ‘pour in’ to the lives of their mentees as they work on a whole-life perspective.
Whilst Coaching is a similar and equally valuable ‘spoke’ in the discipleship umbrella, there are some essential differences to mentoring and it is far more about ‘drawing out’ from the coachee in terms of how they will approach their development around particular skills and experiences and often within quite prescribed time frames. Essentially, the role of the coach is to ask carefully crafted questions of their coachee that will facilitate a journey of discovery and enable them to achieve clear goals and objectives. The coach stays focused on the task in hand, observes carefully and is attentive to the details of answers given. Generally, a coach will not be expected to contribute from their own story, unless the negotiated objectives are acknowledged as within their experience and requested by the coachee. A major focus of the coaching process is to help the coachee identify and clarify options and resources required to achieve them, followed by definite ways forward. There is also a high-level accountability within coaching and it is generally expected that the coachee will actually go away and do what they have agreed they will do! The relationship between the coach and coachee can appear less personal than between mentor and mentee, but to some extent this depends on the personalities concerned.
On reflection, I believe that both mentoring and coaching relationships can be key approaches in all elements of mission, evangelism, ministry and particularly one to one discipleship. The example which Jesus sets us is a great encouragement for this. He took time to linger with the individual, asking questions and patiently waiting for answers that helped the people he was with to discover a new meaning and purpose for their lives. There are many Old Testament examples, too, of these kind of relationships e.g. Elijah and Elisha, Ruth and Naomi, Samuel and Eli. I am convinced that the dynamic of The Trinity, working in our lives on a one to one basis through mentoring and coaching, can be truly life-changing and, as such, is vital in sharing the Gospel, through mission and the sharp edge of evangelism, as well as then being the operating system that empowers us to grow in faith as we learn how to collaborate with God and one another.
For effective mentoring and coaching to happen, however, they have to be intentional and also the mentor/coach has to be willing to be supervised themselves. Without the necessary accountability, supervision, checks and balances in place, these relationships could be a breeding ground for abuse and although relationships of trust are built one brick at a time, they can come falling down all at once! Mentoring and coaching are not foreign in contemporary society and are widely recognised in the commercial world as a viable and valuable tools for growth, but, in my humble opinion, they could be redeemed by the church and be significant building blocks to usher in the Kingdom of God.
Definitions and understanding of mentoring and coaching do vary somewhat and what I offer here is based on my experience of mentoring and coaching mainly within churches and Christian organisations.
Mentor, Coach, Trainer, Speaker
Founder of Chapel House Ministries