STRONG MENTORING RELATIONSHIPS
BY E. GLENN WAGNER
Accepting the mandate for mentoring brings us to the tough part- overcoming the fear and barriers that hinder significant brother-to-brother relationships. I am convinced the benefits of such mentoring far exceed the risks of having to face those fears and barriers.
The Friendless American Male
Men have difficulty being emotionally intimate with other men, which hinders the development of friendships. Why is that? The socialization of men and the lack of realistic role models are two
significant factors. Here’s what we’ve been taught:
“Men are self-reliant.” Men have taken this to an extreme. Typically, we never ask for help, not even when we’re lost. We’re notorious for going it alone. The Lone Ranger of TV fame kept his mask
on and kept mostly to himself–like many men in the church.
“Men don’t feel.” Actually, men do feel, but we have an innate or learned aversion to showing and sharing our emotions. This began when we were young and were told, “Suck it up! Big boys don’t cry. Be a man!”
“Men don’t touch.” Touching, so common to friendships among women, is largely absent among men in our culture, except in contact sports.
“Men don’t need fellowship.” We tend to be so task-oriented, especially in our business relationships, that we cannot accept an invitation (“Let’s do lunch”) without asking, “What’s up?” or “Why?”
“Men use people, love things.” Acquiring things is important to many men. They tend to have relationships of convenience in which they use people to gain wealth and power.
“Men are too competitive.” Men are so competitive with each other that enmity, not camaraderie, characterizes most recreational friendships. For many men, the only thing they get emotional about is losing. They buy Vince Lombardi’s motto: “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.”
“Men are too macho.” On the silver screen and in the news, men who show bravado and violence are defined as “real men.” Rarely do the media define manhood in terms of male friendships.
Yet these traditional stereotypes are changing.
The So-called New Man
Many men do desire to share their deepest feelings but mostly with a woman they admire rather than another man in a mentoring relationship. We are told that women like this sort of sensitive and vulnerable friendship, whereas men resist it.
The New Man is described as being sensitive, caring, in touch with his own emotions. He has been disparaged by people on both sides of the gender gap who prefer men to be more macho–in the mold of John Wayne or Sylvester Stallone.
Clint Eastwood used to be on everyone’s top ten list of macho men, but now he typifies the new manly man. Eastwood is breaking the mold by taking on male roles that call for more feelings, friendship, even forgiveness. According to reviewers, his movies “Unforgiven” (1992) and “In the Line of Fire” (1993) show us the face of the New Man:
the steely blue eyes have a softer glint
the taut jaw muscle is more relaxed
he reveals some of his softer side–his emotional vulnerability
Nonetheless, the macho male is still the traditional one we were raised with. This causes confusion in the minds of men, and so we wonder: Can a “real man” enjoy a deep and meaningful, nonsexual relationship with another man?
The answer is yes. We can and should develop strong mentoring relationships. It won’t be easy, however. To break the cultural stereotype and fulfill the biblical mandate to develop man-to-man
friendships requires time spent in those relationships. According to George Barna’s 1992-93 report, Americans consider friends (relationships) to be most important, yet we spend an ever decreasing amount of time with them. Barna wrote:
Most churches claim they are “friendly.” But that may not be enough these days. In a culture where time is always lacking and communication skills are minimal, people may not even know how to go about establishing meaningful relationships with friendly people. The Church has the chance to establish community by offering outlets that create and nurture real relationships.
Small group systems, social events, relational teaching, and modeling relational development are effective methods of providing adults with both the emotional and tangible security they are searching for. (The Barna Report [1992-93], pp. 39-40)
The Scriptures give us the mandate for mentoring. Due to the pressures of our culture, many men recognize their need for mentoring relationships. This presents us with a tremendous opportunity. But we must overcome the barriers to friendship. Progress toward that end can be realized in seven steps.
Step 1: Follow the Golden Rule and Be a Friend
The Golden Rule applies directly to building strong man-to-man relationships. To find and keep a friend, you must first be a friend. As Jesus said, “Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31). We begin a mentoring relationship by asking ourselves how we like to be treated. The qualities men look for in a mentoring relationship embody one or more of these ideals:
Acceptance–to be fully known, accepted for who I am, without becoming someone’s “project.”
Understanding–to be listened to without interruption and without unsolicited advice.
Loyalty–to keep confidences without ever wanting to hurt me.
Self-disclosure–to risk revealing innermost feelings without fear of rejection or manipulation.
Availability–to be there for me, night or day, even at 2:30 A.M. in time of need.
Genuineness–for him to be who and what he says he is.
Develop these qualities in yourself and, as like attracts like, you will soon find them in someone else.
Step 2: Obey the “One Another” Commands of God
In strong mentoring relationships, we obey what God commands us to do within the Body of Christ. All issues of spiritual growth and maturity are framed in the context of relationships. This is obvious from the many “one another” passages in the New Testament. Here’s a sampling:
Love one another:
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34).
Accept one another: “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God” (Rom. 15:7).
Encourage one another: “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Heb. 10:24-25).
Forgive one another: “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Eph. 4:32).
Honor one another: “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves” (Rom. 12:10).
Instruct one another: “I myself am convinced, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, complete in knowledge and competent to instruct one another” (Rom. 15:14).
Serve one another:
“You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love” (Gal. 5:13).
Submit to one another:
“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Eph. 5:21).
The list of “one another” passages goes on, but you get the point. It is impossible for men to fulfill the commands of Scripture without being in significant relationships with one another.
Step 3: Seize the “Teachable Moments” in Your Life
Being open to change is another component in building strong relationships with men. As Paul said, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom. 12:2).
We cannot build lasting, significant relationships if we are unwilling to change sinful and hurtful attitudes or actions. But take heart; there are many ways to hurdle this barrier. Frequently a
“teachable moment” will make us open to such change.
We are most teachable when: (1) struggling in a time of crisis; (2) overwhelmed by inadequacy; (3) confronted with an unresolved need or problem; (4) challenged or measured by a goal; or (5) searching for a more meaningful relationship.
One such teachable moment contributed significantly to the formation of a mentoring relationship for a Wisconsin Promise Keeper. As he tells the story:
I was due to be married in June but got cold feet and called it off one month before the wedding. My career in life insurance sales was also at a dead end. I had asked Dick, a seminary professor and sometime mentor over the years, to officiate at the wedding. Wanting to comfort me in my disappointment and guide me in my ongoing search for meaningful work, Dick came out from Boston to Wisconsin on the weekend the wedding would have happened.
As we shared heart to heart, Dick ended up inviting me to write for him. I changed careers to apprentice myself as a “Timothy” to this veteran communicator of the faith. That mentoring relationship has continued to this day, but it would not have begun had it not been for a crisis of confidence 15 years ago.
Teachable moments do not have to be life-changing experiences like that one to catapult you into a mentoring relationship, however. You just have to be open to change and acknowledge your need.
Step 4: Acknowledge Your Need of Others
Until you acknowledge your need for the gifts, talents, and perspectives of other men in your life, you will never pursue positive, nurturing relationships.
Some years ago, while pastoring in New Jersey, I reconnected with a former college professor who had been a real encouragement to me. In the course of our phone call, I invited Stan to come and preach at my church. To hear him preach and watch the congregation respond so positively was great. Even greater were our times of “catching up.”
That’s when I began realizing my need for this mentor in my life and ministry. When I suggested the possibility of regular talks, prayer, and accountability with Stan, he was humble and honest enough to voice his need for me. Even though we have been called to minister in different states and must content ourselves with only a rare get-together, I have yet to come away from one of our monthly phone calls without feeling affirmed.
By acknowledging their need for each other, two men can make a positive impact on the* respective lives, ministries, and families.
Step 5: Accept and Appreciate Differences in Others
We acknowledge our need for others by placing a high value on the* opinions and ideas, even (and especially) when they differ with us. Differences of culture, gifts, talents, temperaments, and physical abilities should all be valued with the special, unconditional love that Christ bestows on us.
After my move to Denver, Colorado, I continued to acknowledge my need to connect with other men of like heart. However, I had not been able to get beyond the acquaintance stage in any relationship. Then I followed the advice of an out-of-town friend and met Rod, who was teaching at a local seminary. Within minutes, I knew Rod was someone I could relate to, enjoy, learn from, grow with, and be held accountable to on important matters. But I also wondered if such a relationship was possible. How could two men so unlike each other grow together?
Our differences are obvious. I’m white; he’s black. I was raised in suburbia; he was raised on a farm. My path took me through the rebellion of the late ’60s and early ’70s; he went through college and on to seminary, then graduate school–all with a positive focus and unswerving direction. We both love golf, but he often hooks his ball, and I often slice mine. We both love to preach, but our styles are so different. We both love to laugh, yet my humor is mostly in side comments, while his involves storytelling accented by hearty laughter.
Those very differences, however, are what make our relationship special and powerful. I have learned from Rod’s personal pain; as he has grown through it, So have 1. Thanks to our differences, I have a deeper appreciation for what is important in life.
Step 6: Devote Yourself to People
The very thing we’re trying to develop and maintain–a mentoring relationship–could be jeopardized by shifting our focus and devoting ourselves to goals, programs, or tasks. When that happens, men are viewed as a means to an end rather than as an end in themselves. To remedy that, involve yourself in the lives of men quite apart from how they fit into your business agenda.
Devotion to people begins with a focus on your own family. You are the only husband or father they have. You may find it somewhat natural to develop mentoring relationships at work, with a built-in expectation for training and developing younger associates. When you intentionally invest in someone younger and bring him along with you, you multiply or generate your talents through others.
All the above-stated principles of developing and maintaining man-to-man friendships apply to a men’s small group. This last step in building mentoring relationships may also be the first.
Step 7: Band Together in Small Groups for “PPP”
When pairs of men in strong mentoring relationships band together for mutual edification, support, and accountability, you have a small group of Promise Keepers. Conversely, existing small groups are an excellent source of brother-to-brother friendships that could develop into mentoring relationships.
Assuming you are committed to keeping your promises and will take the risk of being a friend even if that means caring enough to confront–you are ready to band together with other men and make mentoring relationships happen on a small-group scale.
Coach Bill McCartney, founder of Promise Keepers, has a handy way of remembering the basic agenda of men’s small groups. He calls men together for “PPP,” which stands for prayer, pages (of Scripture), and pain.
Prayer is conversing with God–acknowledging His supreme place in our lives, giving thanks for all things, and bringing the needs of others and ourselves before the One who can do something about them.
Pages of Scripture are what we use to find out more about God and His provision for us. The divine-human encounter is life changing. Referring to Scripture as the final arbiter in all matters of faith and practice keeps us from merely pooling our ignorance or giving unsubstantiated advice.
Pain is our reason for going to prayer and Scripture in the first place. Men are most genuine with one another when they are vulnerable and share their pain–in their marriages, with their children, or at work–with each other.
Handle Conflicts with Care
Despite the best of intentions, conflicts will arise in most friendships and small groups. In such times, you find out who your real friends are. Conflicts are neutral; it’s how you react that makes–or
breaks–the friendship. Here are some pointers for handling conflicts constructively.
Give others the benefit of the doubt. Rather than always looking for a hidden agenda, trust people to keep their word and live up to their agreements.
Double check your own attitude. Assert your opinion and don’t be defensive, but do defend the other person’s right to speak his mind and hold an opinion different from yours.
Separate people from the problem. Go soft on people, hard on issues–that is, love people more than opinions.
Focus on interests, not on positions. Do not bargain over the substance of a position, but do build on common interests, which are vested in maintaining the relationship.
Invent creative options for mutual gain. Go for a win-win solution to the conflict by broadening the range of options and agreeing on objective criteria or principles by which you will decide what’s best.
Compromise on matters of taste or personal convenience. Stand firm with integrity, however, on matters of principle or personal values.
Confrontation and Care
A balance between confrontation on issues and care for people will strengthen and lengthen any mentor relationship. Many men in Scripture model this tough love. It was used, for example:
by the prophet Nathan with the adulterous David (see 2 Sam. 11-12);
by Jesus with Peter, who had denied his Lord three times (see John 21:15-19);
by Paul with Peter, who had compromised on the issue of justification
by faith for dews and Gentiles alike (see Gal. 2:1116).
This need for honest confronting of issues with genuine caring for people is made practical for mentors in the following chart (adapted from David Augsburger, Caring Enough to Confront (Ventura, Calif.: Regal, 1980]).
I feel deeply about the issue at stake.
I want to clearly express my view.
I want respect for my view.
I want you to trust me with your honest feelings.
I want you to keep working with me until we’ve reached a new understanding.
I want your unpressured, clear, honest view of our differences.
I want your caring-confronting response.
I care about our relationship.
I want to hear your view.
I want to respect your insights.
I trust you to be able to handle my honest feelings.
I promise to stay with the discussion until we’ve reached an understanding.
I will not trick or pressure you, nor will I manipulate or distort the differences between us.
I give you my loving, honest respect.
Remember that the Bible commands both the one who has been offended and the one who did the offending to seek reconciliation. Acknowledge whatever actions and attitudes on your part led to the break in the relationship. Admit the hurt and consequences to the people involved, as well as remorse over the offense itself. Yet the repentant person cannot restore himself; someone else must take the initiative.
Barnabas (see Acts 4:36) was noted for his ministry of restoring broken people. He took the government agent Saul under his wing, defending him when Saul was newly converted and the early church did not yet trust him. On another occasion, years later, Barnabas sided with the young John Mark, who had suddenly dropped out of the missionary team and was rejected by Paul (see Acts 15:36-41). Thanks to a mentoring relationship with Barnabas, John Mark later proved useful to Paul (see 2 Tim. 4:11).
You get the point. Mentoring relationships are not for the faint-hearted. But those who go the extra mile and show biblical love will reap the rewards. Restoring a brother may be the toughest job a mentor has to do. However, only a mentor–one who has proved his faithfulness as a friend-will be trusted at those critical, teachable moments that make or break a man’s ministry.
You can be a Barnabas to a Saul and a John Mark. Or you can be a Paul to a Peter and a Timothy. In either case, follow the mentor’s creed (2 Tim. 2:2): “The things you have heard . . . in the presence of many witnesses [your Barnabases) entrust to reliable men [your Pauls) who will also be qualified to teach others [your Timothys).”
The mentor’s creed, coupled with the mandate for mentoring, is essential to being a Promise Keeper. We need a few trusted brothers to help us keep our promises. That’s all there is to it. It’s that simple. And it’s that hard.
A Man and His Mentors Personal Evaluation
Can you identify one or more of the following in your life?
For each of the people above for which you do not have a name, can you think of any potential candidates?
In the Group
1. If you’re comfortable doing so, share with the group the prayer you wrote out in the past week.
2. Complete this statement: When I think of mentoring, I . . .
3. In 60 seconds, tell about someone who was (or is) a mentor in your life.
4. Dr. Wagner identifies several reasons men have difficulty forming close friendships. As a group, review the list and discuss which you feel are most accurate in your experience:
Men are self-reliant.
Men don’t feel.
Men don’t touch.
Men don’t need fellowship.
Men use people, love things.
Men are too competitive.
Men are too macho.
5. Relate how each of you did in identifying a Paul, a Barnabas, and a Timothy in your life. To help discussion, you might answer the following questions:
What characteristics am I looking for in my Paul?
What characteristics do I want in a Barnabas?
What characteristics should I look for in a Timothy?
6. How can we be brothers/mentors to each other? 7. Consider getting together as a group for a social activity–a barbecue, a round of golf, a softball game with your kids, or something similar.
Memory Verse: “Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken” (Eccles. 4:12).
On Your Own
1. List potential candidates for a Paul, a Barnabas, and a Timothy in your life. Begin praying for God to match you with the right man/men in each of these areas.
2. Read Promise 3, “A Man and His Integrity,” before the next meeting.
THE ABOVE MATERIAL WAS TAKEN FROM SEVEN PROMISES OF A PROMISE KEEPER,
AND PUBLISHED BY FOCUS ON THE FAMILY, 1973, PAGES 57-68. THIS MATERIAL
IS COPYRIGHTED AND MAY BE USED FOR STUDY AND RESEARCH PURPOSES ONLY.