Having a learning coach or ministry mentor is a great way to leverage your seminary experience.
Our research on theological education as well as surveys with people in the field led us to make mentoring a significant part of our learning model. Many seminaries will involve mentoring during the last two semesters of their study as part of the field education experience. At Rockbridge, we require students to have a mentor for every class. We believe mentoring is supported by biblical teaching. Regardless of your seminary’s requirements, you can enlist the support of a mentor throughout your entire program of study.
We’ve learned that mentoring is best done when initiated by the student. Mentors who are assigned by others often don’t work because there is no chemistry or camaraderie. Look for a person who is willing to inject truth into your life and spend time with you. This should be an enjoyable experience for both of you. You will get as much out of the experience as you want. Let me say this as straight as I can: If you select a mentor that isn’t willing and able to invest time in you, then you are better off finding another learning coach.
It’s a good idea to have more than one mentor. Typically, not every mentor is strong in all areas of ministry. At the first of every term, schedule meetings with your mentor(s). Get them on the calendar early. Mentors are usually very busy people and you’ll have to work with their schedules. Multi-task by meeting for lunch or breakfast, and accompanying your mentor to regular work events. If your mentor is great in evangelism, go together on outreach efforts. Ride in the car to meetings together. Find ways to spend time with each other without adding to your busy schedules.
Go prepared for each meeting. Know what you want to debrief about. Ask questions, seek clarifications, and so on. Go in with an agenda of questions for your mentor, things you’ve learned and especially self-discoveries to share and discuss. Ask your mentors for insights from their experiences and any insights they might have regarding what they have observed in you. The better planned you are, the better the experience. The purpose of these meetings should be to discuss how what you are learning is moving you forward in your spiritual development, in light of your calling. Here are some starter questions to discuss:
- How is this course helping you develop your call to service?
- What questions do you have from your reading or class discussions?
- How do you apply what you are learning this term to your ministry context?
- What leadership skills do you need to develop?
- How can your mentor personally support you moving forward?
When meeting with your mentor, plan to ask open-ended questions to draw out what your mentor is thinking, like
- “What do you think?”
- “Where do you think I need to focus more attention moving forward? Why? How?”
- “What blind spots do you see that I may be missing?”
- “If you were in my position, how would you go deeper to develop in this area?”
- “Have you made mistakes in this area that I can learn from?”
Lastly, don’t forget to say thanks for the investment your mentor made in your life. Send your mentor a thank-you card or small gift to express your appreciation.
Daryl Eldridge is President and Cofounder of Rockbridge Seminary.