Learning is a big deal to me.  This is probably because I realize how much I lack.  If I am going to be faithful as a christian leader with what God has entrusted to me, then each day is an opportunity to hone and sharpen the gifts I have.  The same holds true for you.  However, this is not something that can be accomplished alone.

I’ve already written quite a few posts about learning on this blog.  I’ve created a book list to pass on, listed distant mentors of mine, and and reminded people that leaders are learners.

This past week I sat down to make my weekly Friday morning phone call to one of my spiritual mentors.  Right before I called him, a feeling of gratitude came over me.  I was so thankful to be able to call this man, a retired pastor from Houston, who just overflows with wisdom every time we talk.  I always leave our conversations challenged and encouraged in my relationship with Christ.

The christian life was meant to be lived in the context of community.  Without it, our soul withers.

In their book, Connecting: The Mentoring Relationships You Need To Succeed In Life, Paul D. Stanley and J. Robert Clinton discuss the need for everyone to be in mentoring relationships.

A growing leader needs a relational network that embraces mentors, peers, and emerging leaders in order to ensure development and a healthy perspective on his or her life and ministry” (Stanley 1992, 159).

When I was younger, I thought this was one of those “to-do’s” in christianity.  I saw it as some sort of spiritual discipline.  As I’ve gotten older, I realize it is something I need.  In fact, I’ve noticed all the leaders I respect eagerly seek out others to learn from.

As I read through their book, though, I was fascinated at a model they described as the “Constellation Model” of mentoring.  In this model, they describe how every leader needs 3 different mentors.  They are:

Upward Mentor – We are probably most familiar with this idea.  The upward mentor is the one we can go to in order to receive direction or perspective.  This type of mentor is sought out through various times of transition (as in my case right now), or just for the periodic spiritual checkup and insights gained from a broader perspective.

Downward Mentor – Downward mentoring is the way we help younger leaders develop their capacity, commitment and values that enables them to serve God faithfully.  Inevitably, I learn much through the process as well.  There is something about getting my eyes off my own needs, and seeking to serve someone else that brings a greater clarity to complex issues.

Lateral Mentor – I thought I had created this concept some time back.  I referred to a few people around me as “mutual mentors.”  We would get together, and split time teaching each other something.  Little did I know there had been much written on this subject under the heading of “co-mentors,” “peer mentors” or “lateral mentors.”  The idea is one in the same.  A few examples of lateral mentoring for me:

Parenting & Technology – I’ve met with a guy a few times to discuss parenting with him.  He is a young father with a growing family.  I have discussed with him the role of father in the family.  In return, he has drilled me full of technological knowledge.  From iphone to Mac questions, he has been a great resource.

Public Speaking & Gen Y Issues – A young leader asked me to mentor him about public speaking.  He was trying to develop more of a presence on stage, as well as beginning to get his feet wet developing messages for audiences.  I gladly met with him, but it wasn’t for free.  I asked him many questions about how he thought.  Gen Y, or the digital generation – as Apple would call it – go about life differently than I do.  They also think about life through a different lens.  I was curious to understand it more.  Our time was very beneficial for both of us.

Carpentry & Efficiency – I like to do projects around the house.  In fact, I’ve built 2 houses for my family.  I’ve helped a guy learn more about framing houses, basic electrical work, and questions related to his sprinkler system.  In return, he has taught me a lot about creating better systems to get tasks done quickly.

Do you have mentors?  If so, what do you find most valuable in those relationships?

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