Mentoring in Groups and Between Peers: Alternatives to the One-to-One Mentoring Model

by Rick Lewis.   

Where experienced, competent mentors are hard to find, a group-mentoring model may be attractive. Compared with a one-to-one approach, groups for mentoring among peers have both advantages and disadvantages.

Advantages:

  • a greater number of perspectives are available;
  • a greater variety of ideas may be generated;
  • members experience strong accountability due to peer pressure;
  • a sense of commonality such that one does not need to explain everything.

Disadvantages:

  • Less time available for each person to share;
  • greater potential for breach of trust;
  • conversations tend toward generic topics that all understand;
  • meeting together requires more complicated scheduling.

Peer mentoring groups require strong values in order to remain healthy: honesty, suspension of judgement, activation of discernment, confidentiality and intentionality. You may wish to consider other values that you would find essential, and whether or not a group would need a facilitator in order to stay true to these values and to stay on track in terms of focus and time. These groups may adopt one or more of several approaches, sticking with one that works best for them, or mixing things up over time:

  • Group supervision process, taking it in turn to present a case study arising from their experience of living as a disciple of Jesus. This may take the form of a theological reflection on a critical incident. Other members of the group then ask questions and make observations about how God is active in the life of the person sharing and may help generate options for how the individual can respond and grow.
  • Wesleyan approach, considering a standard set of accountability questions at each meeting. As a variation, each meeting may address a limited number of accountability questions drawn from a longer list in order to facilitate deeper exploration of the issues.
  • Retreating together, taking an extended time to withdraw from normal life patterns in order to listen to God attentively in community. A retreat setting can serve as a time for sharing life stories. Reese and Loane have a suggested format for such retreats[1].

Mallison outlines several different applications for mentoring in the life of a church. For one of these he draws on the example of Rod Denton[2] whose practice, as a pastoral team leader, involved mentoring members of his staff as a group. Compare this with the observations Lewis makes in chapters 5 and 7 of Mentoring Matters[3] about the operation of power within mentoring relationships.

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[1] Reese, Randy and Loane, Robert. Deep Mentoring: Guiding Others on Their Leadership Journey. Downers Grove, IVP, 2012, p. 170-171

[2] Mallison, John. Mentoring: To Develop Disciples and Leaders. Adelaide: Openbook/Lidcombe: Scripture Union, 1998, p. 156f

[3] Lewis, Rick. Mentoring Matters: Building Strong Leaders, Avoiding Burnout, Reaching the Finishing Line. Oxford, Monarch, 2009, p. 129-132 and 178-180.

Toward a Theology of Christian Mentoring

by Rick Lewis.   

It must be acknowledged that mentoring is not a Biblical word, yet it does describe a Biblical reality, observable in several key relationships between leaders in both the Old and New Testaments, as we will explore towards the end of this section. The Biblical terms most closely related to mentoring are μαθητεύσατε ‘make disciples’ (Matthew 28:19), καταρτισμός ‘prepare’ or ‘equip’ (Ephesians 4:12) and ποιμαίνω ‘tend as a shepherd’ (Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:2). Mentoring can make a key contribution to these larger concerns.

A useful theology of Christian mentoring will answer questions such as these:

· Where is God active in a Christian mentoring partnership?

· What Biblical texts inform the process and outcomes of mentoring?

· How does mentoring sit alongside other methods of disciple-making, preparation of God’s people and pastoral leadership?

· What personal qualities and attitudes are required of those involved in mentoring?

· What values must be respected in mentoring that are worthy of being called ‘Christian’?

God’s already present action is affirmed by Paul in Philippians 1:6 where he says, ‘He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus’. God’s action calls for a response from individuals such as that expressed in Philippians 3:12 ‘I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me’. The scope for mentoring emerges from the New Testament’s insistence that others have a part to play in facilitating an individual’s response to God’s gracious action. Some examples of this include the following:

· And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone. (1 Thessalonians 5:12,14)

· Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. (Hebrews 10:24)

· I myself am certain of you, brothers, that you are full of what is good, complete in all knowledge, able to give direction to one another. (Romans 15:14)

· Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom. (Colossians 3:16)

In understanding mentoring as essentially a formational process we can see three key elements:

· God is the one who forms; ‘For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son’ (Romans 8:29)

· The mentoree offers themselves to be formed; ‘Offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness.’ (Romans 6:13)

· Mentors participate in this formation; ‘My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you’ (Galatians 4:19)

Following Anderson and Reese’s description of mentoring[1] as a ‘triadic relationship’, consider what is going on in each of the six interactions within mentoring:

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· What comes from God to the mentoree?

· What comes from the mentoree to God?

· What comes from God to the mentor?

· What comes from the mentor to God?

· What comes from the mentor to the mentoree?

· What comes from the mentoree to the mentor?

As you construct your theology of Christian mentoring, take note of the qualities that stand out to you as most important features of the sort of mentoring you would choose for yourself and would wish to provide for others. As a starting point, you may wish to consider the following qualities of mentoring as shaped by the New Testament:

Ontological – concerned for being as a foundation for doing; Matthew 28:19-20; Ephesians 4:12-13

Incarnational – requiring an aspect of modelling; Philippians 3:17; 4:9; 1 Corinthians 4:15-16; 11:1; 2 Thessalonians 3:9

Liberating – eschewing domination; 2 Thessalonians 3:8; 1 Peter 5:2-3

Generative – receivers pass it on; 1 Thessalonians 1:6-7; 2 Timothy 2:2

Christocentric – formation aimed at Christlikeness; Galatians 4:19; Colossians 1:28-29

In Mentoring Matters, Lewis cites several relationships between people in the Bible that display some of the attributes of mentoring[2]. We should be careful not to advance these as precise, definitive examples of mentoring. They might be more accurately identified as Biblical precedents of mentoring in the sense that we use the term today. They are, nonetheless, useful in identifying how God has been pleased to use human relationships in the past to further his work of forming leaders for his mission in the world. Reflections on Biblical relationships that help us understand the potential of mentoring may also be found in Mallison[3] and Horsfall[4].

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[1] Their definition reads, “A triadic relationship between mentor, mentoree and the Holy Spirit, where the mentoree can discover, through the already present action of God, intimacy with God, ultimate identity as a child of God and a unique voice for kingdom responsibility.” Anderson and Reese, Spiritual Mentoring: A Guide for Seeking and Giving Direction. Downers Grove: IVP, 1999, p. 12.

[2] Lewis, Rick. Mentoring Matters: Building Strong Leaders, Avoiding Burnout, Reaching the Finishing Line. Oxford, Monarch, 2009, p. 42-56

[3] Mallison, John. Mentoring: To Develop Disciples and Leaders. Adelaide: Openbook/Lidcombe: Scripture Union, 1998, p. 37-42

[4] Horsfall, Tony. Mentoring for Spiritual Growth. Abingdon: Bible Reading Fellowship, 2008, p. 27-34