The Church and mentoring: Could you make a lifelong investment in another person?

(Photo: Liz West)

Seasoned mentor Bobb Biehl took to the web last night to share some advice about what it really means to walk alongside others and why the Church needs to understand it better.

In a webinar hosted by the Forum of Christian Leaders (FOCL), Mr Biehl talked about his experience of providing mentoring services to CEOs and pastors, and how it might apply to the Christian experience in particular.

Rather than something short-term or non-committal, he said mentoring was "ideally a lifelong relationship, in which the mentor helps the protégé realise her or his lifelong potential".

The most important two questions a mentor can ask their protégé, he suggested, were: "What are your plans?" and "How can I help you?"

In this, he drew a distinction between mentoring and teaching, the latter being "where you impart your own agenda, what you think is important to know".

By contrast, the mentor tailors what they say according to the goals of their protégé and not what the mentor thinks they should want.

In this sense, Mr Biehl differentiated between mentoring on the one hand and discipleship and evangelism on the other.

"The Church makes a deep and profound mistake when it confuses those things," said Mr Biehl.

"The Church so often thinks, 'if we're evangelising, we're mentoring' and they're not."

Highlighting the difference, Mr Biehl said that mentors should be listening between 65 and 70 per cent of the time, and only talking for the remaining 30 to 35 per cent - very different to the kind of relationship someone might have with a teacher or a street evangelist.

And while some Christians talk about being "mentored" in their faith by the likes of Martin Luther, CS Lewis or John Wesley, Mr Biehl is adamant that it is about a personal relationship: "You can't be mentored by someone who's been dead for 300 years!"

However, he was keen to break down some mentoring myths.  Firstly, a good mentor does not have to be someone old, and secondly, they probably won't have all the answers - or be perfect.

"If you wait for a perfect mentor, you're going to be waiting forever," he said.

But what they should have is experience: "The mentor has lots of experience the protégé does not have.  They can help you build a bridge between where you are and where you want to go."

The webinar did not only deal with potential mentors but also those wondering whether they need a mentor to help them accomplish their own goals in life. 

To help answer the question of whether a mentor would be beneficial, he suggested people think about what they want to accomplish outside of their family and what they would do if they were free to do anything that they could not fail, and time, were no object.

"If you're climbing alone, and you get stuck on a ledge that you can't get down from, you've got a problem," he said.

"But if you've got a guide, a mentor, and their six feet up from you, or six feet below you, they can help."

For people who are considering being mentors, he noted one of the most rewarding aspects: "As a mentor, the people you come next to will impact the world for fifty, sixty, seventy years on after you are gone.

"I've worked with a lot of big names in the Christian world, people like Josh McDowell, but the people mentored by them didn't know who I was at all."

To keep the mentoring relationship healthy, Mr Biehl strongly advised against things like inter-gender mentoring, and said that there should be absolutely no exchange of money from the mentor to the protégé.

And for anyone who already has a mentor or even a guiding figure in their life, he had some good advice: "Make sure they know they are appreciated.

"You might not have called them a mentor, but that's what they were. And if they pour their lives into all these people, it's important they know they did something good and that you're thankful.

"Mentoring doesn't always show itself clearly, sometimes it's a subtle but important relationship."