ACSI — Vol 17.3
Who Are the Spiritual Mentors in the Lives of My Students?
My research began when I read intriguing Christian literature about mentoring written in 1993 by Paul D. Stanley and J. Robert Clinton. In Connecting: The Mentoring Relationships You Need to Succeed in Life, Stanley and Clinton identify a mentoring continuum. The mentoring continuum has three categories of mentors: passive, occasional, and intensive. The passive category includes contemporary and historical mentors. The occasional category includes sponsors, teachers, and counselors. The intensive category includes coaches, spiritual mentors, and disciplers. I was fascinated with the section regarding spiritual mentors and asked myself, “Who are the spiritual mentors in my life?” As you read this research I would like you to also ask yourself, “Who are the spiritual mentors for my students?” and “Am I a spiritual mentor for my students?”
Stanley and Clinton say that a spiritual mentor “facilitates spiritual development and maturity at certain critical junctures in a disciple’s life” (1993, 65). In order to identify the spiritual mentors in my life, I needed to research the stories of how spiritual mentors have made an impact on my life.
On the basis of the stories about how spiritual mentors have made an impact on my life and the definition of spiritual mentors by Stanley and Clinton, I identified three spiritual mentors in my life: Matthew, Pam, and Verlyn. I then interviewed these three adults. In analyzing the stories of Matthew, Pam, and Verlyn, I found common stimulators of the three spiritual mentoring relationships in this study: attraction, ability of a mentoree to identify spiritual needs, reflection, time, responsiveness of the mentoree, acceptance, and love. What does the literature state about these stimulators?
Attraction is the first stimulator in spiritual mentoring relationships. “Whether the mentoree seeks out a mentor or the mentor does the seeking, a spiritual mentoring relationship begins by paying attention to another” (Anderson and Reese 1999, 63).
Ability of a Mentoree to Identify Spiritual Needs
Another stimulator is the ability of mentorees to identify spiritual needs of themselves. “The first task of seeking [spiritual] guidance then is to touch your own struggles, doubts, and insecurities—in short, to affirm your life as a quest” (Nouwen 2006, 6).
Reflection is another stimulator to spiritual mentoring relationships because mentorees need to reflect before they can identify a spiritual need (Stanley and Clinton 1993). Reflection “means recognizing and affirming your personality and temperament, your natural bent, and the instinctive ways in which you relate to others” (Hendricks and Hendricks 1995, 43). Spiritual mentors and mentorees need to reflect on the past, the present, and the future in order to reap full benefits of a deepening spiritual mentoring relationship.
“Spiritual mentors give of their time generously and sacrificially just as Jesus did with His disciples” (Kreider 2008, 124). Spiritual mentoring relationships deepen the quickest when the mentoree and the mentor are in close proximity and they can share life together on a regular basis. Since spiritual needs seem to ebb and flow, spiritual mentoring relationships are best fostered through regularly scheduled time (Stanley and Clinton, 1993). Christian schools provide a fantastic opportunity for teachers and students to spend time together in a Christian setting.
Another stimulator of spiritual mentoring relationships is accountability. Keith Anderson and Randy Reese define “accountability as growth through exercises of grace facilitated by the mentor” (1999, 13). Spiritual mentors need to provide accountability to the mentoree as he or she learns through spiritual exercises initiated by the spiritual mentor.
An environment of acceptance is a stimulator for spiritual mentoring relationships. Larry Kreider states, “Effective spiritual mentoring involves a commitment to vulnerability, a willingness to open our lives to one another and acceptance of the other person without reservation” (2008, 140).
Responsiveness of Mentoree
Mentorees need to be responsive to the teachings of a spiritual mentor if the relationship is going to deepen. “We define responsiveness as the sustaining of a responsive spirit of teachability. In order to grow, the mentoree must submit willingly to the guidance of the mentor” (Anderson and Reese 1999, 13). The mentoree’s ability to listen to the spiritual mentor and to take action shows the degree of responsiveness of the mentoree.
A final stimulator of spiritual mentoring relationships is love. Kreider says, “Love is the pivotal point on which a spiritual mentoring relationship rests” (2008, 73). Spiritual mentors and mentorees often demonstrate a genuine interest in each other’s spiritual, social, emotional, physical, and intellectual well-being. The love relationship between a spiritual mentor and a mentoree provides the ideal environment for training and developing the character of a mentoree (2008).
What steps can you take to be a better spiritual mentor to your students? Ask yourself, “Which of my students has shown interest in one or more aspects of my spiritual life?” It is possible that this student is attracted to your spiritual life. The next step is to begin or to continue conversations with this student with the intention of spending more time together.
The purpose of this research was to help me discern who has served as a spiritual mentor in my life and to identify the stimulators that deepened my relationships with my spiritual mentors. I hope the Christian teachers who read this research are able to connect to the stimulators and draw conclusions for themselves concerning how they can be more effective spiritual mentors for their students.
Praise God for using spiritual mentors to make an impact on our lives. Praise God for Christian teachers who serve as spiritual mentors every day. Thank you for making the sacrifice to be a spiritual mentor for your students, and may God continue to bless each of us as we inspire students to become devoted followers of Jesus Christ!
David De Jong, EdD, is the preschool through eighth grade principal at Pella Christian Grade School in Pella, Iowa. He earned an EdD in educational leadership from the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, Iowa, in 2012.