The Lost Art of Lingering
Excerpted from The Lost Art of Lingering: Mutual Mentoring for Life Transformation, by Rowland Forman (MA/CE, 1991; MA[BS], 1991).
More than Just a Good Idea
Investing spiritually and intentionally in another person (or group) isn’t just another good idea; it is at the heart of authentic discipleship. In the conviction that it’s important to change our thinking before we change our behavior, Part One contains a simple theology of mutual mentoring for life transformation.
The mutuality implied in the biblical one-anothers begins to be folded into our relationships in Christ as we come together to listen and learn, rather than talk and teach.
When we linger together over the Scriptures, in the company of the Father, Son and Spirit, something more than a mere meeting takes place—like the two disciples on the Emmaus Road, our hearts burn, and our lives are transformed. That’s why each chapter has an invitation to process what you have been learning.
And when we fold mutual, spiritual mentoring partnerships into every aspect of church life, we end up with something much more than a mere mentoring ministry—a mentoring/disciplemaking culture emerges for the glory of God and the beauty of Christ’s Body.
Linger to Mentor
“I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours.” —John 17:9
“Making disciples by going, baptizing, and teaching people the Word of Christ and then enabling them to do the same thing in other people’s lives—this is the plan God has for each of us to impact nations for the glory of Christ.” 9 —David Platt
Before we go much further, some key questions are in order: How is the word mentoring being used in this book? How does mentoring relate to Christ-focused discipleship? Are mentoring relationships bound by certain rules, or is it a more fluid, spontaneous experience? Does mentoring take place best in a one-on-one relationship with another person, or can it be optimized best in groups? Is mentoring essential for all Christ-followers, or is it best suited to reflective types? What is the relationship between spiritual mentoring and mission?
The meaning of “mentoring” varies according to the context—education, business, sports, and church settings to name a few. Educator Lois Zachary describes a mentor as “…a facilitative partner in an evolving learning relationship focused on meeting mentee learning goals and objectives.” The Harvard Business Essentials on Coaching and Mentoring, defines mentoring as “The offering of advice, information or guidance by a person with useful experience, skills, or expertise to promote another individual’s personal and professional development.” I’m using the word mentoring in a church-based setting. Earl Creps, in his insightful book, Reverse Mentoring captures the context I’m writing from. He remarks,
My goal is to prepare spiritual leaders to apply reverse mentoring as a spiritual discipline, a way of experiencing personal formation through exercising the kind of humility that invites younger people to become our tutors.
Mentoring, in the way it is being used in The Lost Art of Lingering is:
A mutual, transformational, spiritual relationship.
It is one woman or man, regardless of age maturity or status, taking time to listen to and learn from another. As I’ve mentioned in the Introduction, mentoring in the way I’m using the word is not limited to peer mentoring. It includes more mature people learning from, and contributing to the spiritual growth of less mature folk, as well as the other way round. As we will see in Chapter Three, mutual mentoring is a reflection of “one another” biblical commands such as “encourage one another,” and “pray for one another.” It is a call to exercise humility whatever your current stage of spiritual maturity.
When Jesus called his disciples to follow him, he clearly had life-change in mind. He said, “Come follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” In this he meant, “If you come and follow me, in the process I will bring radical change about in your character and behavior. Your primary focus now is on investing in the fish business, but as you follow me, your focus will be on investing in the people business.” Mutual mentoring is intentional and the purpose is whole-life transformation.
Mentoring that produces life-transformation is spiritual in the sense that it is bathed in prayer from start to finish. That’s how Jesus mentored his men. He prayed earnestly before he selected them, and just before he was crucified, he was still praying for them.
Throughout his three years of public ministry Jesus was constantly surrounded by crowds, but he primarily invested in twelve ordinary men. And his primary investment was to pray for them. Listen to his prayer recorded in John 17:
I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. (v. 6)
I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. (v. 9)
My prayer is not that you would take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. (v. 15)
Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world. (v. 24)
Whom has God “given” you at present so that you can invest in them with a view to life-transformation? At the beginning of most months I write this prayer in my journal: “Father, who are you “giving” me at the moment?” Then, on the basis of the way Jesus focused his attention on a few rather than the many, I try to write down my “3” (my Peter, James and John), my “12” (including the Three), and once a quarter I write down the names of my wider group (Jesus had 72 key followers that he sent out two by two according to Luke 10:1). If you are of a more private disposition (like my grandmother Bella-Jane) you may just have the names of your children or grandchildren, and if my life story is anything to go by, that will be eternally significant.
Keith Anderson and Randy Reese, in their outstanding book, Spiritual Mentoring, capture the spiritual dimension of mentoring in this way:
Spiritual mentoring is a triadic relationship between mentor, mentoree and the Holy Spirit, where the mentoree can discover, through the already present action of God, intimacy with God, ultimate identity as a child of God and a unique voice for kingdom responsibility.
I’ve been in mentoring relationships that have felt like friendships from day one. Meeting Don Overton was like that for me. We clicked straight away. Our relationship was also mutual immediately. I have also experienced mentor-partnerships that have started out as a tentative relationship and developed into a lifelong friendship. That’s why my slightly extended definition of mentoring is:
“A mutual, transformational, spiritual relationship that may become a friendship.”
It’s interesting that the Lord Jesus did not call his Twelve disciples “friends” until the end of his three ministry years. Jesus said,
“Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.”
I first met Dan Debenport when he was leading a “Mini-Church” (small group). His wife Barbara, and my wife Elaine became soul friends who were mutually mentoring each other almost from day one. I enjoyed Dan’s company but we were little more than acquaintances until the time I felt the Spirit’s prompting to have breakfast with him. On that first meeting he mentioned that he had been asked to be an elder at Fellowship Bible Church North and that he felt ill-equipped theologically for that role. So for the next 12 weeks, we used Wayne Grudem’s seminal book Bible Doctrine, to explore theology. In between mouthfuls of yogurt (Dan) and oatmeal with brown sugar and raisins (me) we munched on theological morsels. Dan chose the topics and always came prepared with questions that probed the pastoral implications of doctrines like God’s providence or original sin. Since then, Dan and I have become lifelong spiritual companions. We have sailed together, laughed and cried together, and contributed to each other’s spiritual growth. Our relationship morphed into a God-given friendship.
Discipleship and Mentoring
Is mentoring a sub-set of discipleship or is it the other way round? As I understand it, discipleship is the whole deal because it refers to Christ’s call to us and our lifelong pursuit of him. I became Christ’s disciple, his follower, his “learner” when I came to him, admitting my sinfulness and accepting his grace-provision through his finished work on the Cross. I came to him then, and come to him every day since, admitting my weariness and helplessness, and learning how gentle and humble he is. I became a disciple of Christ at age eight, and now in my late 60’s I am still, by God’s grace, a maturing disciple.
A church leader is also a maturing disciple. The qualifications of elders and deacons spelled out in First Timothy 3 for example, are evidences of Christian maturity. Specifically Paul tells us, they are not “recent converts.” In Ephesians 4, he describes some of the dynamics of bringing people to maturity in Christ:
- Those who are leaders (he describes five categories in verse 11—apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers), are not merely to do works of service, they are to equip fellow believers for works of service (v. 12).
- As truth (honest speech, but probably more accurately, the truth of God’s Word) is spoken in love, people grow up into spiritual maturity in Christ (v. 15).
- Every person in the body of Christ plays a part in “growing and building” each other in love (v. 16).
That sounds very much like a series of mutual, transformational spiritual relationships to me. So how does mentoring relate to discipleship? My esteemed Australian friend John Mallison, mentor-extraordinaire, described the relationship between mentoring and discipleship in this way:
Even with its rich origins and contemporary usage, the expression mentoring…is a poor second to the word disciplemaking in the Christian context. Our spiritual guidance, coaching, counseling, teaching, sponsoring, pastoring, resourcing, modeling, encouraging, all take on a deeper, richer, Christ-oriented dimension when we operate out of this biblical framework. God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, is our richest resource for Christian mentoring—disciplemaking.
I love the question that author Greg Ogden asks when he recruits a mentoring triad: “Will you join me, walk with me, as we grow together as disciples of Christ? I would like to invite you to meet with me and one other person weekly for the purpose of becoming all that the Lord intended us to be.” And I agree with whoever decided to re-name James Houston’s groundbreaking book, The Mentored Life (published in 2002), as The Disciple: Following the True Mentor (re-published in 2007). In the Introduction to the 2007 edition, Dallas Willard captures the essence of spiritual mentoring as “discipleship” when he says,
Discipleship affirms the unity of the present-day Christian with those who walked beside Jesus during his incarnation. To be His disciple then was to be with Him, to learn to be like Him. It was to be His student or apprentice in kingdom living. His disciples heard what He said and observed what He did, then, under His direction, they simply began to say and do the same things. They did so imperfectly but progressively. As He taught: “Everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher” (Luke 6:40).
If the goal is to make disciples, then why use the term mentoring? I believe that it has the softer connotation of mutual learning and is a call to what pastor and author Dennis McCallum refers to as “organic disciplemaking.”
So what about mentoring and leadership development? If it is the task of a spiritual mentor to encourage his or her mentor-friend to become a more devoted follower of Christ, then the quest of existing pastors or elders is to recognize those who are becoming mature disciples—those who have developed credibility of character with those in the church and outside—and demonstrating the qualities of a true servant-shepherd.
“Both-And” is one of my life mantras. Unless it’s a matter of core biblical orthodoxy, I’m convinced that few issues can be resolved by “either-or” thinking. “Both-and” thinking relates to questions such as:
- Does spiritual mentoring assume a one-on-one relationship?
- How can we be truth-tellers as well as grace-givers in our mentoring relationships?
- Does mentoring require us to be highly organized or can we just flow along in our relationships?
- Is spiritual mentoring mainly for the reflective types rather than those involved actively in the mission of Christ?
Both Individual and Small Group
Some books on spiritual mentoring argue that to be truly patterned after Jesus, mentoring has to take place in small groups. They maintain that if we model our mentoring on the way the Lord trained his Twelve, a watertight case can be made for mentoring in small groups. For example when Jesus pulled his disciples aside and told them that he was on his way to Jerusalem to suffer and to die, Peter objected. He said, “Never, Lord! [an interesting oxymoron!]—there’s no way this will ever happen to you.” Addressing Peter, Jesus said “Get behind me, Satan.” I’m sure that the other eleven disciples were thinking, “We’ve wanted to say that to you for a long time!” There are many occasions with Jesus and the Twelve where mentoring took place in community. But it is a big jump to say that because most of Jesus’ mentoring episodes took place with the whole group of twelve present, therefore we must avoid at all costs, one-to-one approaches.
Similarly, a case can be made for mentoring from one individual to another. As I’ve mentioned previously, there are many biblical examples such as Moses with Joshua, Paul with Titus, and Jesus to Peter (John’s account of Jesus’ threefold reinstatement of Peter that nicely corresponds to Peter’s threefold denial, certainly reads like a personal encounter).
Almost all of my life I have followed the one-on-one pattern. The advantages are huge. Individual-to-individual allows for an intimacy and openness on some matters that are simply inappropriate in a mixed group. More recently though, I’ve become convinced that if a mentoring culture is to be established in a church, it is unlikely to take place by merely training up groups of individuals to go mentor other individuals. A mentoring culture is more likely to catch fire when it flows out of existing church structures such as small groups (addressed more fully in Chapter Four).
Both Grace-Giving and Truth-Telling
In our family, my Dad was all truth and my Mom was all grace. As kids we knew who to run to when we had done wrong. Which end of the grace-and-truth spectrum are you on? I know I find it much easier to affirm than admonish, to encourage than confront. As a mentor-friend, I’m more of a grace-giver, yet know that speaking truth in a loving way is often what is most needed. As we will see in Chapter Five, the mutuality commands reflect the need to give grace and tell truth. For example, “welcome one another” confers grace and “admonish one another” requires truth-telling.
Our goal in every mentoring relationship should be to emulate the Chief Mentor. John 1:14 says that Jesus was “full of grace and truth.” I find it helpful in my mentoring conversations, whether one-on-one or in a small group to ask myself, “What would the grace position be here? How can I treat this person better than they deserve?” and “What would the truth perspective be? How can I be loving but sincerely honest about this matter?” Life transforming mentoring is all about constructing a trust relationship over time, and few things build more trust than telling the truth in love.
Both Organic and Organized
Mentoring (or if you prefer the term “disciplemaking”) needs to be organic as well as organized. A both-and approach doesn’t mean that we somehow try to balance organic and organized, but that we fully grasp the benefits of each.
Organic (which means “relating to or derived from living organisms,”) mentoring emphasizes our need as Christ’s disciples to depend on the Holy Spirit. Reese and Anderson put it this way:
Spiritual mentoring is primarily the work of the Holy Spirit…. In practical ways spiritual mentoring is the process of a mentor assisting the mentoree to pay attention to the inner working of the Spirit.
The benefit of this dependence on the Spirit is that we are open to listen to what the Holy Spirit is saying to us through our mentor-partners.
Organized mentoring delivers us from merely recycling the same topics every time we meet. I sometimes describe the practice of mentoring as “coffee, goals, and a book.” By that I mean an appointment in a relaxed setting (preferably over a really good cup of coffee!), periodic reviews to establish what the goals are for our times together, and then attaching a book that informs the discussion.
Books I've Used
- The Life You’ve Always Wanted, by John Ortberg with people who wish to explore how to build spiritual practices into the rhythm of their lives.
- Holy Fools, by Mathew Woodley with a leadership group that wanted to learn how to lead more like Jesus.
- The Rest of God, by Mark Buchanan with a frantically busy friend. It enabled both of us to harmonize more with the Sabbath rhythms God has instituted.
- Business for the Glory of God, by Wayne Grudem with Christian businessmen that wanted to examine whether matters like competition and profit aligned or clashed with the principles of Scripture.
- The Grace and Truth Paradox, by Randy Alcorn with parents and pastors. His call is to confer both grace and truth.
- The Purity Principle, by Randy Alcorn, with men who struggle to maintain purity of mind and action in the crucible of a sex-saturated culture.
In my mentoring relationships, books like these are merely “on-the-table”—they are not used as study material. They provide common language that we may choose to flow in and out of from time to time.
Both Reflection and Mission
In his book, Mentoring for Mission, Günter Krallmann says of Jesus,
On the basis of such with-ness, he generated a dynamic process of life transference which was meant to foster wholistic maturity in his friends and to facilitate them towards effective leadership at the same time.
Krallmann observes that Jesus never made a distinction between discipling and leadership development. Jesus’ approach included mentoring, spiritual formation, leadership training and coaching. And all of that was in the context of mission. Jesus was sent by the Father into the world and sent his disciples into the world to be
I’ve been dreaming for some time what it might look like in evangelical churches if we adopted a mentoring model that had the “engagement” and “disengagement” flow of Jesus with his disciples. Typically Jesus engaged in an act of compassion, involved the disciples in the experience, then withdrew with them (disengaged) to process what had happened, through story or direct teaching, and above all lots of questions. Sometimes he did the reverse—taught, then involved the disciples in mission, then debriefed again.
Now there’s no way we can duplicate exactly what Jesus did, but we can model the process he used in the training of the Twelve:
- He called them to be with him (Mark 3:14). This amounted to the development of an intentional spiritual friendship.
- He called them to imitation (Matthew 4:19). They did get information, but they received spiritual formation. In Matthew 11:28-30 his call was for them to see how he dealt with people and to learn from him.
- He called them to mission—that they would be with him and that he would send them out to bless people (Mark 3:14, Matthew 28:19-20). His goal was to make them fishers of men.
Essentially Jesus’ approach was “do and learn,” “learn and do.” One time he asked them to row to the other side of Lake Galilee while he went up to a mountain to pray. They got into the “perfect storm!” Jesus came to them, stilled the storm, then taught them on the importance of uncomplicated faith. Other times he taught them first, then sent them out two by two.
What could a “do and learn,” “learn and do” routine look like in your mentoring relationships and in your church?
Mentoring then, in the way it is being discussed in The Lost Art of Lingering is a mutual, transformational, spiritual relationship that may morph into a God-given friendship. As we invest time and energy in each other as maturing disciples of Christ, we invite others to join us, individually, or in groups, to speak grace and truth into each other’s lives, in a fluid yet organized way, all in the context of Christ’s mission. When we linger together in that way, Tim Elmore’s great line in Regi Campbell’s book, Mentor Like Jesus will come true:
“More time with fewer people equals greater kingdom impact.”
Processing Chapter 1
Step 1: Depend—Soak the Process in Prayer
1. Consider this prayer by Teri Lynne Underwood as you process Chapter One:
Lord, we are often guilty of focusing on our differences.
Teach us to celebrate what we have in common.
Reveal to us how to encourage one another
with the truth of Your love, grace and mercy that bless us all.
Forgive us for the times when we belittle and judge each other,
for those moments when malice or envy is our motivator.
Replace those attitudes and insecurities with a love for You
that spills over into a desire to support and encourage others.
And, Lord, as we become encouragers to one another,
we pray that we will be a shining light in this world.
2. Note one or two points from this chapter and reflect on them with a spoken or written prayer:
Step 2: Meditate—Consider What the Scriptures Say
John 17:6, 9, 15, 24
6 I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word.
9 I pray for them. I am not praying for the world but for those you have given me, for they are yours.
15 My prayer is not that you would take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.
24 Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.
- What are the implications of these words from Jesus’ prayer for our mentoring relationships?
11 It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12 to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
- If leaders are maturing disciples as suggested in this chapter, what are the main elements that produce maturity according to this passage?
Step 3: Respond—Learn from Each Other and Take Action
Reflection and Discussion:
- Whom has God “given” you at present, so that you can invest in them with a view to life-change?
- Reflect on and discuss Anderson and Reese’s statement: “Spiritual mentoring is a triadic relationship between mentor, mentoree and the Holy Spirit, where the mentoree can discover, through the already present action of God, intimacy with God, ultimate identity as a child of God, and a unique voice for kingdom responsibility.” What does this look like in practice?
- How do you view the relationship between discipleship and mentoring? What are the implications for your church or small group?
- Consider and discuss the “both-ands” in this chapter as they relate to mutual mentoring: Individual and Small Group, Grace-giving and Truth Telling, Organic and Organized, Reflection and Mission.
- What are the next steps of obedience you need to take: Personally? As a group?
Reprinted with permission.