Missions Mentoring


I’ve been reading “The Fine Art of Mentoring: Passing on to Others What God has Given to You”by Ted W. Engstrom (1989). It got me thinking regarding mentoring in the context of missions. Engstrom talks about three types of mentor relationships. He speaks of them in relation to St. Paul.

Paul with Siconius and Timothy

1. Barnabbas Relationships. This is the “classic mentor.” Paul was trained, empowered, and encouraged by Barnabbas to serve as a missionary (apostle). Later on the two of them split, where Barnabbas trained, empowered, and encouraged John Mark, and Paul did the same with Silas. The split between Barnabbas and Paul may have been unfortunate in that it was handled poorly. However, maturing of this sort of relationship and reproduction of new relationships is healthy.

2.  Timothy Relationships. This is the “classic protege’.” Every learning person can and should be a teaching person. Just as Timothy was mentored by Paul, Timothy was to mentor “faithful men” in his church.

My wife is a clinical pastoral counselor, and supervises clinical pastoral training (CPE). This is essentially a mentoring role. However, in CPE, to supervise means one has to be under supervision. In other words, to be a mentor, one has to have a mentor. It’s a good idea.

3.  Epaphroditus Relationships. One’s mentor is usually older and one’s protege’ is usually younger, but one should also learn and grow with peers. The Proverbs reference of “iron sharpening iron” is relevant here. Paul described Philemon in terms of equals,

  • dear friend

  • fellow worker

  • loving brother

  • partner

Yet Paul seeked to guide Philemon and seeked help from Philemon. Recognizing another as an equal should not mean that one believes there is nothing to learn from that person. In fact, accountability is important as well as sharing insights.

All three relationships are part of the mentoring experience. In fact, one really should be learning from mentors, but also from proteges and peers.

Unfortunately, churches and the mission field are often not good at this. Some organizations set up “accountability partners” or disciplers. However, a true mentor is more personal. A good mentor shares a basic philosophy of life with you, and in some ways is a model of who you want to be. It requires chemistry, not just mandate.

There are many people I respect, yet I do not share a philosophy of life or ministry with. There are many I think are doing well what God has called them to do, yet are not doing something that I would desire to emulate.

In the end, I guess in missions, I don’t want to see formal “mentoring programs.” That is because mentors are too tied to one’s personality and individual calling, to be fit into a programmatic structure. What I would like to see is a cultural change, where mentoring relationships are encouraged and cultivated in church and mission communities.

It’s a challenge, and I am not sure when and if this will happen. I am not even sure how comfortable I would be in that sort of culture. I am, admittedly, a task-driven person, and a strong 3-level mentoring community needs people-oriented members. But I think that all would gain from an intentional mentoring climate. Within the missions realm, I have had probably three people who could be described as my mentors. One of them no longer is… but the other two still are to some extent. Distance communications of today allow mentoring for even solo missionaries in remote locations. I would hate to think where any missionary would be without good mentors.

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