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].

A PDF version of this article is available here.  From Anamcara Consulting


[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

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