By: Susan Reese, Professor of Spiritual Formation
It was a day in spring when historically most students would have been focused on and stressing about exams. My conversation was different this day in that the student I was talking with had just completed a master assessment with her mentor team and she asked me, “How do I get to serve on a mentor team? I would love to offer what has been offered to me!”
A significant part of our competency-based theological education model is the role of the mentor team. As a faculty mentor on respective mentor teams, my experiences have been some of the most challenging and inspiring experiences of my work in higher education!
Mentor teams are intended to support students in creating intentional learning experiences for their respective contexts. The relevancy of the learning experiences to each student’s life call and context is significant. Students are assigned a faculty mentor who guides the learning experiences and content. Students select a vocational mentor, one who is intimately engaged in the student’s current vocational role, as well as a personal mentor, one who is able to provide spiritual companionship rooted in faith and understanding of the Christian life.
In Teams That Thrive: Five Disciplines of Collaborative Church Leadership, Hartwig and Bird give us five dynamics which apply well to a mentor team:
- Focus on Purpose – What is the student’s life calling and how will they be equipped for their vocation?
- Leverage difference in team leadership – Who is at the table? What can the student learn from each mentor, their respective strengths, and what can the mentors learn from each other? Who is willing to ask the tough questions?
- Rely on inspiration rather than control to lead. Where are you noticing the movement of the Spirit? How can you use your personal, intellectual, emotional and economic resources for God’s glory and good work? I am reminded team based mentoring flourishes when the mentors ask meaningful questions and listen. There is a spirit of collaborating with the work of the Spirit and the mentor team. “A key muscle to develop as a mentor is your skill as a question asker. Your questions should not be approached like a checklist. Rather, they ought to grow out of your genuine interest and care. [A Mentoring Guide VantagePoint3, p. 54]
- Intentionally structure decision making. How can learning experiences apply to the context of the student, therefore to respective outcomes of competency based theological education? What kind of support is needing to lean into the challenges of the learning experiences? Is accountability needed? By which mentor?
- Build a culture of continuous collaboration. I was at a conference many years ago, and I heard William Pannell [Fuller Seminary] pose the question, “Will your life be a title or a testimony? Will you live out of a position or God’s presence?” Mentor teams make space for the disciplines of hospitality, study, prayer and discernment.
The hope of a mentor team is to assist the student in paying attention to their specific call as they gain knowledge, develop their character, and apply their learning to daily rhythms of their life and work.
“And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others” 2 Timothy 2:2 NIV.
- A Mentoring Guide: Christ+Conversation+Companionship by VantagePoint3
- Mentoring: Biblical, Theological and Practical Perspectives by Thompson and Murchison
- The Surprising Power of Questions by Alison Wood Brooks and Leslie K. John [Harvard Business Review]