(The following blog is an edited first chapter from my dissertation on missional mentoring produced as part of my masters in applied theology at Spurgeon's college completed in 2011.)
There is a great deal of Christian literature on mentoring but how biblical is it? And how effective is the mentoring that does go on? What is the aim of mentoring? How does mentoring relate to discipleship? Many observers would agree that the church in the western world is weak on helping people grow in their faith. Could missional mentoring be part of the answer?
What is Mentoring?
In recent years there has been a huge increase in interest in mentoring and coaching shown not least in the number of books published particularly in the areas of business, education and the church. In the English-speaking world there has also been an explosion of interest in spirituality. Undoubtedly linked to this has been a growing interest in spiritual direction, soul friendship and discipling. There are a wide variety of significantly different definitions suggested by proponents for all these terms. In the following discussion of terminology I seek to bring some clarity especially with regard to the kind of mentoring which may help in producing missionary disciples in the UK today. The following terms will be looked at: spiritual direction, coaching discipling, mentoring and missional mentoring.
“Probably the term with the longest tradition attached to the art of aiding individuals in their spiritual journey is the term ‘spiritual director’.” The term is widely used in Catholic and Anglican traditions, various definitions have been posited by its proponents. “Spiritual direction is listening” is a profound statement but insufficient in itself to be entirely helpful. Gordon Jeff in reaction against Kenneth Leech and others, who see direction as a specialism to be practiced by a spiritual elite (as far as the role of director is concerned), defines direction as “…two people sitting down together in an attitude of prayer to try to discern where the Holy Spirit is directing…” He sees direction primarily in terms of help in prayer and guidance. Perhaps the main problem with the term spiritual direction is that it has had “…historically troublesome authoritarian connotations.” These difficulties certainly remain to this day despite some authors insisting it is God who is the real director in any relationship between a directee and director. Spiritual direction tends to focus on what is termed the ‘spiritual’ life, particularly the prayer life of a person often to the exclusion of other aspects of life. There is an inherent danger of a false division between ‘spiritual’ and other realms of life. This is recognised by Victor Copan amongst others who writes “...the nature of human personality cannot be divided neatly into isolated compartments of “the spiritual realm” and “the realm of the self.”” In the area of spiritual direction Copan says “...the focus in spiritual direction needs to remain on the development of the primary relationship between the individual and God.”
An alternative term which like spiritual direction focuses on the spiritual journey of a disciple is that of spiritual friend, “The term is derived from the Celtic concept of anamchara, meaning ‘soul friend’”. Both these terms certainly remove the authoritarian connotations of direction and are helpful in accentuating the element of mutuality in a relationship. Their use does however leave open the problem of dividing the sacred and secular and could limit the agenda of the relationship. The element of mutuality is important in mentoring, particularly as some writers use terms such as protégé or trainee for a mentee which suggests a certain hierarchy in the relationship. However it may rightly be argued that such differences of status were present in biblical examples of mentoring such as Elijah and Elisha, Moses and Joshua and the apostle Paul and Timothy.
There is some confusion about how coaching, specifically Christian coaching, relates to mentoring, discipleship and spiritual direction. Many would agree that coaching has a generally narrower remit than mentoring, focusing on developing skills and gifts more than the whole person. According to Hughes “...coaching is about developing people’s gifts/talents/skills, it is focussed and specific.” However Gary Collins is one of a number of practitioners who see Christian coaching as having a broader function, “Christian coaching is the art and practice of enabling individuals and groups to move from where they are to where God wants them to be.” This definition focusing on change infers that Christians and groups are not where God wants them to be which may or may not be true. It does however link in well with the metaphor of the Christian life as a journey but seems inadequate in giving no clue as to how a coach might facilitate this enabling. Collins also says, “Discipleship is more focused than either mentoring or coaching.” He goes on, “Discipleship deals mostly with spiritual development and seeks to give instruction and guidance that will enable individuals to grow in Christ likeness and in knowledge and favor of Jesus Christ.” This view of discipleship seems more in tune with a false division between the sacred and the secular than the biblical view of discipleship impacting every aspect of life. Some coaches like Collins do seek to impact the whole of life and even claim to be ‘whole life’ coaches but what is inferred from the use of the word coach is that, like a coach in the sporting realm, he or she has technical expertise to pass on. This would not do justice to the whole life discipleship for which many people in the UK church are calling. Coaching techniques and methods, including goal setting and problem solving, can certainly be useful tools and an aid to spiritual and personal growth. Coaching and mentoring are terms frequently used in the corporate world sometimes interchangeably and have been used increasing in evangelical churches, particularly in the US where the development of mentoring and coaching in the church context is more deeply rooted and widespread than in the UK.
The term discipler and discipling are also terms commonly used within evangelicalism. The advantage of these terms is that they have a clear terminological link with the NT terms, for example the word ‘disciple’. The word, “Disciple (from the Latin discipulus, a pupil) is one who receives instruction from another; a scholar; a learner…” The word disciple is a translation of the Greek word mathētēs which means a learner, pupil or disciple. One of the main problems with the terms discipler and discipling is that they are not found in regular English dictionaries and so mean little to the unchurched. There is also the tendency for a number of authors, particularly in the US, to think of discipleship as necessary only for new Christians as a kind of basic formation. Clinton’s definition, “Discipling is a relational process in which a more experienced follower of Christ shares with a newer believer the commitment, understanding, and basic skills necessary to know Jesus Christ as Lord”, is typical of many. This is clearly contrary to NT teaching where there is no indication that discipleship stops after the basics are acquired. Discipleship rather is a call to lifelong learning and growth. Hebrews 6:1 speaks of moving on from ‘elementary doctrine’ towards maturity but does so in the context of a call to persevere in the faith. It is true that outside the Gospels and Acts the terms ‘disciple’ and ‘follower’ are rare in the New Testament. However there are according to Richard Longenecker,
(1) statements regarding the nature of authentic Christian existence, (2) exhortations urging that the truths of these statements be put into practice...(3) calls ...for believers to be “imitators” ...and/or reflect in their lives the “example” or “pattern” (typos, hypotyposis) of the apostle Paul, of Jesus Christ, or even God himself. At times, as well, there are calls to imitate or reflect the example of an apostolic emissary or another church or churches.
Discipling in the New Testament then has a lot to do with imitating and following a godly example. Sylvia Collinson emphasises the educational aspect when she writes, “Discipling is a voluntary, personal relationship between two individuals, in community or alone, in which the disciple commits him or herself to learn from the other, by imitation, oral communication and sharing in the life and work of the discipler.” This definition majors on what the disciple commits him or herself to. From the disciplers point of view Collinson speaks of discipling as one method of teaching. Perhaps this is too narrow a definition of Christian discipling. Jesus’ own disciples no doubt did want to learn from him but they probably also had other significant desires, hopes and aspirations. His disciples may have wanted to commit themselves to Jesus for reasons other than learning, for example, for companionship or the desire to serve. Are these not also aspects of a discipling relationship? Was Jesus teaching and preaching, even to large crowds, part of his discipleship of the twelve? If Jesus also discipled others, for example Mary and Martha who may have had only very limited opportunity to share in his life and work, was this still discipling? Jesus himself pointed strongly to the need for his disciples to develop a close relationship with the Father. So discipling i.e. making disciples by Jesus and of Jesus has the essential element, not present in the same way in non-Christian discipling relationships, that of God in his triune nature which is not mentioned by Collinson. From Jesus perspective a definition of discipling without mention of God seems wholly insufficient. Collinson seems to emphasise discipleship in terms of a one on one relationship although does see them functioning within a larger nurturing community. Is not direct discipling possible in small groups? Many if not all of Jesus recorded interactions with individual disciples took place in the presence of others. Collinson does however make the helpful distinction between traditional Bible teaching and preaching in large gatherings which she sees as ‘schooling’ rather than discipling. A close one to one relationship is rightly seen as important, unique and potentially empowering. Gunter Krallmann emphasizes that we are given the task of discipling others by spending time with them and giving them an example to follow, “...it is people imparting life to other people, and through their association and friendship with them, showing them the way to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.” The power of a strong discipling relationship is that a high level of trust allows for the kind of accountability rarely found in small groups and rarely if ever in larger groups.
There is universal agreement that the English term “mentor” originates in Homer’s classic, The Odyssey where Odysseus, the King of Greece, chose his old friend Mentor to bring up and advise his son, Telemachus, while he was away at war. “Through careful advice, encouragement and example, Mentor prepared Telemachus for his destiny with a light touch.” The Oxford dictionary defines a mentor as “an experienced and trusted advisor” However the practice of mentoring in the corporate, educational, youth and social spheres has given rise to a wide variety of definitions of the term mentoring in both secular and Christian works. Megginson indicates there is no clear definition but says simply, “Mentoring and coaching are used for a variety of purposes [and]....have one thing in common – change.” Mentoring is widely practiced in the business world because it is seen as a means of helping workers establish themselves and or develop within a particular corporate culture.
In this work I am focusing on mentoring by Christians within the Christian community as opposed to other kinds of mentoring. However following the above definition, limited though it is, the “change” related to in spiritual mentoring would be about seeing a person become more like Christ. Tony Horsfall puts it in simple terms: “At its heart spiritual mentoring is simply a relationship between two people for the purpose of spiritual growth”. The problem with this definition is that it limits mentoring to two people. As we shall see in chapters three and four this is neither biblical nor necessarily the most effective means of mentoring. Fuller definitions are also more helpful in establishing the nature of the relationship. Engstrom’s definition gives clarity in indicating what mentoring should mean from a biblical point of view. “A mentor...provides modeling, close supervision on special projects, individualized help in many areas-discipline, encouragement, correction, confrontation, and a calling to accountability.” I do not believe it is always true that a mentor needs to give ‘close supervision on special projects’ but the other aspects of the relationship that he mentions are very helpful if effective discipleship is to take place.
There is according to some authors a diverse range of mentoring types. Several quote Robert Clinton who suggests six types of Christian mentoring: “discipler”, “spiritual guide”, “coach”, “counsellor”, “teacher” and “sponsor”. This fragmentation of mentoring is unnecessary and fails to give a holistic and biblical view of discipling. Discipling should be seen as encompassing the role of “discipler” in Clinton’s scheme and much of what Clinton suggests is the role of a “spiritual guide”, and “coach” as well as important aspects of the role of a “counsellor”, “teacher” and “sponsor”. I suggest in view of the need for the church in the UK to become more effective in mission, that ‘missional’ mentoring when understood holistically rather than as a subdivision of mentoring is a more helpful term.
In order to suggest what this might mean it is important to define mission. The word ‘mission’ is from the Latin missionem (nom. missio) ‘act of sending’ from mittere ‘to send’. It is helpful to enlarge on this from a biblical point of view; according to Chris Wright, “Mission, from the point of view of our human endeavour means the committed participation of God’s people in the purposes of God for the redemption of the whole of creation.” The problem with this definition is that it is so all encompassing as to be of limited value. However there is a danger that mission is restricted in people’s thinking to evangelism or evangelism and social action and too narrowly defined. Evangelism itself needs to be so much more than finding the right words. “Authentic witness is the practice of genuine presence with, sensitivity to, modeling for, and then sharing with others about one’s deepest beliefs, values, and hopes.”
Mission is about bringing peace as David Bosch indicates, “Today, few Christians would doubt that peace-making is an intrinsic aspect of the church’s missionary message.” Mission is also about good stewardship of creation,especially in the context of global warming, as Chris Wright points out, “As Christian human beings...we are doubly bound to see active care for creation as a fundamental part of what it means to love and obey God.” Mission is also concerned with issues of justice particularly consideration for weaker members of society and those who are marginalised. The Lambeth conference of 1988 produced one of the most helpful recent definitions of mission and encompasses five vital elements namely:
To proclaim the good news of the gospel
To teach, baptise and nurture new believers
To respond to human need by loving service
To seek to transform unjust structures of societies
To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation, to sustain and renew the life of the earth
Whole life discipleship is about being representatives of Jesus wherever we are. The missionary element of discipleship is clearly seen in the way the first disciples were called. "Come, follow me," Jesus said, (to Simon and Andrew) "and I will make you fishers of men." (Mk 1:17). Jesus is linking the disciples’ profession of fishermen with their new task of metaphorically ‘catching’ people. At this stage it was probably unclear to the disciples exactly what Jesus meant. Only later in the light of Jesus life and death and resurrection and great commission, did it become abundantly clear that they had a task of not just winning new adherents, but making disciples. Missional mentoring would promote and develop a commitment to holistic mission both locally and globally. It is anticipated this would normally mean intensive whole life discipling, in other words training to produce effective missionary disciples. This type of intentional mentoring has the potential, at the very least, for transforming lives and addressing the huge challenges facing the church in the UK.
One such challenge is the so called ‘missing generation’ phenomenon in the UK church which was looked at by the Evangelical Alliance Council in September 2009. In one report they highlight the alarming statistic that among 20-29 year olds church attendance has fallen by 62% from a total of 520,000 in 1985 to 230,600 by 2005. In the light of this and other urgent challenges from people trafficking, to global warming the following definition is helpful. “Mentoring is the empowering of one person by another through personal life, prayer, conversation and example. It is the making of disciples to go into the entire world who will in turn reproduce others to do the same.” There is a danger of choosing a definition which suits personal preferences. But, in the context of widespread disagreement regarding definitions an emphasis on missional discipleship in the mentoring relationship is vital as “Disciple-making is a scriptural imperative, a pastoral imperative and a missional imperative.”
The kind of missional mentoring needed in the UK today should seek to train disciples in such a way that the relationship between mentor and mentee is mission focused, reproductive and to a significant extent, reciprocal. Therefore, both mentor, through the need to be an example, and the mentee spur each other on. Developing disciples and their gifts and ministry within the church is important; but, in view of the current maintenance mentality of many churches there is a need for special attention to be given to mission to the unchurched and to challenge existing ways of doing church. In other words, the focus of mentoring should not be with helping Christians fit into their churches better and maintain programmes that are for the benefit of believers. The focus should not be helping Christians develop their prayer lives or certain specific gifts or talents, but rather the purpose should be to develop an integrated, whole life missionary calling to the world. One further reason why a missional focus to mentoring is important is to guard against weaknesses in some mentoring models. These include being mentee focussed rather than God focused, being self-serving rather than serving others and having more to do with self fulfilment and/or therapy than mission. These weaknesses will be looked at in greater detail in chapter three.
I prefer the use of the terms ‘missional’ and ‘missionary disciples’ in contrast to recent use of the term ‘whole life disciple’ because of the need to stress the outward focus of the relationship. The mentor and mentee(s) are ‘sent ones’ following both the original meaning of the word mission and John 20:21 where Jesus says to his disciples, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” Not only are the lives of the mentoring partnership to be changed by their relationship but this relationship should be conducted in order that the lives of others particularly those outside the church should be impacted. Discipleship has been an important feature of some churches and ministries, such as the Navigators, for many years during the Christendom era of the church in the West. In a post-Christendom context, when much thinking is still stuck in pastoral mode, there is a need for renewed emphasis on mission. “The church has had to reengineer to a missionary, as opposed to a pastoral mode.”
Missional mentoring is an appropriate and accurate term. We have seen that spiritual direction, soul friendship and coaching are normally more limited in their focus than mentoring. Missional mentoring is, from a biblical perspective, discipling but is preferred to that term because it is a more meaningful outside of the church and may avoid the misunderstanding concerning the nature of the discipleship, which is lifelong rather than simply for new believers. Missional is added to the term mentoring deliberately to address the urgent challenge facing the church in the UK. Furthermore, it is to guard against possible weaknesses of mentoring including that of being mentee focussed, self serving, and more to do with self fulfilment and therapy than effective ministry to unbelievers. On a positive level missional mentoring is a helpful term in focusing attention on mentor and mentee(s) as missionaries, spurring each other on as sent ones to participate fully in all that God in his triune nature is calling them to.
 See Copan, V. A., Saint Paul as Spiritual Director (Milton Keynes: Paternoster, 2007) for a more extended discussion of these and other related terms.
 Ibid p 7
 Nemeck & Coombs., The Way of Spiritual Direction (Wilmington: Michael Glazier 1989) p 95 quoted in Versluis P., Making disciples in the congregations (Elkhart: Institute of Mennonite Studies, 1995) p 20
 Jeff, G., Spiritual Direction for Every Christian (London: SPCK, 1987) p 10
 Copan, Saint Paul as Spiritual Director p 7
 Ibid p 24
 Ibid p 25
 Ibid p 12
 Biehl, B., Mentoring (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1996)
 Krallman, G., Mentoring For Mission (Hong Kong: Jensco, 1994)
 Hughes, B., Discipling, Coaching, Mentoring (Eastbourne: Kingsway Communications, 2003) p 54
 Collins G. R., Christian Coaching (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2002) p 23 (Authors italics and bold)
 Ibid p 20
 Ibid p 21 (Authors italics)
 For example Greene M. & Cotterell T., (eds.) Let my People Grow (Milton Keynes: Authentic Media, 2006)
 Clinton J. R. & Stanley P. D., Connecting (Colorado Springs: NavPress 1992) p 48
 Longenecker R. N., Ed. Pattern of Discipleship in the New Testament (Cambridge: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996) p 5
 Collinson S. W., Making Disciples, The Significance of Jesus Educational Methods for Today’s Church (Carlisle: Paternoster, 2004) p 4
 McClung F., in Krallman, , Mentoring For Mission Forward
 Lewis R., Mentoring Matters (Oxford: Monarch Books 2009) p 41
 Hawkins J.M., The Oxford Pocket School Dictionary (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996) p 438
 Megginson D., Coaching and Mentoring Theory and Practice (London: Sage Publications Ltd, 2009) p 1
 Horsfall T., Mentoring for Spiritual Growth (Abingdon: The Bible Reading Fellowship 2008) p 122
 Engstrom T.W., The Fine Art of Mentoring (Eugene: Resource Publications, 1989) p 4
 Clinton, Connecting
 Wright, C. J. H., The Mission of God, (Downers Grove: IVP 2006) p 67 (Author’s italics)
 Augsburger, D., Dissident Discipleship (Grand Rapids: Baker Publishing Group 2006) p 171
 Mt 5:9, 44, Lk 6:35, 10:5, Acts 10:36, Jas 3:18
 Bosch, D. J., Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission (New York: Orbis Books, 1991) p118
 Ps 145:9, Ro 9:21-22, Col 1:20
 Wright, The Mission of God p 269; see p 267-270 for a helpful biblical basis for creation care as an aspect of mission.
 Dt 16:20, Ps 103:6, Mt 23:23
 Dt 24:17, Ps 140:12, Lk 4:18-19
 Referred to as the five marks of mission in Robinson, M., & Smith, D., Invading Secular Space (Oxford: Monarch Books 2003) p 94
 Walker K., ‘20-30’s and the church: A statistical overview’ (produced for the Sept 2009 consultation) http://www.eauk.org/theology/upload/20-30s-and-the-church-A-Statistical-Overview.pdf (Accessed 6/10/2010) refers to the source Brierley P., Pulling out of the Nosedive: A Contemporary Picture of Churchgoing - What the 2005 English Church Census Reveals (London: Christian Research Association 2006)
 Earle P. C., Mentoring Renewal Journal #11 (98:1): Discipleship http://www.pastornet.net.au/renewal/journal11/11g.htm accessed 21st September 2010
 Greene, Let my People Grow, p 16
 Tidball, D., ‘What sort of Bible Colleges do we need for the 21st Century?’ p 6 of document sent by email attachment originally presented as a lecture given to The Centre for Theological Education, Belfast Bible College on the 15th March 2006