I recently read an article by Thom Rainer entitled ‘The One Common Factor of Effective Church Leaders’. He began the article by asking a critical question, “Is it possible to find one common factor in the lives and ministries of the most effective church leaders?” He answered, “I think so” and then went on to say that “The most effective church leaders are being continuously and intentionally mentored… …it is the difference between good leadership and great leadership for most church leaders.” Having made his point with some conviction, Thom Rainer however had to conclude that “mentoring is missing in over 90% of church leaders’ lives today.”
After reading the article, I stopped to say a quiet prayer of thanks for my mentor of over 30 years, John Mallison who happened to be one of the great Christian leaders in Australia for the twentieth century. After an amazingly fruitful life that spanned more than eighty years, John went to be with the Lord he loved while he was out on his morning walk.
I met John in my first year of full time ministry in 1980 when I went to hear him speak at an all day seminar on small groups. I immediately saw in John all I wanted for a mentor, and I pursued him for some time until he finally agreed to be my mentor. As I now look back on the many years of our mentoring relationship, there are a number of important lessons I have learned that contribute to a mentoring relationship that empowers the mentee. I want to mention 5 dynamics that are essential for an effective mentoring relationship (with some help from my Leadership Professor at Fuller Seminary, Dr Robert Clinton), and a number of qualities I valued in John’s life that made him such a great mentor to me.
Five Essential Dynamics For A Great Mentoring Relationship
- The Selection Of A Mentor By A Mentee
It is the responsibility of the mentee to find a mentor. After observing John Mallison for a day at his small group seminar, I was drawn to the way his giftedness was similar to mine as was the focus of his ministry. I felt John was someone whose life could be a helpful model for me in my growth as a Christian leader.
So I prayed and made contact with John and crafted an axiom that would be of assistance to me on numerous occasions as my life of leadership unfolded. When looking for a person to assist me, I would start at the top and work my way down. He/She might say no, but he/she might say yes.
- The Relationship Between The Mentor And The Mentee
Another word for this characteristic would be the chemistry that develops between the mentor and the mentee. My relationship with John grew to be characterised by great respect, trust, intimacy, vulnerability and honest sharing. We loved to hang out together and we often spent extended periods of time sharing deeply as we walked along a beach near to the city of Sydney, usually stopping for a feed of fish and chips. We carried our agendas in our minds and never allowed our deep friendship to prevent us from asking the hard question and keeping a healthy level of accountability. The goal of the relationship was to cultivate my growth as a leader; there was always a cutting edge to our coming together. The relationship was never allowed to become an end in itself.
- The Teachability Of The Mentee
The mentor can create an environment for learning but this is only as effective as the teachability and hunger for learning of the mentee. It requires an attitude of humility on behalf of the mentee. In my own situation, I wasn’t just hungry, I was desperate to learn as I found myself out of my depth in my ministry situation on frequent occasions. As a mentor, I have had situations where I have needed to discontinue the mentoring relationship because this critical element was missing in the life of my mentee.
The teachability of mentees will be revealed by their completion of assignments that are set, their willingness to receive advice (particularly in regard to perceived blind spots), their asking of questions and their hunger to learn.
- The Impartation By The Mentor To The Mentee
According to Homer’s Odyssey, when King Odysseus went off to fight in the Trojan war, he left his son, Telemachus, in the hands of a wise old man named Mentor who was charged with the task of teaching the young man wisdom. John Mallison was my Mentor. I chose him because there was so much that I needed that he could impart to me. He was more experienced than me, more gifted and wiser than me, more resourceful than me, he had reached higher levels of influence and impact than me and he was more mature than me. Our relationship was very similar to some of those found in the scriptures, like Elijah and Elisha, and Paul and Timothy.
- The Environment That Is Created By The Mentor With The Mentee
Mentoring for John rarely took place in an enclosed sterile room. For John, mentoring included on the job training when he asked me to write a chapter in the next book he was writing or to present an elective at the next conference he was organising or to read a manuscript of the next paper he was writing. In doing this he was providing real live opportunities where he was able to observe me and critically evaluate my progress. As a Lead Pastor in my own church I learnt how to delegate opportunities for my emerging leaders and to take key people with me when I went on speaking assignments interstate and overseas. The environment that the mentor provides for the mentoring relationship is a key factor in the rate of growth that can occur in the mentee.
Now that I have listed the five essential dynamics for a great mentoring relationship, why not give yourself a mark out of 10 regarding how well each of these dynamics are being worked out in your mentoring situation. Finally, I want to write down the qualities of a mentor that I observed in my relationship with John. I shared these in a tribute to John on behalf of all his mentees at his funeral service.
- He lived for the glory of God.
- He modelled the life of Jesus to me.
- He mentored from a life of amazing achievements and rich experiences.
- He loved me and my family.
- He believed in me
- He had an anointing and gifting from God which resulted in his mentoring experiences being transformational.
- He was a man of great wisdom.
- He was generous to me in the ways he gave himself to me.
- He prayed regularly for me and my family.
- He sponsored me by opening doors of opportunity into the world in which he lived.
- He walked humbly alongside of me.
- He gave me great freedom to develop and grow to fulfil the unique calling that God had on my life.
Thom Rainer said, “The one common factor of effective church leaders is that they were being continuously and intentionally mentored.” As I again reflect on my rich mentoring relationship with John Mallison, I can only say that I agree. So to all the emerging leaders who will read this article, can I say to you, “Find a mentor… start at the top and work your way down. They might say no, but they could say yes.”