In Christian circles, our primary model of mentoring is an
apprenticeship model. This is the model we see Jesus using, of an experienced
teacher gathering inexperienced learners, who soak up knowledge and skills. It involves long periods of time together, watching the teacher
in different situations and reacting to different stimuli, and then having the
opportunity to make decisions in those same situations. In the past, it was
common practice for a mentor to welcome eager learners to actually physically
live with him (it was usually a man), so that they could see the mentor live
out his faith 24/7. Jonathan Edwards is a famous example of this mindset, which
was prevalent up until the last century (see this wonderful talk by Ridley
College’s Rhys Bezzant).

This apprenticeship model
may still be the ideal in many contexts, for example in full-time
residential theological colleges where there is opportunity for
students to live in community and faculty to mentor students
one-on-one. But even in theological colleges an experience of this sort is
becoming the exception rather
than the norm, in the face
of the modern pressures of housing prices, education expenses, and the
busier lives of students.

The pressure for change comes not just from economic
forces; it is also a result
of a transformation in our understanding of how people learn. Rather than
fighting these forces for change, or mourning for the glory days, we need to
explore whether other modes of mentoring may, in some contexts, actually
result in better-formed young Christians, particularly future leaders, prepared
to face the modern challenges of faith.

Other models of mentoring

Churches and Christian organisations are not the only
communities in which mentoring is practised and changing paradigms of mentoring
are being explored. In the world of business, a widely-respected
mentoring guide is provided by Lois Zachary. The core philosophy behind
Zachary’s model is a learning, rather than an apprentice, model. The elements
of the Learning-Centred Mentoring Paradigm are:

  • Reciprocity and mutuality: mentoring is value-added for both.
  • Learning: with the mentor as a facilitator.
  • Relationship: recognition that strong relationships motivate, inspire and
    support mentoring.
  • Partnership: mutual respect and trust.
  • Collaboration: build together, share knowledge, have consensus, and actively
    work together to share goals.
  • Mutually-defined goals: need to clarify and articulate learning goals.
  • Development:
    focus on promoting the mentoree’s development and growth. (Zachary, The Mentor’s Guide: Facilitating Effective Learning Relationships,

This marks a significant change with a mentor no longer
seen as sole authority and the main source of content. Instead the mentor
becomes a facilitator of the mentoring process, recognising when someone else
might be better suited to teach or coach the mentoree in a new role.

The mentoree becomes much more active in the learning
process, helping to identify areas of need. In fact, there is benefit in the
mentoree joining with others in the learning process, engaging in peer or group
mentoring sessions.

Rather than an open-ended relationship, the mentoring
continues as long as both are stimulated and engaged in the learning process.
Engagement may also impact the frequency of contact, with frequent contact when
there is a need, and less intensive mentoring at others. Reconsidering the
context of mentoring means accepting that face-to-face meetings, while
preferable, may not always be possible if the best mentor for the learning
experience is unavailable due to geography or time constraints.

In previous mentoring models, the mentor was primarily
valued for their knowledge and understanding. With the increasing access to
information, what mentorees are looking for is the ability to discern, reflect
and apply knowledge and understanding. Mentors are prized much more for their
skills in decision-making, understanding people and managing change, interpreting
the cultural milieu and applying the accumulated wisdom of the
past to the newly-emerging issues of the present.

A biblical basis for different styles of mentoring

All practical wisdom needs to be tested biblically, and should never be uncritically absorbed and appropriated by the church.
Nevertheless, it is worth reflecting on the extent to which some elements
at least of Zachary’s model resemble aspects of the mentoring modelled by
Paul, according to the glimpses of it that we see within the New Testament.
Through his pastoral letters he mentored at a distance, in response to specific
issues identified, with a great deal of focus on application.

Paul’s first letter to Timothy, for example, starts with
some clear practical wisdom on dealing with false teachers, applying gospel
truth to the specific context that Timothy is facing (1:3–11). It includes
several passages of personal encouragement (for example, 1:18–19, 4:11–16). There
is practical instruction for worship and appointing leaders to build up the
church, again addressing the specific needs of Timothy’s congregation (2:1–15,
3:1–13, 5:1–21). It ends with some personal comments for Timothy (5:22–25).

The rapid expansion of churches planted by Paul’s mentorees,
keeping in step with the Spirit as he exhorted (Galatians 5:25), demonstrates
the effectiveness of Paul’s mentoring, even at a distance, and tailored for his

It would be a great loss if
churches, theological colleges and other Christian organisations did
not continue the wonderful tradition of mentoring established in the Bible and
continued through church history.

Image: Valentin de Boulogne, “St Paul Writing his Epistles”.