We are in the middle of the evaluation season at Carey Baptist College. All 30 of the students in our Pastoral Leadership track journey through an annual process which probes for both critique and affirmation. As Principal I have been committed to participating in every single one. It is just exhausting... Reflecting on the written material - phrasing that open-ended question that cracks an issue open - committing to leaving no hard thing or affirmative thing unsaid - on and on it goes. In fact last year the process left my emotional tank so dangerously low that this year I am participating in just the first and third year student evaluations.
And each year the same issue comes up. When faced with a student who has some vulnerabilities which have yet to be strengthened, what is the default setting by way of response? I've gradually watched it take over in the past decade:
"They need a strong mentor."
Please don't get me wrong. I believe in mentoring. I submit to the process myself and I look forward to sessions that I have with people whom I mentor. [Last week I even read Walter Wright's book on Mentoring - just so useful as he gave me permission to do what I tend to do: allow for a giving and receiving to take place in the mentoring relationship]
But three questions are beginning to gather for me...
(a) Should the instinctive reaction be to throw people on to a mentor, or should it be to throw people on to God? At the very moments when we consider a mentor to be needed, should we not be coaching people towards 'casting' (1Peter5:7) themselves on God? Is God not the primary mentor in our lives? Who was the mentor for the psalmist, I wonder?
(b) I wonder if 'having a mentor' becomes a crutch that keeps people one step removed from grafting the personal disciplines and habits into life that are required? The ol' cliche about needing to 'do the hard yards' comes to mind. Establishing priorities. Addressing weaknesses. Pursuing holiness. Are we becoming responsible adults are are we being kept in a kind of infancy? How does the mentoring process contribute to (and then be changed by) someone's growth into maturity?
(c) What role does community play? Is this not designed to be mutual-mentoring-en-masse? Is this prominence of the mentor playing into the hands of our individualism? I wonder if this default to mentoring as the solution would be quite so prominent if people were better integrated into healthy and accountable communities?
I guess an effective mentor keeps an eye on (a) and (b) and (c)... but I do find myself concerned that a mentor-dependency is emerging. It is reaching the stage where people who are separated from this kind of specialist support (you could add in coaches, supervisors, spiritual directors...) for a period of time might well end up unravelling and deconstructing. That should not be the case!