Mentoring is a hot topic these days within the church. Many people say they want to find a mentor, however, few actually do the work (or find the courage) to acquire one. Sharon Parks writes, “Restoring mentoring as a cultural force could significantly revitalize our institutions and provide the intergenerational glue to address some of our deepest and most pervasive concerns.” (Parks 2000, 12) This quote acknowledges that our deepest concerns about our society and the church cannot be solved by one sector of society, but will require a unified vision of all generations.
Many young adults seek after mentors within their vocational fields in order to build their knowledge, contacts, and other resources. Emerging adults are taught to seek after mentors in order to advance. This perspective of mentoring further defines mentoring as a relationship where one gives to another. One partner of the relationship is a gatekeeper to money, fame, experience, or advancement.
Mentoring is defined as “someone who teaches or gives help and advice to a less experienced and often younger person.” (Merriam-Webster, Online). This definition clearly expresses a unidirectional relationship where one gives, and the other receives. However, anyone who has spent significant time with a person from another generation knows that both individuals give, and both individuals receive. Healthy human relationships are omnidirectional where giving and receiving moves in both directions.
As Millennials come of age, a new perspective of mentorship has emerged, one which is changing our understanding and praxis of mentorship. Kinnamen states, “Are you open to “reverse” mentoring, wherein you allow younger leaders to challenge your faith and renew the church?” (Kinnamen, 205) Setran and Kiesling in their excellent book Spiritual Formation in Emerging Adulthood say, “…guidance still desperately needed but it is a guidance that is dialogical and mutual rather than unidirectional mentoring (Setran, 206). We must acknowledge the interdependence of human relationships among generations. While many resort to the word mentoring, the concept has changed and requires us to go beyond.
Scientists use the term symbiosis to describe relationships that exist for the mutual benefit of each individual. One example of a symbiotic relationship is the Goby Fish and Snapping Shrimp. The near-blind shrimp relies on the eyes of the Goby fish while constructs and maintains borrows on the ocean floor. With one flap of his tail, the fish communicates to his partner that danger is present. Another example is the African Oxpecker’s relationship with various large African animals. Larger animals are cleared of ticks by the Oxpecker who live off the ticks (and according to more recent findings, the blood of their host as well). Symbiosis illustrates the interdependence relationships that God designed humans to develop. (Here is a scientific article on the topic.)
We were designed by God to be in relationships with others. Interdependent relationships cause growth and maturity. Interdependent relationships supply love and encouragement. Interdependent relationships provide personal significance (“My life matters to another person.”)
The time has come when we are called to go beyond mentoring. We must seek relationships in which we give and receive. We must move from independence into interdependence. We must call others to do the same.
- Spiritual Formation in Emerging Adulthood by Setran and Kiesling
- You Lost Me by David Kinnamen
- Big Questions, Worthy Dreams by Sharon Parks
Dr. G. David Boyd is the Founder and Managing Director of EA Resources, a non-profit designed to provide resources to parents and churches as they seek to help emerging adults.