View From the Wall

Mentoring in a Chinese Context

All my life I’ve longed for a mentor!

We have no fathers; we have no brothers

I minister to everyone; who ministers to me?

The pastor of a large church wept, I have no one to share the burden with!

We don’t need more programs on mentoring; we need people who will mentor

These are some of the heart-cries of Chinese leaders for mentoring. Often a mentor does not realize how profoundly he or she can impact another’s life.

“Let Me Introduce You to My Mentor!”

As co-pastor in a Chinese church, I admired SW’s effectiveness as a lay leader. He led people to Christ, formed cell groups and multiplied cells within the church. He headed a cluster of cells regularly training and encouraging his leaders. I helped with his training and enjoyed being with him. He also joined me on a mission trip to learn how to lead his cells on their own mission trips. He quickly caught on and began doing the same. SW was one of the best lay leaders I knew.

However, we moved away and I lost contact with him. Then a church conflict hurt him deeply. He withdrew from ministry and stopped attending church. His wife and others around him were heart-broken. On a brief visit back I noticed that SW was missing. When I asked about him, people shrugged sadly, mentioning his alienation from the church. I was deeply grieved and began praying for him.

When I contacted him through email he wrote back, sharing about his hurt and withdrawal. I told him how much I had admired his zeal in the past, recounting some highlights in our journey together. I tried to share a fresh vision with SW of his potential impact for the Kingdom. I encouraged him to forgive and begin serving again; however, I didn’t hear back from him. I wondered how he took my exhortation.

A few years later I visited that church. SW eagerly wound his way through the crowd to greet me. His face beamed as he shared. He had indeed forgiven the hurt and moved beyond it. (I’m still not clear what it was). He launched a ministry to foreign maids working in that city. Many came to Christ. He formed them into cells and trained them to lead their own groups. They invited him to their home country to do evangelism. Many more there believed. So, he formed a Bible school to train leaders. He invited me to teach in his school.

When SW saw me in church that day, he insisted on introducing me to the congregation he had formed. His faced glowed as he said, “Let me introduce you to my mentor. Without him, I would not be here today!”

Mentoring in a Chinese Context

At a recent consultation, a breakout group gathered to share lessons learned about mentoring in the Chinese world. Valuable insights emerged, some reflected in the story above. Following are some of the questions we discussed with the responses.

Describe Some Important Lessons You Have Learned in Mentoring

  • Be consistently available, both in good times and in bad.
  • Be honest about your own struggles.
  • Practice reflective listening skills.
  • Perform acts of kindness or give small gifts to show your love.
  • Pray! Listen to God before meeting together and pray a prayer of blessing at the end.
  • Find out what is important to that person (e.g., their children).
  • Travel together, creating memories together.
  • Learn the Chinese language and history well.
  • If you are older, be a father or mother figure to them.
  • Show trust through actions, not just words. For example, let them create their own materials and ministry opportunities

What Needs do Chinese Leaders have in Mentoring?

The breakout group identified several mentoring needs of Chinese leaders (and all of us!). On a personal level, they need mentoring in setting priorities (God, family, work/ministry), in having a consistent quiet time, and in integrating faith into daily life. They need mentoring in reflection and in anger management. They need mentors to be courageous enough to ask them about sensitive issues in appropriate ways.

On a ministry level, Chinese leaders need help in dealing with church conflicts. They need training in mentoring and developing new leaders. They need mentoring about power and servanthood. Older leaders need mentoring in forming healthy succession plans.

What is the Role of Foreigners in Mentoring?

Context—rural or urban—complicates things for foreigners. Generally, foreigners can have a great mentoring impact among intellectuals at the university level.

Foreigners can build bridges among local Chinese. Sometimes Chinese feel they can share struggles with foreigners that they cannot share with their local brethren, if the foreigner provides a non-judgmental presence and a safe environment. Indeed, foreigners have an advantage as neutral outsiders, because they are not invested in localized “politics” between individuals and groupsprovided they do not share sensitive information inappropriately.

Jesus’ Mentoring Methodology

Of course, Jesus is our best model of mentoring. Let’s look briefly at Jesus’ mentoring methodology.

He went up the mountain and called to him those whom he wanted, and they came to him. And he appointed twelve, whom he also named apostles, to be with him, and to be sent out to proclaim the message, and to have authority to cast out demons (Mark 3:13-15).

Now during those days he went out to the mountain to pray; and he spent the night in prayer to God. And when day came, he called his disciples and chose twelve of them, whom he also named apostles (Luke 6:12-13).

Jesus’ Mentoring Methodology: Selection

Several important dynamics in Jesus’ selection process emerge from these two passages:

A Larger Public: Jesus had a large following, including ” a great multitude from Galilee Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea, beyond the Jordan, and the region around Tyre and Sidon” (Mark 3:7-8).

Prayerful Consideration: Jesus spent an entire night praying before choosing a few to mentor personally. Apparently he sought God diligently about whom he should mentor.

Personal Affinity: Jesus called those ” whom he himself wanted.” Personal affinityfiltered by prayerplayed a significant part in Jesus’ choice of his mentorees.

Top-down Selection: Jesus “called” the Twelve. Scripture emphasizes Jesus’ choice of them, not their volunteering. This relationship was initiated not by the mentorees but by The Mentor.

Mentoree Response: “They came to him.” They felt a divinely-inspired receptivity to Jesus’ invitation. They were not forced into this relationship. It was characterized by mutual attraction.

Formalized Roles: Upon their response, Jesus appointed twelve ” whom he also named apostles.” He formalized the relationship with specific roles and responsibilities.

Intensified Relationship: “to be with him” (Mark 3:14). They enjoyed a proximity to Jesus beyond that of the crowds. An intensified relational network was the crucial context of mentoring.

Ministry Assignments: Jesus appointed them “to be sent out” to preach and exorcise demons. At times he sent them out in twos. At other times they served beside him (e.g., in feeding the 5,000). Active ministry responsibility, at minimum in pairs, was the larger context for mentoring.

Jesus’ Mentoring Methodology: Characteristics

Many characteristics of Jesus’ mentoring methodology can be drawn from the Gospels. Here are a few:

He Invested More in the Committed Few than in the Curious Many: Jesus deliberately weeded out sensation-seekers, curious only in signs and wonders and the latest religious craze. He wanted committed people willing to leave all to follow him.

He Modeled Holistically: The Twelve saw Jesus in many situations: tired, angry and praying; debating opponents and confronting the elite; comforting the grieving and grieving himself; preaching, healing or exorcising demons; eating and sleeping. Jesus modeled life holistically, not selectively (e.g., lecture only).

He Inspired Small Group Interaction: Jesus formed the Twelve into a cohesive whole, who interacted with him and with each other. Not only did they ask him questions, they “discussed among themselves ” While ministry was the larger context for Jesus’ mentoring program, small group interactionwith Jesus and with each otherwas the immediate context.

He Mentored One-on-One: Jesus exposed the Samaritan woman’s lifestyle and addressed Thomas’ doubts. He questioned Nicodemus and taught Mary. He restored Peter and challenged John. Jesus’ mentoring was tailored to each individual’s needs.

He Privately Explained Public Ministry: The disciples asked Jesus about his preaching and received further explanation privately. These discussions were characterized not by prepared lessons, but by spontaneous question and answer.

He Entrusted Them with Ministry: Jesus sent the Twelve to preach, exorcise demons and heal disease. He taught them how to handle money, receptivity and rejection. He modeled ministry, involved them in his own ministry, and sent them out to minister, thus multiplying his impact.

He Spent Much Time with Them: Jesus rarely had “alone time” except in prayer. He was not an absentee mentor. He spent much time with the disciples: sitting, walking, eating and serving. Just as Jesus called them to be “with him,” he also took time to be “with them” (Mark 3:14; Luke 6:17; Matthew 26:36; Luke 24:14; John 3:22; 4:39; 14:23). Jesus was a “very present” mentor.

He Envisioned Multiplication: Jesus, in compassion for people suffering under spiritual tyranny, urged prayer for more shepherd-laborers. He commanded the disciples to make discipleswho would make discipleswho would make disciples. Jesus envisioned exponential multiplication.

Jesus’ methodology differs significantly from conventional leadership development programs today, often characterized by an “add-on approach” of “air-dropped seminars” and “one-way lectures.” He did address huge crowds, but he focused on mentoring “the few” who would multiply themselves among “the many.”

However, was Jesus’ approach effective? Consider that the church was not founded by the 5,000, though they attended his Power Seminar, saw signs and wonders and ate miraculous bread. A Three-day Power Seminar for the manytaught by Jesus Christ himself!was not enough for Jesus. He did not entrust the founding of the church to the many, but to the few he called, mentored and empowered by the Spirit.

Through those few—the Twelve—rather than the many, Jesus turned the world upside down. May God use us, as mentors, to do the same for his glory!

Mentoring Resources Available

The breakout group suggested several resources:

  1. Lifestyle Check-Up—A regular mentoring checkup tool to be used every 6-12 months (English):
  2. Barnabas—Four books in Chinese:
  3. Focusing Leaders—Helping leaders see their lives over a lifetime and how they can partner with God in developing them (Chinese & English):
  4. Thirsting for God—contemplative materials to help leaders in their prayer and spiritual formation (Chinese):
  5. Jesus-in-Context—mentoring people through the life of Jesus in light of his first-century context (English):
  6. CCL Personal Spiritual Assessment Tool (Chinese)
  7. Natural Church Development—identifying the eight growth factors of a church (English):

Image credit: Pray by allen LI, on Flickr 

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Michael has been involved in ministry among Chinese for 31 years.View Full Bio