"Mentoring," says the late Fred Smith Sr. in his book Leading with Integrity, "is back in favor again, like a wonderful old story that hasn't been told for so long it sounds new."
Then he succinctly explains the danger of that dynamic.
"In some ways it has taken on the characteristics of a fad; if too much is expected too soon, it will fail."
Much like Smith, I have listened in recent years to the growing chorus of voices insisting younger people like me need a mentor, an individual who can listen and provide sage wisdom to me in my faith, my marriage, my parenting, my career, and my leadership. Almost all of those messages have come at me as I sit in the pews of the churches I've attended. Unfortunately, none of these churches effectively found ways to orchestrate meaningful mentoring relationships between older and younger congregants.
It's a question I've chewed on in recent months as I begin the journey of finding a mentor in my own life. How can churches help people connect in ways that lead to mentoring relationships? I fear we lose an opportunity to recover a once-prized practice if, as Smith asserts, our talk doesn't translate into results.
For mentoring to work, the message, and supporting environment, must be intentionally focused on building a culture of mentorship. I'm not suggesting churches play the role of matchmaker, arbitrarily pairing people up and hoping they become tight-knit confidantes. That's absurd. But most of the current formula isn't working.
Far too often, churches lean on their official - or unofficial - men's and women's ministries, hoping a monthly breakfast or gathering spurs enough of the interaction that leads to these relationships. However, those activities aren't frequent enough, and rarely do they provide the right setting for people to become truly comfortable with one another.
And let's be frank. A quality mentoring relationship requires that at least one of the two people is an older, experienced individual, someone who is mature enough to listen, and discerning enough to provide appropriate guidance and support. Cross-generational interactions in churches today, at least in my experience, are limited.
With that said, here are some ways a culture of mentoring could form:
? First, from the pulpit. Use a series to teach on the power and importance of mentoring throughout the Bible, providing examples of Paul and Timothy, Moses and Joshua, and others. The preaching pastor who talks about it spurs on a congregation who talks about it.