I believe one of the easiest temptations when navigating one-to-one mentoring is to carry our big relational needs and expectations into the work. I know in my first call out of seminary, I wanted a mentor so much. I wanted someone to rely on, confide in, be seen by, trust implicitly. Who doesn’t want those things?
Yet focusing so much energy on relational needs and expectations can put undue pressure on a mentoring relationship. Putting those needs and expectations on the front burner for mentoring can also be a serious missed opportunity to grow and learn in the practice of ministry.
What is the alternative? Mentoring and ministry are after all relational in character! How can we avoid relational needs and expectations?
We should not avoid them. There is however, a helpful alternative: focus on mentoring for skill.
If a mentor and mentee, or a mentoring peer group can put skills for mentoring on the front burner of the metaphorical mentoring stove, then something powerful can happen. By focussing first on skills, the relational support and trust will grow as it bubbles gently along on the back burner.
This approach allows you to talk together about relationships in ministry, without expecting a mentor to rescue, fix or solve your problems. Focusing on skill also allows you to have substantive focal points in your shared conversation rather than feeling stuck in wondering if the mentor will meet your expectations.
Disappointments in mentoring relationships are inevitable, as today’s Episode 12, Mentoring for Skill demonstrates! However, when the tasks of mentoring are clarified and skills, knowledge and integration are front and center, then the disappointments can become opportunities for more learning, rather than the end of the relationship. You can read the fuller story of Bob’s first ministry mentoring relationship in the Learning Pastoral Imagination Project Five Year Report.
Mentoring for pastoral wisdom or imagination is important and complex work. It may look simple on the surface, but handing on the skills and knowledge of ministry takes time, insight and awareness. Remember there is always more than meets the eye in each ministry moment. Perhaps you are wondering: what should I look for when recruiting a mentor? How can I make the most of my potential mentoring relationships? Read more here about these questions.
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