Mentoring As a Tool for Transformation
Mentoring in the spiritual development of women can be a powerful tool for transformation. In a previous article, “Envisioning the Dream,” I mentioned that individuals tend to lean toward same-gender examples of spiritual leadership. However, in a study within the Churches of Christ, women preferred either gender equally, possibly indicating a lack of available female mentors. As I was looking at the research, there seemed to be a consistent theme of women having less access and fewer opportunities to grow from mentoring than their male counterparts. Thus, from a spiritual growth standpoint, churches need to make sure that women are able to get the mentoring they need. Titus 2:3-5 urges older women within our churches to teach, or mentor, the younger women.
In an educational setting, mentoring has been shown not only to enhance but to complete the educational process. Laurent A. Daloz writes in Mentor, “For when the aim of education is understood to be the development of the whole person—rather than knowledge acquisition, for instance—the central element of good teaching becomes the provision of care rather than the use of teaching skills or transmission of knowledge” (p. xix). Dr. Ron Lee Davis reflects upon the role of mentors in his life and training in his book, Mentoring: The Strategy of the Master. He says that the job of mentors “is not to produce great men and women, but rather to energize ordinary men and women to be greatly motivated for the cause of Jesus Christ” (p. 37). In a church setting, mentoring can be transformational and is an excellent addition to a church program.
There are several different types of mentoring programs that could be set up: informal/organic, formal, and group. Each type has pros and cons.
The first type, the informal/organic style, is the most natural, but it is not really an organized program. As a result, this approach could just be a general encouragement or call for individuals in the congregation to mentor others intentionally. While natural, the downside is that it may not actually happen or some people may be missed.
The second type is a formal mentoring program. With this type of program there is a system in place involving sign-ups. Mentors and mentees are assigned to one another, taking into account schedules, personalities, and life situations. Mentors are typically expected to abide by standards set forth in Titus 2. The advantage of formal mentoring is that people are less likely to be overlooked; anyone who is willing may sign up. The downside is there is no guarantee that the relationship will click. It may also feel artificial or awkward. If the mentor and mentee are not comfortable together, it will affect their conversations and render the approach ineffective. This type also depends highly on the right number of mentors and mentees signing up. A hybrid type that has proven to be successful are triads involving one mentor and two mentees, and participants have reported that the synergy between the two mentees can improve the discussions.
The third type, group mentoring, depends less on the proportions of mentors and mentees signing up. Group mentoring also may feel less intimidating to people who aren’t sure of themselves as mentors, as the responsibility is shared. It provides opportunity for mentees to get to know women in their particular life stage or situation. The downsides are that there is no guarantee the group will click, and the conversations could feel forced or artificial. Another common issue is how to handle dominant personalities, which may take over or drive conversation solely towards their interests.
Regardless of which method one chooses, the purpose of mentoring is to help the mentees grow spiritually. To achieve this, the mentor should consider the goals. This should be reflected not only in the curriculum but also in the types of discussion and even the way the mentors interact and challenge the mentees. If a direction or goal has not been set, the sessions may seem disconnected or aimless. Women, especially those who wear many hats and have to make judicious decisions concerning time usage, are typically more committed to programs that they perceive as helping them grow.
Mentors, however, need to understand that they cannot force their mentees to grow. According to Margaret Gunther in Holy Listening, the role of the mentor is best described using the image of a midwife. A mentor is assisting the mentee to discern the work of the Spirit, and she provides friendship (p. 69). Tony Horsfall in Mentoring for Spiritual Growth believes that mentoring is triadic in nature, involving the mentor, mentee, and the Holy Spirit (p. 17). When we walk alongside another person, we are walking alongside the Holy Spirit in the development of the mentee’s spiritual life. This is holy ground, and we must embark on this journey with prayer and careful consideration of our plan.
While mentoring has been widely used in both secular and religious settings, and for both genders, a special need exists among women. This calls for increased attention to female spiritual development. In our busy world, taking the time to sit with another person could be considered countercultural. However, it’s important for churches to push against those forces and recognize the importance of encouraging members to take the time to pour into one another.