More on the Theology of Mentoring
Dec 01, 2008 by Don Payne | 0 Comments
Mentoring is not devoid of theological resources, but few of them have been brought to light. Some years ago at one of our early national mentoring conferences here at Denver Seminary, Dr. James Houston observed that without theological underpinnings, mentoring would endure the same fate as all other passing ministry fads. I continue to argue that mentoring is in fact one of the most theologically defensible and non-negotiable forms of Christian ministry. It is not at all new; merely in recovery after having been lost to the fragmenting forces of Western society. So, in order that mentoring may be seen for what it is and not end up in the storage shed of outdated ministry programs, I suggest another theological pylon.
Jacob Firet is a name you ought to know. At the least, Firet’s thought needs a wider circulation among those involved in mentoring. While he did not overtly address the subject of mentoring (as far as I know), his book Dynamics in Pastoring (1986) offers a rich theological framework that both explains and focuses some of mentoring’s power. I devoured Firet’s book soon after it was originally published and it fired in me a theological vision for ministry that continues to ripple.
Theologian Ray S. Anderson summarizes one of Firet’s key points on how God touches our lives through others.
The Spirit of God comes directly to persons as movement on the human spirit, says Firet. The motive power for change and growth does not come from the human spirit alone. Instead, in response to the mediation of love and grace through the presence of another, motive power is induced in the self to move toward health. . . .
Firet suggests that the mediation of spiritual resources must go beyond . . . the proclamation of Word of God (preaching, sermons) and the teaching of truths concerning the
Firet compares the role of a person who touches the core of another’s life with such transformational agency to the role of the Holy Spirit as paraclesis, “one called to the side of another,” or what we often simply translate as “encourager.” “To be this person, Firet says, one must go behind the professional role of being a teacher/preacher so as to encounter the other person at a basic human level” [Anderson, 143]. Stated this way we can easily see why encouragers like Barnabas have such a powerful role with those (like Saul) facing an entirely new future with no bearings and no relational currency among those whose support they desperately need. Barnabas touched the core of Saul’s humanity with love and grace, facilitating God’s “motive power” to move forward in faith against great odds. I recall that Firet calls this “equi-human address.” It’s opening our humanity to each other so that God’s lifegiving Spirit has passage to shape and heal.
I suspect that a number of mentoring implications could be unfolded from Firet’s comments, but I’ll conclude with only one. Some of the best mentors I have known seem to think they have very little to offer because they lack education and/or formal experience as a mentor. The irony, however, is that when they mentor by “simply” coming alongside, they are ministering in a profoundly theological fashion. They are actually occupying a privileged role of spiritual agent – perhaps even an “undercover agent”! These mentors are all the more powerful in God’s hands because of what seems to them so utterly ordinary. What Jacob Firet calls “equi-human address” turns out to have a power similar to the undertow of an ocean wave. It’s not visible or impressive, but it can change your life. In this case and in God’s hands it can give, rather than take away life!