It was the beginning of the term and I was addressing one of my first classes as a teacher at ICBM. One particular student raised his hand to ask a question, but I didn’t have a clue what he was trying to say. His grasp of English was very poor, and I wondered for a moment how he had been able to register successfully for classes. I surmised that he probably could understand more than he could speak of the language.
Later I walked past his desk, as I rarely remain still while teaching. His Bible was closed and I read on the cover: “New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures”. A Jehovah’s Witness Bible.
Here was a student who needed guidance in more ways than one! In a matter of days I offered to trade a new NIV Bible for his slightly tattered Jehovah’s Witness Bible, not bothering to explain why it was a better choice for him. But then a new challenge arose.
Although we soon began to understand each other a little better, I had read his research assignment and I certainly could not give it a passing mark. Writing an academic paper can be a formidable task even for many students who speak English fairly well. Was it possible to even begin helping this student make sense of the topic and write something that reflected Scripture and an understanding of the subject?
I explained some of the relevant scriptural passages and wrote an outline of what should be discussed in the paper and then sent him home with a new due date to resubmit the assignment. Pleasant surprise! His new paper was readable (though not perfect, by any stretch of the imagination!) and I could at least give him a passing mark for having something relevant to say on the topic.
The years passed and this student did graduate. I was able to do some academic mentoring with him on more than one occasion and I am sure that others encouraged and offered guidance in many ways. How satisfying it was to see that these mentoring efforts were worth it. He is now pursuing even more training so that he can help teach God’s Word to others.
Learn the Story
Each person has a story. Each child of God needs to be guided to grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ (2 Pet 3:18) and equipped to invest in the lives of others (2 Tim2:2). These musings on mentoring have had the stated purpose of creating awareness in all of us of the potential we have for mentoring others on that path of growing in God’s grace. How is it possible to recognize which student or staff member needs a mentor, whether I have the capacity to help, and how I can purposefully step in and offer a helping hand? How can I learn those stories which lead to opportunities to invest meaningfully in someone’s life? Sometimes God orchestrates those encounters. Let’s suggest a few possibilities:
· Who has the Lord put in front of you?
One student’s question about how to apply biblical principles to strained relationships in the home or workplace setting can lead to further private conversation. In a quiet corner after class you can ask about specific details and explore suggested solutions with the student. Be alert to opportunities.
· Who sits down beside you?
You arrive late and the only seats left are at the front of the auditorium, or next to that person you have never talked to before. On more than one occasion, including prayer circles at ICBM chapel time, God has placed my husband and me next to individuals where we have been able to offer a word of encouragement, counsel or instruction or other timely input. Be open to opportunities to engage others in valuable conversation.
· Who has a pressing need?
Be sensitive to physical or emotional needs which you can meet. Addressing physical needs, while not necessarily a mentoring activity, is a positive step toward building relationships which can lead to Spirit-led opportunities for mentoring. For example, becoming aware of a hungry student at ICBM led to provision of bread and tea and coffee for students at the college. More than once, students have borrowed money from their lecturer for taxi fares. One particular staff member has gone out of her way on repeated occasions to meet with and encourage an individual who is dealing with multiple challenges. The “one-another” exhortations from Scripture are certainly being lived out in the above examples.
· What does the student look like in their own familiar environment?
Academic ability or language aptitude which are appear in the classroom should never be construed as evidence of the full story. While visiting different churches of students, on more than one occasion I have been pleasantly surprised to see students in leadership positions who, from my limited view as a classroom teacher, did not seem to be the most likely candidates for guiding the worship and spiritual learning of others. Visiting the churches and homes of students takes time, and is not always feasible, but it can change my perspective, as well as communicate a personal interest and concern for the individual. Be open to spending time getting to know people on their own turf.
Mentoring is relying on the Holy Spirit to view the person in front of me as a fellow member of the Body of Christ who may need something that God has equipped me to offer to them. Learning the stories of others helps us to see people through God’s eyes, and not just through my limited focus as a classroom teacher. Learning their stories helps us to remember the need for unity and sharing in a common purpose as believers. We are “one body in Christ, and individually members ofone another” (Rom 12:5).
Focus on the Outcome
As we focus on building relationships with people and learning their stories, it is always helpful to remember our purpose as part of ICBM. How easy it is in the rush of preparation for good teaching and marking papers to forget that we signed on as lecturers with the following aim stated in the College verse: “Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present everyman perfect in Christ Jesus” (Col 1:28).
The aim: “preach”, “warn”, and “teach every person” can easily be accomplished in the classroom. The outcome, however, is more challenging: “present every man [and woman]perfect in Christ Jesus”. This outcome has been addressed partially in the first three parts of this article, but perhaps a few additional reminders maybe helpful.
· Remember the main idea: “Perfect in Christ.”
As ICBM graduates begin providing guidance in their own homes, churches, workplaces, and other areas of ministry, it is to be hoped that these students have been prepared to “develop their God-given gifts, to prepare them for the ministry of the propagation of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ and to teach them to live and work by a Christian world view” (ICBM Prospectus). While ICBM cannot guarantee perfect understanding or permanent heart change of any student, we must not forget the high standard to which God has called us as a Christian college.
The Prospectus statement of purpose is both an academic and a spiritual challenge. The responsibility of the ICBM mentor is to be a leader who equips other leaders to follow Christ, or in the words of Paul, to teach faithful individuals “who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim 2:2).
· Remember the individual: Do not assume that every student understands.
If I am honest with myself, I must confess that I have stated, or at least thought: “I told her so many times and she just doesn’t listen!” “I showed him several times. He just doesn’t get it!”
Whose fault is the lack of understanding and the failure to “get it right”? Granted, some students don’t try hard enough; some students overcommit themselves in other areas and don’t allow enough time. “Exhort one another” (Heb 3:13) enters into the mentoring process at times. These students may need to be exhorted to re-evaluate their priorities. Other students, however, are academically challenged; and some students have other challenges that I may not be aware of.
Who needs a mentor? Some students will need more guidance than others. As a teacher, it is my responsibility to work at connecting with the students and ensuring that my words, explanations and examples speak to them in a way that makes sense. Am I listening to their story? Do I care at least as much about students and their abilities to understand as I do about making sense of doctrines, theories and practices which I am teaching? My challenge is to work with God to “present every man perfect”, not just to finish teaching my class, mark papers and report final grades.
· Remember the Mentoring Mandate: Be a leader worth following.
Who needs a mentor? We have already established that we all need to be mentored from time to time and that it is important for all of us to consider who God has placed in our path that could benefit from some guidance from us. Everyone needs a mentor, and everyone needs to work toward becoming a mentor who can also guide others along the path to more effective Christ-like living.
The example of a life. In Titus 2, Paul presented Titus with instructions for older women to mentor younger women. The same mandate, or command, was given by other writers of Scripture: what we have learned we need to pass on to others. Sometimes doctrine needs to be passed on, while on other occasions a role model is equally important.
Be a leader worth following. The writer of Hebrews addresses followers, but his words speak loudly to spiritual leaders. Followers are to first consider the outcome of the conduct of these leaders and then to follow or imitate their faith (13:8).
Be accountable. In the same chapter of Hebrews where followers were exhorted to carefully note the example of their leaders, the writer informs us that “they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account …” (13:17).We teachers carry a great responsibility and need to keep ourselves accountable(Jas 3:1).
Mentoring is guiding others along the process of becoming more like Christ. The first step in purposefully guiding and shaping the lives of another person, whether a student at ICBM, or a person next to us in the home, workplace or in ministry, is to recognise the need to build relationships which open doors for mentoring. A key to building those relationships is attitude. From both sides, the mentor and the one receiving guidance must recognise what God requires of them. Who needs a mentor? We all do from time to time. Who is ready to be a mentor? A mentor whom God wants to use is one who humbly recognizes that God desires to work through each individual believer in order to build up the Body of Christ for His glory. It takes work to be a mentor who is worthy of being followed.
This series of musings on mentoring has not spent much time on listing and describing qualities of a mentor, how to receive further training, or procedures for performing the task of mentoring. The purpose of these musings was to help us all become more aware of the fact that God has placed every believer in a particular place in the Body of Christ in order to help move that body of believers closer to becoming “perfect in Christ”. We are all in this venture together. “To God be the glory, great things He hath done” and great things He will continue to do as we look around at the people God has placed before us, to view them through God’s eyes, and to ask God how He wants to use us to help guide another person along the path of becoming a more faithful servant of Christ Jesus.