Mentoring (Dean Thompson & Cameron Murchison, eds.) - Review

MENTORING: Biblical, Theological, and Practical Perspectives. Edited by Dean K. Thompson and D. Cameron Murchison. Foreword by Jill Duffield. Afterword by Martin E. Marty. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2018. Xi + 244 pages.



            If we're honest, we all have mentors, people who have helped guide us on the path of life. They might be a parent, professor, pastor, colleague. None of us makes through life on our own, without some help along the way. This is especially true in ministry. While education is important, there are many things to learn after we're finished with our initial schooling. I have three degrees, all of which helped form me, but it was the relationships with others who helped me grow in my faith and work as a pastor. I continue to be mentored, even as I engage in mentoring relationships. One thing I have discovered is that such relationships are part of a collegial relationship (such as a more experienced pastor with a less experienced colleague), a mentoring relationship can lead to mutual learning experiences. That is, both persons learn from each other.

This particular book, edited by Dean Thompson and Cameron Murchison invites us to consider the nature of the mentoring relationship through a series of essays covering biblical, theological and practice perspectives (as the subtitle suggests). As the editors write, "the mentoring context frequently involves an intimate, committed, continuous, developmental, and reciprocal relationship' (p. 1). I appreciate that they point out that this relationship is continuous, ongoing, and that it is reciprocal, for that is how I have experienced it.

The book is composed of fourteen chapters, divided into four parts or sections. The opening section is composed of two chapters on biblical perspectives. The first was written by Walter Brueggemann and focuses on mentoring in the Old Testament. Brueggemann notes that while mentoring is a relatively new idea, the actual practice is very old, for from ancient times persons of wisdom and experience have passed on their knowledge and experience to others. David Bartlett, who died as the book was in process, writes of mentoring in the New Testament. He notes that the idea of Jesus as mentor sounds a bit odd, considering the business models of our day, and besides it "can seem a little tepid compared to the more common descriptions of him as Lord, Savior, Redeemer, King, and Master." (p. 23). Thus, he turns to Paul, before turning to the Gospels. Looking to Jesus, however, he notes that in the Gospel of John, we discern the "kind of relationship for which every mentee hopes and toward which every mentor should aim: Jesus and those who follow him are friends" (p. 36). 

With the biblical foundations set, we move to the theological Thomas Currie speaks of the theological-pastoral aspects, Thomas Long of the preacher as mentor, Rebekah Miles speaks to the ethical perspectives, and finally Cynthia Rigby offers a perspective on "expanding the perimeters of feminist mentoring." The question here is what makes mentoring feminist. Rigby writes that "Feminist mentoring also acknowledges power differentials, but is less focused on helping individuals gain more power and influence in already established systems than in helping individuals negotiate, defy, and transform systems that depend on their being less than who they really are" (p. 88). 

From the Theological we move in Part 3 to "Diverse National and International Communities of Mentoring." Alton B. Pollard III speaks of "mentoring magnificent men" from an African American perspective. Kate Kannon speaks to Womanist mentoring, again an African American perspective, but of a feminist kind. Luke Timothy Johnson looks at the Roman Catholic Tradition. Finally, there are chapters by Christian De La Rosa on "mentoring new generations of Latin@ Leaders" and Mentoring Perspectives from East Asia by Kwok Pui-Lan. These chapters remind us that mentoring has cultural contexts that differ from one to the next—thus nothing is monolithic. That provides a good lesson to us all. Context matters, but at the same time by considering other contexts we can better understand our own. These chapters also help us understand each other better.

Finally, in Part 4 we find three chapters examining generational mentoring. The first chapter by Rodger Nishioka and Melva Lowry speaks to mentoring of youth, Douglas Ottati and Elizabeth Hinson-Hasty look at "mentoring toward a humane disposition, attitude, and imagination, while Theodore Wardlaw and Camilele Cook Murray look at Cross-Generational Mentoring. 

Taken as a whole these chapters allow the reader to look at the mentoring role from a variety of perspectives. What you will discover is that the authors do not write their essays using a business model of leadership development. There is a strong recognition that religious communities, while having institutional responsibilities, have a different foundation, a theological foundation. This is important since many churches seem to gravitate toward emulating business models. Although the essayists do not pursue business models, a number of the authors represent academic communities and speak of mentorship in terms of academic relationships. Those are important relationships, but may not parallel completely the collegial mentoring relationship of clergy.

The book which begins with a brief foreword by Jill Duffield is brought to a close by Martin Marty's Afterword. Marty summarizes each of the essays, organizing them a bit differently, so as to highlight connections across sections. Marty notes that he was impressed "at how at ease the authors were to observe and comment on models from the shared text, the Scripture" (p. 237). Perhaps that is what makes this a most useful book for clergy, students, and for all who engage in mentoring relationships in a Christian context. Not every essay will speak to everyone in the same way, but there is enough variety here that anyone interested in mentoring relationships in a religious context should find something of value.

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