Dear Praying Friends:
Not long ago, I sat next to a Chinese brother who has crisscrossed China for many years, talking with hundreds of house church leaders.
When I asked, “What should foreign Christians pray for concerning the Chinese church?” he replied:
“Our greatest need is for mentors for our leaders.”
“Why is that?” I queried.
“Because they can’t learn from each other. They are too proud, too afraid of losing face, to open up to each other. More than once, I have attended training sessions with them, and have noticed that they don’t talk to each other; they rely on the foreign instructor.”
Two Americans who have visited China dozens of times nodded in agreement. It seems that there is little precedent for a Chinese leader of any sort to admit any need or to ask for advice from his peers, much less his subordinates.
Mentoring, Coaching, and Counseling
We all know what teaching—or lecturing—looks like: An “expert” stands up front and talks to a group of students. For decades now, Chinese church leaders have availed themselves of such instruction. The result?
“They come out proud of their knowledge, but unable to apply it to daily life—their marriage, family, or church. It’s especially bad when they receive advanced theological education; it only seems to make them more arrogant,” said the man I quoted earlier; others have confirmed this assessment also.
What, then, is mentoring? It differs from counseling, which assumes that you have a problem and another person has the wisdom and skill to help you solve it.
Nor is it the same as coaching, which involves occasional discussions, perhaps over the telephone, with a skilled advisor, who guides you through the decision-making process and assists you in setting goals and devising realistic means of achieving them.
Mentoring requires multiple face-to-face meetings with a person who is older, more experienced, or skilled in the areas in which you want to grow. At its core, mentoring is a life-on-life relationship that reproduces what the mentor has acquired over the years in the life of a younger, or less experienced, “disciple” with potential to grow.
Mentoring takes place in normal family settings, perhaps in a master-apprentice arrangement, and in a variety of contexts. Sadly, it is often lacking in churches and Christian organizations. We are good at presenting information to people, sometimes even at helping them solve problems, but we often fail to share our lives with them in a way that effects lasting change.
Jesus, of course, was the supreme Mentor, whose example we should all strive to emulate. Books like The Master Plan of Evangelism have shown how He made disciples over time.
Varieties of Mentoring
Of course, there is no one-size-fits-all pattern of mentoring. We are all influenced by a variety of people and media, and can benefit from the experience and wisdom of others in many ways.
The best way to mentor others is to spend time with them in a number of different contexts over a period of months or years. There is just no substitute for personal contact, both one-on-one and in small groups.
Once a relationship has been established, however, mentoring can be carried out by less frequent, even long-distance communication, as long as the older person shares his heart transparently with the younger one.
Such a process can develop into coaching, in which the disciple is led to manage their life and work more effectively, and it will often include counseling, when they need a listening ear, a sympathetic heart, and godly advice.
We can even be mentored by books! How many of us have imbibed precious lessons and constructed models to follow from reading the stories of people whom we admire? I know I have. Many of my mentors are people who lived long ago and far away!
Almost all of the members of our team are engaged in intentional mentoring, formal or informal. Indeed, this is our highest priority.
All of our teaching, writing, preaching, and personal relationships are meant to communicate to others what we have received from the Lord in such a way that lives are transformed. That means that personal relationships are central to our work.
In addition, many of our publications present models of godly living to the next generation.
The stories in the Biographical Dictionary of Chinese Christianity (bdcconline.net) and the short biographies in the highly-acclaimed three-volume series, Salt & Light: Lives of Faith that Shaped Modern China aim to encourage, inspire, challenge, and guide readers to “go and do likewise.”
My English book, Jesus: The Complete Man, and the Chinese-language Confucius & Christ and autobiography have the same purpose.
We covet your prayers that our lives and words will have lasting impact.
In His service,