How did Jesus mentor His disciples? How did He mentor others? How should we mentor those who look to us for leadership?
One of the greatest strengths of mentoring leaders is the ability to teach. To reproduce himself, a man must teach, by words and by actions, those who are learning from him. Jesus taught large groups and the people marveled at the wisdom and authority of His words. He was doing His most important work, however, when He was teaching small groups of His disciples and other followers (Luke 24:32).
Mentoring leaders also use gifts of exhortation to mentor those entrusted to them. Exhortation includes encouragement and instruction to do the right and wise thing. After Peter’s proclamation of faith in Matthew 16:16, Jesus encouraged him. After Peter denied Jesus in Matthew 26:69-75, Jesus encouraged him again (John 21:15-17). Many times in the gospels Jesus exhorted His disciples. Such gifts as exhortation and teaching are evidence of excellent communication, in this case sharing leadership principles and examples to the next generation of leaders.
Mentoring leadership is difficult in postmodern Western culture. Technology has allowed us to be much more transient, changing homes, jobs, and even families at a rate unheard of in generations past. Such technology allows us instant gratification. We get what we want immediately by downloading it or having it delivered the next day and distribute what we want by uploading it or sending it.
Another problem is that we cocoon, doing things at home that used to require interaction with others. Since so much entertainment is at home, including television, radio, internet, video and computer games, movies, and other things, people no longer have to mingle with others for something to do. While our great grandparents might sit on the front porch and talk to neighbors for hours in the evenings, we sit alone in front of our computer interacting with people we will never meet on Facebook or watching the latest video on You Tube. Even work can be done at home.
The rapid growth of information has made old information obsolete faster than ever before. Cultural change also occurs more quickly. Thus the aged, seen as founts of knowledge and wisdom in the past, are now seen merely as outdated. In a previous generation a young girl might have asked her grandmother for advice on how to find a good husband. Now, the teenager would probably never ask, and may reply “times have changed, grandma” if the older woman volunteered advice. More likely, the younger woman would probably be more concerned about a good job than a good husband, and the elder would be even less able to help.
Another difficulty is that our society tells us constantly that doing bigger things is more important. Leaders grow to believe that teaching a class of 10 is fine but teaching a class of 400 is better. Better still is preaching to 5000, running a Fortune 500 company, or winning the Nobel Prize. Why invest your life in a few when you can invest in millions?
These cultural changes increase the dangers in mentoring leadership compared to the past. Mentors may become impatient with their mentees when the latter don’t seem to be learning. Many times my wife and I have wondered if our children were getting anything we were saying. Sometimes mentees turn out bad, like Judas Iscariot with Jesus Christ.
Another large problem is that mentors must give their charges more than information…they must give them their lives. Each generation needs to learn from those that went before, the good and the bad. Mentors cannot isolate themselves from those they mentor. Further, in the day of zero tolerance for errors, mentors can become so afraid to let their mentees fail that they do everything themselves. This may cause mentors to neglect other responsibilities which only they can do. The end result of this “do everything” spiral is burnout.
Jesus mentored well, managing to avoid the problems and dangers and build His disciples into men who could lead a church which today covers the globe. Since Deuteronomy 6, God has been telling His people to mentor others. Jesus provides a fine example.