Blogger Laura Singleton wrote recently on the reasons she saw why mentoring programs fail. Essentially, she argues that they fail because they emphasis the program aspect of mentoring rather than the relational aspect of mentoring. Without disagreeing with her, the blog prompted me to consider other reasons why mentoring programs fail.
- Wrong purpose. Some people claim they want a mentor when they really want someone to follow. They want to be a disciple rather than a protégé. The character Mentor acted as an adviser to his protégé, sharing wisdom and insights. Similarly, in the mentor/protégé(e) relationship, the protégé may or may not adopt the viewpoint of the mentor. In contrast, in the disciple/master relationship, the disciple wishes to adopt the methods, philosophy, and ideas of his master. The disciple patterns him/herself after the master. The mentor/protégé(e) relationship is about guidance and growth; the disciple/master relationship is about imitation and duplication. A program will naturally fail when someone wishes to be a disciple rather than a protégé(e).
- Wrong program. Related to the reason above, some programs fail because they have the wrong programmatic elements. According to Dr. Michael Lawson of the Christian Education department at Dallas Theological Seminary, “Programs are just excuses for older Christians to get together with younger Christians.” In a mentoring relationship, the program (and any associated curriculum) needs to draw out the knowledge, values, and drives of the protégé(e); it is a student-centered approach to education. A master/disciple relationship needs to draw out the knowledge, values, and drives of the master; it is a teacher-centered approach to education. While there’s nothing wrong with studying the Bible, if the protégé(e) has needs and desires that go beyond Biblical study (perhaps they need career direction) then a curriculum exploring all 66 books of the Bible will fall short.
- Wrong people. Quite frankly, some people give bad advice. A mentor is an adviser, and must have the capacity to offer wisdom unattached from the need to see it adopted. In the Odyssey, Odysseus placed Mentor in charge of Telemachus, Odysseus’ son. Mentor acted as a guide and encourager rather than a father figure. It takes a particular skill-set, disposition, and personality to act in that capacity. A mentor must consider the needs of the protégé(e) and help the protégé(e) develop according to their own pattern. A master patterns his/her disciples according to the master’s way.
As you consider building a mentoring program or looking for a mentoring relationship, consider the purpose. Are you looking to make disciples, or are you trying to create opportunities to share wisdom? Are you looking for someone you can imitate, or do you want guidance on how to develop? Are you looking to be a disciple, or do you wish to be a protégé(e)?