Even though Rodger and Lynne Schmidt were planning to go to Africa as missionaries, they found themselves asking, "Is this really something we should be doing?"
At the same time in the same city, another couple was also wrestling with their call, though from the other end of a missionary career. Now retired, this couple was asking, "After 41 years as missionaries in Africa, who are we? Our home and life work are on another continent. What is our life all about?"
God (through a mentoring program at Denver Seminary) brought these two couples together. It was a great match. The Schmidts' call was confirmed, and the retired couple discovered significance in their new role as mentors.
"We felt encouraged, they felt validated," Schmidt says. Both couples experienced the benefits of mentoring.
Why do the trades have apprenticeships and medical professions require internships? Because personal attention from experienced practitioners helps learners master essential skills, attitudes, and knowledge. This, of course, is no surprise to Christians familiar with the mentoring relationships of Moses and Joshua, Elijah and Elisha, Naomi and Ruth, Paul and Timothy, and Jesus and the disciples.
What is a mentor, really?
A mentor is "a brain to pick, an ear to listen, and a push in the right direction," according to The Uncommon Individual Foundation, an organization devoted to mentoring research and training. It reports that mentoring is the third most powerful relationship for influencing human behavior, after marriage and the extended family.
Randy MacFarland, who helps train mentors as vice president of training and mentoring at Denver Seminary, says, "When we consider the fragmentation of the family, the speed of change demanding the constant learning of new skills, and our mobile society separating extended family members, the need for mentoring increases."
The Uncommon Individual Foundation identifies three things people need to succeed: a dream, someone who believes in them, and determination. MacFarland says, "Now, we certainly add the whole matter of God's call and empowerment. But we often forget how powerful it is when someone believes in us." That's what mentors do, and it shapes lives.
"I started thinking about mentoring relationships in our church when young parents of infants asked me, 'Who can we talk to? We don't know what we're doing!' " says Don Payne, who was pastoring at Southern Gables Church in Littleton, Colorado, at the time. "Or I'd hear from a young family, 'We're not doing well with our finances and we really need some help.' Networking my contacts in the church, I did some matchmaking—younger couples with more seasoned veterans."
How the mentor benefits
Lots of people would like to be mentored, but those willing to mentor are harder to find. What are the benefits of being a mentor?
One advantage of mentoring is the sense of significance you receive. As Don Payne says, "In vocational ministry you often wonder if what you're doing is making a difference, or if your efforts are just being dumped into a black hole. But in a mentoring relationship, we're usually dealing with people hungry to grow, eager to learn, and there is a more visible return on our investment."
A second benefit is personal growth. As a mentor discusses character issues with a mentoree, both are forced to look at their own character issues.