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Building Your Ministry Team: Mentoring

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We had been living and serving overseas for just over five years, leading and mentoring other volunteers who came to join us, and implementing ministry strategies alongside the national workers when Jimmy came to live with us.  He was a 20-something young man with a lot of home-country-based ministry experience.  He was considered the “top of his class” in the church and was expected to thrive in an overseas assignment.  Our job?  Not only take care of him, but also guide him through culture shock, and teach him a thing or two about life and ministry.  It was a tall order.

We felt the best way to teach him would be through a relational approach.  This was more than an employer-employee relationship.  He was our brother in Christ seeking to progress and grow in life and his Christian walk.  Therefore, we invited Jimmy to live with us so that we could pour into his life on a daily basis, through both intentional ministry assignments, as well as through everyday, ordinary experiences that would minister to his soul.  Bottom line?  We mentored him.

Mentoring is a key component in the professional, personal, and spiritual development of any individual, whether he or she is involved in full-time Christian ministry, or whether he or she is a faithful layperson serving God in the secular workplace.  Mentoring gives the mentor the opportunity to speak into the life of the mentee and guide them over a long period of time in many of life’s ups and downs.  While a coach would guide someone toward forming their own conclusions and making their own decisions without any direct input, a mentor is able to draw upon his or her own successes and failures and offer advice that will help another person navigate their own life’s choices.

When building a team, it is essential that a team leader mentor his or her team members.  It should be the goal of the team leader to both accomplish the vision and mission of the organization, as well as to see personal growth and development in each team member over the life cycle of the team’s existence.

What does it take to mentor your team members?
1) Do Life Together.

Mentoring cannot be done effectively in a classroom. The best mentoring takes place on-the-job.  It takes place in the normal, everyday occurrences of life.  I used to have a mentor when I was a teenager who took me with her everywhere: to the grocery store, to the bank, to the mall, out for food.  I got to see her interacting with others and facing a myriad of life’s choices.  I got to see her frustrated with careless drivers, and compassionate with store clerks having a bad day.  I learned what it meant to live out my faith by watching her.  Our team members can learn huge lessons from us as we spend time living life together.  Our team members can see our vision and passion, our joy in the good times, as well as our disappointment during trials.  We can teach them about how to be an effective team member simply by being present and attentive in the small moments of every day.

2) Make a Long-Term Commitment.

Mentoring is never a “one and done” arrangement.  Life change takes time.  Learning lessons requires dedication over the long haul.  While you may have time-bound projects as a team, the relationships you build with your team members outlast the project timelines. Mentors remain with those they are mentoring through multiple seasons of life and pour into their team members in good times and in challenging ones as well.  A coach may give input for a season, but a mentor will be there long after the project is complete.  Sometimes mentoring can even withstand the obstacle of distance.  Thanks to technology, a mentor may have a Skype relationship for a period of time while his team member experiences another part of the country or another culture around the world.  The mentoring relationship morphs over time and can take different shape as the life of the mentee matures and develops.  Eventually, the two may become more like friends and colleagues who share a passion and enjoy spending time together. The depth of this relationship takes time, however, and so a long-term commitment is essential to bringing this to fruition.

3) Manage Expectations.

Often times mentors enter into a mentoring relationship with high expectations for growth of the individual they are mentoring.  As mentors and as people who have lived life and whose experience has taught them lessons, mentors can often see great unrealized potential in the lives of those they are mentoring.  It can be exciting to watch a younger person grow and develop in such a way that meets that potential.  It can be frustrating and disheartening, however, to watch as they squander their potential, or are not ready to take steps toward the growth and development the mentor desires.  Therefore, as mentors, we must manage our expectations regarding the outcome of the mentoring.  The person being mentored may very well make unwise decisions as he or she is finding his or her way in the world.  Young people make mistakes and subsequently learn from those mistakes.  As mentors, we guide, but we also must allow them to live life on their own, making their own choices, even if those choices seem destructive.  A mentor’s job is to guide and direct, not to perfect or prevent mistakes.  Setting realistic expectations will help us to build a team that works well together, while also allowing room for missteps and personal growth to happen.

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