Informal Mentoring

by

Jimmy arrived at my house promptly at 8 a.m. to take me to the airport. He has often done this for me. Jimmy and his wife, Natalie, head overseas later this year as missionaries. He has been in a small group that I lead; he and Natalie also lead a small group at our local church.

But Jimmy was doing more than giving me a ride to the airport. This trip demonstrates the primary approach I take toward mentoring. I rarely ever go on a driving trip alone, and I virtually never drive to the airport by myself. Whenever I can, in the normal course of life, I involve someone I am mentoring. Talking about life and godliness in this context gives life to a mentoring relationship. I call this informal mentoring.

Examine the life of Christ in the Gospels and notice His approach: Jesus spoke to multitudes. He fed thousands. He taught many. He sent out seventy to witness, but He changed the world with only twelve. Even more than that, He poured Himself especially into three: Peter, James, and John.

The greatest impact I have made as a teacher and a minister has been not through preaching to crowds or teaching classes, as vital as those are. It has been those individuals who have walked with me beyond the classroom or small group in normal, everyday life, talking about ministry and theology to be sure, but talking as well about living life for Christ.

I believe in formal mentoring, and I regularly meet with one man or a few men to invest in them. At the very least, informal mentoring can be added to more formal approaches, and in my opinion is the superior mode, for it is the approach Jesus used.

Study the Gospels to see how Jesus mentored the twelve. They saw his heart for the lost (Matt. 9:35–38). He put them in situations that challenged them to think (asking them who He was in Matt. 16; the Transfiguration in Matt. 17). He defended them before the Pharisees (chap. 15). He gave them assignments such as spreading the good news and, ultimately, the Great Commission. These and scores of other examples came through the course of their daily life together.

The best learning comes not from simply listening to a mentor but from seeing truth lived out in the mentor’s life. In this way, informal mentoring offers several advantages:

Informal mentoring allows the person you mentor to see you as you live life, and vice versa. We can all put on a front in a scheduled, weekly meeting, but are less likely to do so as we conduct our normal lives daily.

Informal mentoring allows direct application in a specific context. When I speak at a university, I take students interested in collegiate ministry. I let them critique my message, evaluate the host ministry, and talk about how the gospel could impact that campus. I do the same with student ministry or at leadership conferences. I recently saw a young man who earned his PhD with me. As a student, he helped me serve my wife by planting flowers, something he had never done. We talked theology as we planted that day. He recalled that event, telling me he had just made a beautiful flowerbed for his family. Our mentoring should be theological and spiritual; we should also tie such mentoring to life.

Informal mentoring allows us to invest in others without adding more time to our calendar. When I do yard work, I involve mentees; I take them to run errands. We evangelize together. They help me with writing projects. I even let them drive me around in my car.

Informal mentoring allows us to see those whom we mentor in everyday life settings and observe how they respond. It’s hard while sitting in a weekly small group to see how a young man responds when things don’t go as planned. How does he treat the server in the restaurant? How does he speak of others in authority? How does he respond both to encouragement and rebuke? How does he apply the gospel to his life?

Informal mentoring offers excellent opportunities for defining moments. I have seen a young man process an important life concept in conversation during a two-hour drive far more often than in a more formal setting.

If you are not already doing so, think about someone you want to mentor. Ask yourself what things you currently do that would allow you to involve these protégés: running errands, cleaning your office, working on a project, or doing yard work, for instance. Think of normal activities where you could invite someone to walk with you. Adjust your lifestyle to include other people in these activities. And as you spend time together, talk about life and godliness, about theology and its application. And encourage those whom you mentor to do the same. After all, one vital aspect of the Apostolic witness was the Apostles’ proximity to Christ Jesus, as seen in Acts 4:13: “When they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus” (emphasis mine).

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