Mentoring – balanced vision and practical strategy

I’m not a big fan of the term ‘mentoring’.  It sounds like one person is a professional saint and the other is an innocent novice.  Life doesn’t usually fall into such neat categories and it can set up all kinds of false expectations.  I’d rather talk about being ‘alongside’ another person and offering as much support as you’d expect from a friend.  That model sits more comfortably with Renovaré’s preference not to create a hierarchy.  None of us has really ‘got it’ yet and it doesn’t help if we set ourselves up in the wise sage business.

When I meet with someone over a period of months I sometimes have in my mind the main elements of the Order of Meeting found in the Life Streams workbook by James Bryan Smith and Lynda Graybeal.  I gently encourage a person (always a man, I never do this with the opposite sex for obvious reasons) to walk through the core elements.  Here’s how it works:

Order of Meeting

Usually, I’ll start by reassuring the person of total confidentiality, and remind them of why we are meeting and what we’re trying to do.  The Workbook sets this out very well.  The bulk of the time is spent on seeing how they’re doing using the ‘Questions of Examen’ as a basis. For some people, it helps to refer to the Questions and other times I just remember the basic structure.  I conclude by encouraging the person to think about what they are going to actually DO before we next meet.  This isn’t law and there’s no pressure.  It’s really about what they feel comfortable trying themselves.

Footprint of Jesus

Sitting at the heart of all this is the idea from the Order of Meeting that we’re looking together for the ‘footprint of Jesus’ in our lives.  As I pray between meetings I’m expecting events to happen in the person’s experience that we can discuss together.  It helps to work on live material.  I take seriously the idea that it is no accident that we have been brought together and I’m watching out for God to show up in their life and journey.

Caution and Grace

Working with someone in this way is a privilege not to be taken lightly.  Respecting their vulnerability is crucial.  I never recruit people and always wait to be asked, even if that takes a long time to happen.  I will generally meet them in a public place like a quiet hotel lounge or empty coffee bar.  If we need to go somewhere to pray then we do that, but I always make sure that my church leaders know who I’m seeing so there’s never the possibility of rumour or false accusation.  Wisdom and grace are needed here.

Good Book Guide

Life Streams recommends reading the great classics of the Christian faith (see the Renovaré website for suggestions).  Richard Foster’s books Devotional Classics and Spiritual Classics are collections of choice nuggets from these rich resources.  As an alternative to the Order of Meeting, I sometimes suggest that we read one of these books together over several weeks or months.  We still keep the rhythm going, but wrap it up in the insights of the greatest fathers and mothers of the Church.

Best experience: When the person starts to find answers to their own questions.

Worst experience: Knowing when to suggest someone might need professional counselling advice – don’t take risks.

James Catford