Perhaps the greatest basketball player of the 20th century returned to active duty last year as Michael Jordan decided that his desire to play the game rather than coach could not be curtailed. For years, youth growing up in America chanted, “I want to be like Mike.”

Last fall, <America received another set of heroes following the Sept. 11 tragedies, as evidenced by stores selling out of firefighter and police officer costumes in October.

We all have a longing to model our lives after appropriate figures. When those figures assist with the modeling process, this is called mentoring.

One can learn vocabulary in a classroom. One can learn facts and figures from a textbook. One can learn a procedure from watching a video. But, one can only become more like someone else by spending time with that person.

Jesus provided the ultimate example of mentoring when he lived, breathed, traveled, and sojourned for three years with his disciples. At the end of their journey, the disciples had become more like Jesus. The disciples followed Jesus out of a desire to know God more fully.

As time went on, Jesus revealed more of his self and his intentions to the disciples. While the disciples were not always ready to follow Jesus, they benefited from their experiences with Christ. Those mentoring experiences triggered their faith development.

In a spiritual sense, anyone who claims to be a Christian today has a built-in mentoring relationship with Jesus Christ. Jesus’ incarnation makes it possible for people to explore, experience and embrace this person still today.

Christians strive to be more like the God they experience through prayer, worship, scripture and study. The perfect nature of Jesus Christ makes Jesus the best mentor.

Most Christians, however, also will benefit from other mentoring relationships with people who emulate Christ. Mentoring relationships can be very important to the growth and health of a congregation. Pastors need mentoring relationships with other pastors. New congregants need mentoring relationships with more mature Christians. Mentoring relationships also form between pastor and parishioner.

Most Christians will experience several mentoring relationships within the context of their church community. Having several mentoring relationships helps to both deepen and expand one’s character traits.

In seeking a mentor, it is important to find those who embody the fruits of God’s spirit, namely, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Beyond that, it is important for the two individuals to have “content commonalities.”  Will the mentoring relationship involve the exploration of scripture, the development of parenting skills, the enhancement of musical abilities or the practice of the spiritual disciplines?

Any of these pieces of content can form a basis upon which to discuss important questions, observe appropriate behavior, and dialogue over potential dilemmas. These are the types of activities that build mentoring relationships.

In mentoring relationships, it is sometimes helpful to establish a regular meeting time, such as a weekly or monthly luncheon date. It is important for both parties to commit to the relationship and for both parties to be intentional in forming the relationship.

Time is essential in building a mentoring relationship, but mentoring is more about becoming than doing. It is not a how-to course as much as it is a become-like journey. Perhaps this aspect of mentoring, more than any other, causes mentoring relationships to hold some of the most cherished moments in people’s lives.

Mentors see in their mentees what others have been unable or unwilling to see, including the mentee herself and even family members. Limitations are always secondary to what the individuals are capable of becoming. As the relationship grows, so does the self-esteem of both parties. Increased self-esteem allows individuals to accomplish new tasks, see new horizons and walk on higher plains.

Mentoring relationships have always been one of the greatest tools for individual and congregational development.

Jeff Woods is executive minister for the American Baptist Churches of Ohio.

Buy Woods’ books from Amazon!
Better Than Success: 8 Principles of Faithful Leadership
We’ve Never Done It Like This Before : 10 Creative Approaches to the Same Old Church Tasks
User Friendly Evaluation : Improving the Work of Pastors, Programs and Laity

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