Organic mentoring relationships enable pastors to steer their congregations with discipleship that harnesses the changing cultural currents.
By Sandra Graham and Sarah Rooker
Pastors navigate societal change through the choppy waters of relativism, individualism, and global anxiety. With a vision for the Great Commission, weary pastoral hands grip the rudders of discipleship to steer congregants through turbulent cultures. Yet over half of pastors (55%) report feeling overcommitted and overworked.
Despite the clear commission for all believers to “go and make disciples,” less than half of churchgoers (48%) intentionally invest time to help other believers grow in their faith. With fewer hands on deck for discipleship duty, the pastoral burden increases. Yet, 63% of pastors say disciple making is a skill they need to invest in. Churches have the opportunity to expand congregational participation and lighten the pastor’s load through organic mentoring relationships—a natural form of intergenerational relationship that casually occurs within the daily rhythms of life.Despite the clear commission for all believers to “go and make disciples,” less than half of churchgoers (48%) intentionally invest time to help other believers grow in their faith. Click To Tweet
While Sandra and I pursued our mentoring desires from different perspectives in different churches, God used the natural rhythms of life to guide each of us. Although neither of us relied upon our church staff or programs to facilitate relationships, pastors have the unique opportunity to encourage mentoring at the intersection of different generational needs. By casting a vision for organic mentoring, pastors can alleviate their workloads and mobilize congregants as front-line initiators.
A mentor-in-waiting: Sandra’s story
As a Boomer-aged “mentor-in-waiting,” I carried my leather-bound Bible with worn cover and wrinkled pages along with a moleskin journal for notes and prayer requests. Multi-colored pencils waited patiently in the pocket of my Vera Bradley Bible carrier, sharpened and ready to dissect Scripture passages. I had the tools but lacked the eager “mentee-in-need.”
My church offers hospitality with a barista bar and smiling greeters in matching t-shirts. We serve foster families in our local community. I love it, but as I attempted to fit past patterns of programmed discipleship into a new church model for a post-modern world, I felt unsure and irrelevant. I collided with the challenge to change.
A mentee-in-need: Sarah’s story
My early twenties brought unpredictable twists, and I yearned for someone to show me how to navigate adulthood. After ruling out confused peers and busy pastors, I sought a wise mentor. But the elusive process of finding her made me want to stand in the church foyer with a sign that said, “Looking for a mentor. Call me.”
Despite my sign-holding idea, God had a more spontaneous plan in mind. One afternoon, as I walked the aisle of a local store, I encountered a woman from my church. After striking up small talk, she invited me over for tea. My free schedule and a desire to have a more in-depth conversation compelled me to say yes. The impromptu afternoon tea set the tone for our bond.
Stepping alongside younger lives: Sandra’s story
I realized I needed to adapt to pursue mentoring relationships in my current culture. I began to pray, and intentionally started casual conversations with younger women as I participated in church activities. Although intimidated by my generation gap, I initiated friendships and social invitations. In conversations, I offered sincere encouragement. Over time, God led me to deeper connections with a few young women. Now, I meet them for sporadic lunches and listen to their stories over fish tacos and Asian chicken salads. I ask how I can pray for them and then follow up. We text each other and I use high-five emojis. As the Spirit leads, I prayerfully offer biblical truth for their needs. I have leaned into a new experience of lifestyle mentoring that flows naturally within our busy Boomer and millennial/Gen Z lives.
The power of casual guidance: Sarah’s story
Every few weeks, my tea-drinking mentor invited me into her tousled home, and I cozied up on her porch swing. We volleyed questions back and forth. I gleaned from her experiences, and she guided me through my current struggles.
Eventually, a conglomeration of mentors guided me as they invited me into their lives. When my career as a nurse got tough, I met my work mentor over noodles. And she shared about rough patches in her 20-year career. Another mentor in her mid-thirties would pick me up in her minivan. And we would wait together in the kindergarten pick up line while she asked me about my relationship with God. Or when boys confused me, another mentor offered the warmth of her fire pit and the comfort of her humor and perspective. The Spirit led these imperfect women to call at impeccable times, to ask the right questions, or to simply offer their presence. I willingly jumped into whatever space they had available for me, and the Spirit used those women and their moments to transform me.
Intergenerational relationships in the Bible“God’s great instruction to the nation of Israel commends a lifestyle of passing on biblical truth ‘when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.’” — Sandra Graham, Sarah Rooker Click To Tweet
The organic mentoring model finds solid footing throughout Scripture. God’s great instruction to the nation of Israel commends a lifestyle of passing on biblical truth “when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up” (Deuteronomy 6:7, CSB). Ruth absorbed her mother-in-law’s faith as Naomi spoke of it through the daily struggles of famine and loss. Elizabeth strengthened Mary while sharing the journey of mothering an anointed son. Jesus modeled the premier example as He embodied His teaching for His disciples. As the first-century church blossomed and spread, both Peter and Paul wrote letters encouraging believers to imitate their behavior as they followed Christ.
Creating space for organic ministry
Lifestyle mentoring provides connections outside of formal church gatherings—a positive approach when 50% of Gen Z report keeping churches at arm’s length. A pastor desiring to steer the congregation toward these purposeful friendships should cast a vision and give guidance for expectations and potential challenges. Here are four steps to take as you seek to create spaces for organic ministry in your church:
Acknowledge a possible generation gap in different values and perspectives, including uses of technology, the need for flexibility, and a mentee-focused agenda.
- Facilitate learning opportunities for all generations to bend toward each other. Panel discussions, podcasts, books, and experts offer resources to build understanding and compassion across generational gaps.
- Prepare for common hindrances. Mentors typically feel inadequate, while mentees fear judgment. Both generations often feel over-scheduled and want to avoid over-commitment. Both fear failure and rejection.
- Encourage dependence on prayer and the Spirit, as in all ministry endeavors. Mentors must follow the Spirit’s guidance to discern mentoring moments and purposefully guide the relationship toward spiritual growth.
Jesus at the helm
Jesus delivered the Great Commission with the assurance of His presence and authority. Years earlier, He demonstrated His power over the Galilean waves. Today, the church may feel caught in a whirlpool of swirling culture, but Jesus remains at the helm. Organic mentoring relationships enable pastors to steer their congregations with a discipleship method that harnesses the changing currents of culture.
For permission to republish this article, please email Marissa Postell Sullivan.
Sandra is a seminary student at Dallas Theological Seminary.
Sarah is a seminary student at Dallas Theological Seminary.