This past fall, I connected with a lovely young lady through our campus’ spiritual mentoring program. The idea is simple. Students say they’d like to be matched to a mentor, and faculty and staff offer to be that person. The pair meets four times over the semester, and the student gets chapel credit for the meetings.
At one point during our conversations, she said, “I had a mentor before I came to school and she was awesome and meant a lot to me. And I came here and she told me to call her anytime. I was pretty bad about keeping in touch my freshman and sophomore years.
But then this past fall semester I did call her and left her a message and everything. She didn’t even call me back until like, last week. She just left a message being all, ‘Sorry I took so long, I’ve just be super busy, but hopefully we’ll talk soon!’ Like, you couldn’t at least text to say you got my message and will call me soon?
And I still haven’t actually talked to her, two months later.”
I’ve been on all sides of this experience. As a student, I had great mentors in my church. When I left for college, I maintained many relationships and lost some as well. I’ve been a youth pastor trying to care for the kids in our ministry, and struggled with transitioning them after graduation.
Sometimes, there seems to be pressure on the mentor side of the equation to be Yoda. When we seek out a mentor, we expect a be-all-end-all mentor who can guide us through every detail of life, something Bill Hybels describes in the chapter “Obi-Wan Kenobi Isn’t for Hire” in his book Axioms.
(Ok, so I guess the pressure is to be Obi-Wan Kenobi. I don’t remember which character that is. Harrison Ford? I just remember Yoda on Luke’s back.)
In contrast to Yoda, Bobby Clinton’s book Connecting encourages us to see mentorship from a variety of sources. Nine to be exact. These nine distinct functions are a far cry from the one we are typically expecting. Contemporary and historical models, for instance, are people you don’t even know personally.
Nine Mentor Functions, from J. Robert Clinton’s Connecting: The Mentoring Relationships You Need to Succeed
- Discipler– Basic habits of the Christian life dealing with hearing from God and talking with God; operating in a fellowship of Christians; learning to minister in terms of giftedness; learning to get input from God.
- Spiritual Guide– Evaluation of spiritual depth and maturity in a life and help in growth in this.
- Coach– Skills of all kind depending on the expertise of the coach
- Counselor– Timely and good advice which sheds perspective on issues and problems and other needs.
- Teacher– Relevant knowledge that can be used for personal growth or ministry or other such need.
- Sponsor– Protective guidance and linking to resources so that a leader reaches potential.
- Contemporary Model– Values impactfully demonstrated in a life that can be transferred and used in one’s own life.
- Historical Model– Values demonstrated in a life and inspiration drawn from that life so as to encourage ongoing development in ones own life and a pressing on to finish well.
- Divine Contact– Timely guidance from God via some human source.
What I love about Clinton’s expanded view of mentoring is that it opens us to be mentor and be mentored in ways that are more in alignment with who God made us to be. Not all of us want to do the in-depth, search my soul, converse for hours, be-all-end-all mentoring thing. That doesn’t make us less spiritual, less open to offering ourselves as mentors or less eager to learn from others. It means that mentoring, like all spiritual growth, is not a one-size-fits-all program.
I would add that the nature of mentoring adolescents is that relationship is generally one-sided. It’s hard for it to be mutual, and it therefore takes more energy. I totally understand why that mentor didn’t call the student back right away.
We need to mentor anyway, recognizing that while we can’t and shouldn’t be Yoda, we can and should be available to help those who are a season or two behind us. Especially when an adolescent reaches out, let’s do our best to return the phone call.