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3 Questions: Mentoring Chinese Leaders

From the series 3 Questions


In two recent episodes of ChinaSource Conversations, our monthly podcast, we looked at the role of mentoring in developing Chinese Christian leaders. One of our participants was Rod, an expat whose 27 years of experience in Asia has included church planting, pastoring Chinese churches, and peer mentoring among pastors in China.

Here Rod shares some lessons he has learned as he has engaged in mentoring leaders.

3 Questions

1. What is one highlight of your experience in mentoring that illustrates why mentoring is important?

I first began traveling into China in the late 1990s to help with training for lay pastors. At times the needs were overwhelming. Over time relationships were developed with the pastors I’d meet with on each trip. It became a highlight for me to interact with them in informal ways, and it became a very natural type of peer mentoring as we just interacted about life. By coming in on an itinerant basis it gave the advantage of having their full attention while I was there and being able to join in with their lives during that time. This ignited my passion and helped me see the need for mentoring. The need for training still exists, but the long-term fruit will come as we build into lives and see lives transformed from the inside out.

2. Where does the most effective mentoring take place?

For me the most powerful venues have been during retreat settings where we’ve been able to be with pastors who are out of their normal ministry context and away from the pressures of life. In those settings it has had little to do with who the main speaker was or what the main program was. As much as possible we have incorporated space and time to let them interact with one another on deeper levels. It is in those settings that I’ve seen pastors and teachers mentoring one another. When you see three or four of them together, laughing together and crying together, you know that they are interacting with one another on a very significant level. They’re out of their normal setting and they they’re able to minister to one another in ways they would not have been able to otherwise.

Other than that, my settings have been more informal because it has not been a formal mentoring program. It has been more just as we walk along the way, as we do life. During my trips, sometimes we would spend several days traveling together and visiting different churches and situations, walking with them and facing some of the challenges they’re facing and praying with them.

3. Is mentoring reproducible?

From my perspective, the process of revealing oneself to another begins with relationship and trust. If there is tension in the relationship or if someone sees somebody as his or her supervisor and not as a fellow pilgrim on the journey, then it’s hard to build an effective mentoring model. It doesn’t start with a program; it really starts with a heart and that’s where it has got to be built on that foundation of relationship and trust. Whether or not it is reproducible will depend on the relationship and on the heart. If you’re talking about reproducing a program then it would depend on how the program addresses those needs of relationship and trust, but for the most part mentoring is reproducible when there are two people or a small group of people who know that they can share with one another on a deep level the challenges they’re facing and walk with each other in that. That’s where it’s very different from coaching a skill or teaching content-oriented courses. If we make it too formalized then it becomes like coaching or training, both of which are still needed, but in that sense it stops being mentoring. It is definitely reproducible but it is difficult to reproduce because it is so out of the box compared to what most people have experienced and because of the lack of examples that pastors and church leaders have.

For more from Rod and others on mentoring, including key obstacles to effective mentoring in China, please download “Walking with Leaders” on ChinaSource Conversations.

Image credit: Men Talking by Kristin Esteves via Flickr.

Brent Fulton

Brent Fulton

Brent Fulton is the president of ChinaSource and the editor of the ChinaSource Quarterly. Prior to assuming his current position, he served from 1995 to 2000 as the managing director of the Institute for Chinese Studies at Wheaton College. From 1987 to 1995 he served as founding US director of... View Full Bio