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Considering a Commitment - Part One in a Series of Musings on Mentoring

Dianna Penner

I met him as he came from the kitchen where he had enjoyed a cup of tea between classes. “Friend”, I said, “I need to see you in my office.”

His downcast expression revealed glimpses of some embarrassment or nervousness, as if to express his innermost fears: “I am in trouble now! What did I do on my homework or research paper that she is going to reprimand me for?”

Hastily, I added a smile and assured him, “You’re not in trouble!” With an air of mystery, I remarked “I have something I would like you to see.”

Not too many minutes later, he was standing in my office with a hint of tears in his eyes and was searching in his pocket for whatever money could be found to pay for the suit which I had given him. With deep pleasure I assured this friend that a kind benefactress of the College had made the suit available and that the Lord had impressed on my mind earlier that day the very person to whom I should offer the suit – a perfect fit, I might add. What a joy for me to be able to bless one who has a passion for blessing the lives of others!

As a teacher, I find that one of the pleasures of walking the corridors of ICBM is entering in a small way into the lives of students and faculty. Each person at the College has a story. Each story reveals a purpose to contribute something to the cause of making Christ known to the world. One has a passion for blessing others. Another desires to know how the parts of the Bible fit together so they can teach others. Many are curious about learning their own spiritual gifting and developing their God-given gifts so they can serve God better.

Learning their stories so that we can best affirm, direct and challenge students to better follow Christ is part of the bigger picture of why ICBM exists. In the midst of the academics and focus on qualifications which are a necessary part of any institution of higher learning, I suggest an essential corollary for optimizing the learning process: mentoring. Learning the stories of students, and engaging them in meaningful relationships is an essential part of preparing students for using their Bible College training to serve the greater kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ.

What is Mentoring?

Mentoring has been defined in many ways and is closely related to coaching and discipleship. Guidance is one synonym which we will use in this blog. In the same way that God shepherds His people, He has also spoken much in His Word about believers caring for, encouraging and exhorting one another. An examination of the many “one another” passages in the Epistles is encouraged of the reader.

What does mentoring have to do with teaching Bible and theology and moving students toward qualification which leads to graduation? To answer that question, consider the multiple aspects of mentoring. Five aspects of mentoring are often referred to in mentoring literature. Four are used in academia: psychosocial or emotional support; goal or career guidance; academic support; and role modelling. A fifth area of discipleship must not be ignored in a Christian setting.

ICBM lecturers study diligently to proclaim God’s truth to students. They work equally hard to mark the work of students and enable them to achieve satisfactory outcomes so that these servants of God can minister to their own families, congregations, and neighbourhoods. I would also like to suggest that ICBM lecturers also care about more than just the academic qualification side of teaching. Along with academic support and preparing a student for a ministry career, emotional support and discipleship happen as relationships are cultivated. Most students at ICBM, as in any school, will readily identify their favourite lecturer – and that is probably the lecturer who is an exemplary role model of a Christ-follower, both inside and outside the classroom.

The truth is, however, that we lecturers at times need to be reminded of this multi-faceted mentoring process. One might ask: was I mentoring the gentleman who entered my office in the story mentioned above? By definition of mentoring, I was not offering academic support or career guidance. On the other hand, I was offering psychosocial or emotional support. Additionally one could make the case that role modelling or even discipling were taking place as I encouraged the student to put away his money and remember to thank the Lord for His provision, when the suit was used while proclaiming the Word to the man’s congregation.

Four C’s of Mentoring

How can I get to know the stories of students? How can I get past the stories to offer someone assistance on their road to fulfilling their passion to use their God-given gifts? It takes time!

It takes time to conquer my fears – Who am I? What do I have to contribute, after all? Fear, it has been said, is the opposite of faith. Perhaps, on the contrary, fear can move me closer to faith as I recognize my weakness and cast myself on the Lord.

Timothy was given the overwhelming task of providing guidance (think: mentoring, among other pastoral duties including teaching) for the Ephesian Church. Apparently Timothy was fearful, for Paul reminds him, “God has not given us a spirit of fear….Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord…. Be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus…. Endure hardship….” (2 Tim 1:7, 8; 2:1, 3).

Paul’s words also speak to me as I face my fears. Who am I? – God uses fearful Timothys! What do I have to contribute? Much! It is God’s grace and the testimony of our Lord that make me strong to mentor others. With God’s grace, I can conquer my fears.

It takes time to channel my resources. – How can I best use my available time? In what way can I offer assistance or moral support to that student or employee at the College to better do the job they desire to do?

Some of our students have been out of the academic environment for many years. Academia is a challenge to them. We have the resources to guide students through the intricacies of writing papers and preparing presentations. Some of our students have a wonderful heart of love and passion for reaching people, and can present the gospel clearly, but they don’t know where to find support for their own personal issues. With God’s help we can channel resources to encourage students to build up one another in the faith and to pray for one another.

It takes time to calculate the risks of getting involved. Getting involved is risky! It takes time. It takes energy. Relationships can be demanding. Students can misunderstand my well-intended interventions.

I may wonder: Does the individual really want or need my assistance? Or can I point them in the direction of someone else who is better suited to help in that particular situation? Do they need a gentle push in the right direction or is it better to offer a motherly reprimand to just get moving and get their homework finished? And how will they respond when I attempt to involve myself in the growing process of my brother or sister in Christ? I must calculate the risks, but I must remain open to the Lord’s leading to “exhort one another” (Heb. 3:13) or “encourage one another” (1 Thess. 5:11).

It takes time to commit myself to the task God has placed before me. It is essential to remember the whole story. ICBM does not exist only to teach Bible and theology and to confer degrees. Just as Jesus, followed by Peter, Paul and others, cared for the inner man equally as much as (perhaps more than?) knowledge of the particulars of God’s Word, so too ICBM does care for the quality of character exhibited by the actions and responses of its graduates.

It takes time! How can I possibly find time to discern those pressing needs of students when I personally am pressed for time and face my own difficulties? Am I committed to the task of mentoring the whole person, not just the academic side of teaching?

In conclusion: It takes time! Many of us at ICBM, including myself, are impressed and excited by the big picture of a biblically sound Bible College training the next generation of Christian workers, but we can easily miss the little details of that picture. Perhaps mentoring needs to become more intentional in all of our ministries and relationships. Perhaps we need to grow more in our awareness of the smaller details of how God wants that mentoring to happen. Am I committed to “making the most of every opportunity” (Eph. 5:16 NIV)?

When the student in the story at the beginning of this article entered my office, the word “mentoring” was far from my mind. My only intention was to pass along a blessing. I was not calculating any risks or even conquering any fears. I was simply taking advantage of an opportunity. That small act opened a door for more communication, more opportunities for him to share prayer requests and more openness for him to discuss ministry challenges in the following weeks of the school term. He had found another listening ear. I was still the lecturer, but now, without a doubt, I was greatly blessed by this new friendship.

Mentoring takes time! A consideration of the possibilities for mentoring encourages me to look to the Lord and consider His guidance in order to conquer my fears, channel my resources and calculate the risks as I commit myself to serve Christ and the ICBM community.

Part Two of this Musings on Mentoring series will continue some of these mentoring themes and will focus on: A Better Way: What am I teaching?