Does mentoring really help you grow spiritually?
Whether it’s Jackie Chan modeling his career after Bruce Lee or Luke Skywalker learning the Force from Yoda, we see mentors and apprentices all over the world—in real life and in fiction. A similar type of relationship existed in Jesus’ day between a rabbi and his disciples.
Jesus was called rabbi—teacher. His apprentices were disciples—learners. A disciple’s job was to follow their rabbi until they absorbed all he had to teach them.
Christ-followers believe that Jesus is God, who came to earth and lived a perfect human life—which makes him the ultimate mentor. According to the Bible, Jesus invited twelve ordinary, working men to follow him. They learned from his teachings, his interactions with others, and ongoing conversations with him. After three years of apprenticeship, they had been transformed from blue-collar tradesmen to world-changing leaders.
Jesus came to earth so that his followers “may have life, and have it to the full.”1 His final instruction to his followers was to spread that joyful news: “Go and make disciples of all nations . . . teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”2 They dispersed throughout the world, and for twenty centuries now, Jesus’ followers have passed on the news of abundant life.
How Mentoring Works
Recovery expert Edward Sellner notes that the only difference between spiritual mentoring and other types of learning is its “greater depth and . . . concern with our vocation and relationship with God.”3 The mentoring process can be broken down into four main steps. A common parallel is the process of learning to play a musical instrument.
A music student begins by observing how an instrument is played. They notice how it sounds and what it looks like to play music.
In spiritual mentoring, the apprentice first notes the attitudes and behaviors of a person who is spiritually mature. The mentor may demonstrate traits like perseverance or a nonjudgmental attitude. Through observation, the apprentice notices the characteristics they want to develop in themselves.
A student then learns how to interact with the instrument. This could include learning its different parts or how to play scales. They have not yet begun to make music, exactly, but they are learning how music is made.
Throughout training, a spiritual mentor provides clear assignments and direction. This might include studying Scripture or completing practical assignments, such as reconciling a broken relationship, giving to the poor, or practicing the discipline of prayer. Training helps the apprentice become familiar with the foundation of the abundant life.
A competent student eventually moves from learning the components of an instrument to playing actual music. At first the songs may be short and simple. But with time and practice, they will learn to read music on their own and therefore be able to play a large selection of pieces.
An apprentice will eventually take charge of their own study. They might investigate specific Scriptures they find interesting or take on learning experiences alone. The mentor shifts from giving detailed directions to providing feedback and advice.
One of the best ways to learn is to teach. Someday this budding musician may have the opportunity to teach students of their own. As they retrace the steps of learning to play music, they will gain a new understanding and appreciation of how it works.
To experience the abundant life, a spiritual apprentice will eventually need to take on the responsibility of teaching others. Helping others learn how to pray reminds the teacher of their own need to commune with God. Helping a student learn forgiveness makes the teacher more aware of their own relationships. The new teacher will rediscover their appreciation for and respect of their mentor and their own learning. In time, apprentice becomes master and mentor.
Types of Mentors
Professor Robert Clinton notes six types of spiritual mentors—the Discipler, the Spiritual Guide, the Coach, the Counselor, the Teacher, and the Sponsor:
- The Discipler helps an apprentice develop specific habits based on the life and teachings of Jesus. They can answer the questions “What do I do?” “How do I do it?” and “Why should I do it?”4
- The Spiritual Guide is a “specialist in assessing spirituality.” Once they diagnose an apprentice’s need, they can provide specific assignments and ongoing accountability.5
- The Coach provides the apprentice with the “motivation, perspective and skills to enable [them to achieve] excellent performance and effectiveness.”6 They tend to focus on developing specific arenas, such as spiritual disciplines or relationships.
- The Counselor provides specific advice at appropriate times.7 They are impartial observers who provide a valuable outside perspective.
- The Teacher is a subject matter expert.8 The teacher provides knowledge, resources, and motivation for growth in specific areas such as parenting, career, or addiction.
- The Sponsor provides “guidance and protection” for the apprentice.9 They use their own relational connections to help their apprentice gain opportunities and experience.
An apprentice will need a different type of mentor based on where they are in their own spiritual growth. The most appropriate, helpful mentor depends on the apprentice’s needs, personality, and learning style.
How to Find a Mentor
But where does one find such a person? Use these five steps to help you find the mentor you need.
Start by asking God to provide the right person. Jesus-followers believe that God loves the people he created and wants to give them good things—especially those they ask for. This is exactly the type of request that God loves to fulfill.
Search through Church Communities
Seek out a church community and observe the more experienced members. You should be able to find a few who are further along in their journey and know about Jesus’ offer of abundant life and what it means to have a relationship with him.
Ask for Help
Ask your friends and family whom they might suggest as a spiritual mentor. Do a web search for organizations that specialize in discipleship or life-coaching. When you find a candidate, talk to them about what Jesus’ abundant life means to them.
You can be mentored even by those who don’t live nearby or have already passed away. Read everything you can by them and about them. Consider their experiences and teachings. Imagine what direction and advice that person would give you if they knew you personally.
The Result of Mentoring
Paul, one of the writers of the Bible, was keenly aware of his own shortcomings. He described his struggle this way: “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.”10 I think we can all relate to this sentiment. Paul is describing a shattered identity. His values differ from his actions; his life is truly dis-integrated.
Reflecting on her experiences with being mentored, psychologist Barbara Eurich-Rascoe notes how it “integrated various professional, social, personal, sexual and ideological elements” of her life into “a coherent and cohesive identity.”11
Why do Jesus-followers seek out spiritual mentors? Because mentoring helps integrate their shattered identities into the abundant life that Jesus teaches. They become more mature versions of themselves and grow increasingly like Jesus. As such, they are able to make the world around them a better place.