The Prayer Factor in Mentoring
Malaysian squash queen Nicol David won the world championship title for the second consecutive time last November in Belfast. She is also the current British Open champion and ranked No 1 in the world. Her former coach cum mentor, Richard Glanfield, must have played a key role in her formation as a world-class squash player. Glanfield told The Squash Player magazine in 2001, "I first coached her at 11 and I said at the time, if you could keep her smiling she can be world champion. We want to keep all aspects of her life in harmony. Too many coaches neglect important aspects of the player's life while focusing on immediate goals. When we go away to tournaments, we always go sightseeing. We want to keep things in perspective and enjoy it. At 12 she used to bounce down the steps to the club with her squash shorts under her school dress, really keen to get on court. I want to maintain that enthusiasm."
The crying need for mentors is felt beyond the world of sports. Even in the marketplace, mentoring is fast becoming one of the "in" words. Techniques and principles are taught and promoted in books and talks. The current thinking in the field of personal development is that everybody needs a good mentor in order to excel and anybody can be a good mentor if he or she possesses the necessary skills and resources and adopts the principles stressed by mentoring gurus.
Mentoring, in the context of discipling, is essentially a biblical concept. Jesus' mandate in the Great Commission is to "make disciples of all nations", which involves "going, baptizing and teaching them to obey everything [He] has commanded". Making disciples is thus helping someone to become a learner and follower of Jesus Christ. Discipling is the process of developing someone to follow and obey Christ. A major component of this process is mentoring, where the discipler guides the disciple to walk in accordance with the Word of God.
Effective mentoring, from a technical point of view, depends a lot on skills and experiences, on the availability of resources and self-help books, and this implies that every Christian can be a mentor. In addition, if mentoring is "a relational experience through which one person empowers another by sharing God-given resources", as stated by Paul D Stanley and J Robert Clinton in Connecting: The Mentoring Relationships You Need To Succeed, everyone can and should be a mentor.
Peter Wagner wrote in an article entitled Prayer in Leading People in the book Leaders On Leadership: Wisdom, Advice and Encouragement on the Art of Leading God's People, "Christian leaders can lead with or without prayer … Christian parents can raise a family with or without prayer. Christian students can study with or without prayers." This is the same with mentoring. A mentor can mentor with or without prayer. The thrust of mentoring is knowing the right stuff, asking the right questions according to the stages of a mentee's spiritual journey and giving the right biblical input at the right time, and all these can be done without prayer. This possibility is worrying because of the nature of biblical mentoring.
Biblical mentoring is more than the impartation of skills and knowledge - it is the process of helping someone grow in obedience and Christlikeness. As Dr Joe Aldridge says in his foreword to Bill Hull's book Jesus Christ, Disciplemaker, it is not "a distorted mechanistic, assembly-line process … high-speed, short-term, result-oriented". It is a spiritual endeavor. It involves spiritual warfare.
Biblical mentoring must be founded on prayer. Unfortunately this is seldom emphasized, even in Christian-based mentoring books. Tim Elmore's Mentoring: How to Invest Your Life in Others, for example, does not mention prayer as an essential quality of a successful mentor. I suppose the book was written with non-Christians in mind. Nevertheless, the omission is obvious even in books written for Christians.
A mentor must be committed to labor in prayer for his or her mentee. For if the objective in mentoring is seeing someone faithfully following Jesus, then whether we realize it or not Satan is certainly opposed to it. Moreover, only the Lord can do the work of transformation in the mentee's life - leading him or her closer to Him.
Paul demonstrated the centrality of prayer in his discipleship and mentoring relationships. In his epistle to the Ephesians, Paul stressed that he prayed for them. Moreover, in his explanation of theological truths, he would pause to pray for them. As a result we have passionate prayers such as, "For this reason … I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. I keep asking … I pray also …" (Eph 1:15-18, NIV). We see a similar pattern in other epistles. He seems to emphasize that in spite of all that he has said only God can make it real in their lives. He pointed out again in 1 Cor 3:6, "I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow."
Every mentor must realize that no amount of teaching and reasoning will change the heart of a person who is under a lot of pressure and gives in to what is perceived as more urgent, realistic or rewarding in tangible terms. Whenever a mission-minded believer follows Christ and makes a difference for Him in the marketplace, it seems as though management, colleagues, family and the flesh are conspiring to quench that desire to live for God. It is common to hear comments like "great principles but I can't see how they can apply in my present circumstances" or "it is not realistic enough". We must realize that if discipleship or mentoring is a daily spiritual endeavor involving spiritual warfare, with opposition from Satan and our uncooperative flesh, then only prayer can prevail in this battle. A sprinkling of prayer is not enough. Jesus, the disciple-maker, labored in prayer for his disciples, and even for us.
E M Bounds, a great prayer hero and devotional writer, made a profound statement on preaching and prayer that is relevant to mentoring too. He said, "The preaching which kills may have insight and grasp of principle. It may be scholarly and critical in taste. It may be fluent in all the minor details of the derivation and grammar of the letter … eloquent, sprinkled with prayer, spiced with sensation, illuminated by genius, and yet these may merely be the chaste, costly mountings - the rare and beautiful flowers - which coffin the corpse." He continued, "Preaching which kills is prayerless preaching. Without prayer, the preacher creates death and not life." Can we say that a mentoring which kills is prayerless mentoring?
If you are currently discipling or mentoring someone, remember that the major part of discipleship/mentoring is done in your closet in prayer. Through your time spent with God, His power will overflow from your life to your mentee's. Have you been laboring in prayer for your mentee? If not, begin with these two suggestions:
- Repent and ask for forgiveness. Ask God to restore your prayer life. Ask for strength and commitment to pray for your mentee.
- Let your mentoring discussion focus on prayer and obedience. Labor in prayer together with your mentee as often as possible - face to face or over the phone. Expect answers to prayers and record them. You can leave no greater legacy to your mentee than one of prayer and obedience.