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Multi-directional mentoring

Wow, stay away from one’s blog for a few days and you can quickly lose track of the discussion.  Rebecca and I just returned from the States where I stumbled on an article which piqued my interest.  Normally, when I think about mentoring, I think of it in a one directional sense.  A recent post from blogs.bnet.co.uk talked about more multi-directional mentoring described as:“reverse mentoring” and “group mentoring”.

In reverse mentoring, the dynamic is changed by allowing the newer member to mentor or help the more senior leader.  The more senior leader gains access to information and training that might not otherwise have been available to him/her, and the newer member gains an opportunity to be immediately valued as well as to have immediate impact in the organization.  In group mentoring, several upcoming leaders can be mentored at one time, and the group then serves as a community to encourage and challenge one another in leadership development.  It would be interesting to hear what this looks like or might look like for some of us.

12 Responses

  1. David,

    I’ve seen this happening to some extent in our home churches over the past few years. Much like World Team, our denomination is seeing many of its leaders approaching retirement age without seeing many young replacements. Without younger leaders, this can have an impact on what the churches look like and what sort of members are attracted and retained.

    This sort of “multi-directional” mentoring can happen when a younger person is discipled in his relationship with Christ and mentored in leadership qualities. This is obviously a necessity for the future of the church. In return, the younger person can give input in what his generation values or is seeking in a church, which many times are important things that have become blind spots to an older leader. This is obviously a necessity in the meantime, for the church to consider immediately.

    From the older mentor, there comes wisdom and experience to guide a younger leader. From the younger mentor, there is an energy and creativity that can really invigorate an older leader. The only requirement is that both make themselves open to such teaching, ready to receive it.


    • Great insight! Could you describe what it would like for both the younger and older mentor to “make themselves open to such [multi-directional] teaching, ready to receive it”?

      • When there are generational or experiential differences, we make assumptions that keep us apart.

        The younger may assume the older is old-fashioned, out of touch or too stuck in his/her ways. The older may assume the younger is too inexperienced or overly idealistic to give anything of value.

        Both parties need to lay aside assumptions in an act of humility, recognizing the other has something important to offer.

        The older has wisdom and experience to offer, and there will be plenty of times where the younger needs to wake up to that and take heed. Logistics that haven’t yet been encountered, history that hasn’t been experienced, the younger may not have a full picture of what’s going on, and they must realize that.

        The younger may have creativity, energy, or new insight, and there will be plenty of times where the older needs to listen and take a look at what needs to be changed. “That’s the way we’ve always done it” isn’t a sufficient answer, because especially in this age, it’ll be outdated before you know it, and they must realize that.

      • Humility, the notion of ‘other-centeredness’, is obviously key to this kind of dynamic mentoring relationship. What I have found interesting is that it seems to be in the nature of all of us to maintain what we have created; that it is actually both young and old who are capable of “holding onto” a way of doing something. That is why we all need that kind of encouragement from one another to look afresh at things. Peter Drucker said: “A good idea has a life span of five years, and before that you better start thinking about what the next idea will be.” Thanks for your post!

  2. Aren’t we talking about discipleship?

    In Ephesians 4 Paul gives us the picture of the developing body of Christ with every member doing its (his/her) part for the whole, and says that speaking the truth (or “living out the truth) in love we must grow together to maturity. This is peer-discipleship.

    Right now, I am in a discipleship relationship with a man 20 years younger than me. He is not consciously speaking into my life because he thinks I have nothing to learn from him; but walking and talking with him each weak, he is challenging me by his passion and desire for growth. At the weekend he told me something about his past I didn’t know before and then added how overwhelmed he feels at the love of God. Just listening to him reminded me that he who is forgiven much, loves much. And I was moved by him to love Jesus more!

    • I am trying to put words to different forms of spiritual relationships with others in the body of Christ; to describe different ways that this “every member growth together” gets worked or experienced in our daily lives. I think we could talk about discipleship, mentoring, coaching and even facilitating as expressions of this “growing up together in Christ.” I find though that the terms sometimes get in the way of the actual working out or engaging in these types of relationships.

      I’m tempted to talk more about the elements of each term and then see how these can be “practiced” in my relationships with others. For example, coaching focuses on intentional listening rather than telling. Highlighting that element forces me to consider how well I listen to others in the body, and reflect on how I might grow in this practice.

    • John, I hope you shared with him how much you were encouraged and blessed by what he shared.

      My experience is that younger believers usually don’t believe that they have anything to contribute to us “old souls.”

      When we thank and affirm them for their contribution, it helps to ensure that we will continue to hear from them the kind of things that we need to hear.

      • Yes, David (Dougherty)! I should have said that he thought he had nothing to say to me. However, I tell him how much I learn from him. Early on in our relationship, I told him. But I was also thinking about how he speaks to me by his life (not just his words) as I watch him grow. For example, recently he told me with tears how much he loves Jesus for rescuing him (from drugs, alcohol, violence etc.) and for me it was like a living picture of the woman who washed Jesus feet in the house of Simon the Pharisee. Jesus said she loved much because she was forgiven much; and so does my friend. His passion for Jesus is a constant challenge to me… and I told him so.

  3. I think there is a TON of stuff the younger generation can help us re-think. We had a good experience with a Vision Trip group that came out almost 2 years ago – we invited their input on our ministries and how to “recruit” new, young missionaries. Just interacting on “why this way, why not like this?” and finding out more how the younger generation thinks was a huge help! Their spiritual enthusiasm was catchy, some of their ideas innovative. Yes, some need to be tempered with the realities we’ve discovered on the field, but if we let them know we value their input, our mentoring can definitely become two-way or even multi-directional.

  4. Mentoring of any kind or direction is is effective to the degree that there is a deep trust relationship between the parties involved. This trust relationship includes mutual appreciation of commitment to the Lordship of Christ and spiritual development, integrity of character and the areas of competence in the other –in short being fellow learners.

    In cross-cultural ministry the foreigner will always be more appreciated by the national if they take the stance of being a fellow learner and fellow pilgrim rather than a teacher or expert. As foreigner even those who have been in the culture long-term we always have so much to learn. Being in the role of a fellow learner also builds trust as we learn how to ask the questions of prior trust.

    I was sent to Haiti as a young missionary to teach in the Bible Institute and had students in my class twice my age who were preaching the gospel before I was born. I learned more from them than they learned from me. I knew so little about Haitian life, ways of thinking and communication. I spent a great deal of time in the dormitories listening to the students and learning from them.

    As the churches and national leaders mature the role of the missionary progressively should change and we foreigners become more and servants to the national church leaders. One skill that we need to learn is how to mentor your boss. This is an easy and natural transition if from day one we mentor with the attitude of being a fellow learner building a community of trust.

    This same approach is also valid within the missionary community. As an older missionary I encouraged the newer missionaries early in their careers to establish mentoring relationships with nationals and to make ministry with nationals the major focus.

    Mutuality and trust are are at the core of an effective mentoring relationship. Being fellow learners also avoids creating a syndrome dependency that so important in developing a multiplication mentality.

    • Thanks Ed for drawing our attention to an important precursor to mentoring, that of being a learner. I always have heard that it is not the person answering the questions, but the person asking the questions who is directing the conversation. A mentor needs to be a learner by “learning” how to ask good questions and understand more of the context and need of the person to whom he/she is speaking.

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