What’s the difference between discipleship and mentoring?

We slid the brown stoneware baking dish into the oven, taking one last look at the chicken we had rinsed, dried, dressed, and seasoned.  We started with the whole bird (well, as whole as they come in the grocery store, anyway), and after using some olive oil, fresh garlic, and rosemary from the garden, we were pleased with the result.  We turned to each other and grinned.  Our mouths were already watering.

Allison had told me during one of our discipleship meetings that she would love to know how to cook a whole chicken.  So, not too long afterward, that’s exactly what we did.  You may now be thinking to yourself, “What in the world does chicken have to do with discipleship?”

It depends on how you look at it.  If the only things I was seeking to pass on to Allison were cooking skills, then what we were doing might better be called mentoring.  To mentor another means to advise or train.  It involves one person who has experience and skills, passing on that knowledge to another person.  Like Allison and me and the chicken.

My friend Beka who lives and serves in West Africa, recently described to me the desperate need for mentoring on the mission field.  New families regularly come to serve in their ministry, and the women desperately need mentors.  They need women who have more experience with the culture to help them learn how to use the local language, shop for food, or slice a mango.  Basic life skills needed for survival.  Thankfully there are people like Beka who are willing to mentor younger missionaries over and over again.

Women in America need mentoring, too.  We might need training on how to set up a budget, manage our time, or plan meals for our families.  Or maybe we need advice on how to make decisions, make a bed, or make a good cup of tea.  Mentoring is a beautiful thing, a practice as old as the relationships between women.

Discipleship can certainly include mentoring.  In my small discipleship group, there is no limit to the topics we might discuss or the things we might teach each other.  We have chickens in the oven all the time!

But discipleship is also different than mentoring.  Discipleship has two distinct aspects that mentoring does not have:

  1. The burden of discipleship is the gospel.  In a discipleship relationship, you might learn anything from needlepoint to how to change a tire, but the primary purpose of the relationship is to pass on the truths of the gospel.  As we seek to apply the gospel to all the different areas of our lives, the conversations can take us anywhere.  But the burden, the central focus, of what we discuss and apply is the amazing good news of Jesus.
  2. The goal of discipleship is reproduction.   While a mentoring relationship is complete in itself, one person training another, a discipleship relationship is not.  Underneath the training that goes on in a discipleship relationship there lies an important goal: the person receiving training in the gospel then passes it on to others.  This is how we grow the church, expand the kingdom, and pass on faith from one generation to another.

Jesus has called us all to go and make disciples, teaching them to obey everything he has commanded.  So go ahead and put the chicken in the oven together, but don’t forget the burden and goal of discipleship.  You’re passing on the gospel so that they can do the same.

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3 thoughts on “What’s the difference between discipleship and mentoring?

  1. Maybe the reason I haven’t seen my prayer answered is because I was praying for the wrong thing…it’s discipleship I need in my life, more so than a mentor. 🙂 I know God sees through linguistics, but I’ll still pray for a disciple now instead of a mentor…

  2. I love the idea that discipleship is about reproduction. Haven’t ever thought of it this way. And yet…YES. I get that.
    Helps clarify my heart for these teenagers at the Children’s Home – a longing to mentor them, yes; but more so a longing to disciple them, that they might be another force to help break the cycle.

    Love you to pieces, friend!!!

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