by Don Cartledge, LAC mentoring coordinator & Jay Hostetler, director of Ministry Wave Coaching and Consulting for Ministry Leaders
Long before the age of automobiles and superhighways, boats and rivers provided the main means of transportation. In choosing an analogy for the LAC mentoring program, rivers seem to be more appropriate than highways to describe our missionary journey. Rivers are fluid and changing, they rise and fall, and boats are the preferred mode of transport.
As new missionaries continue to arrive in LAC, we want them to come aboard and we want to help them navigate their way down the river by equipping them with the oars they will need to make their way. Oars provide a visual image of what we hope mentoring will acheive in our region. A new missionary who has never been on this river before and finds themselves in a boat with no oars will simply drift where the river takes them and may never arrive at their desired or chosen destination.
To prevent that from happening each new missionary will have an experienced missionary mentor alongside of them in the boat. The missionary mentor is someone who has been on the river for a while, someone who has traveled the river with others that know them well and have the utmost respect for their character and abilities, someone who knows how to navigate the shallows and make it safely through the rapids and how to avoid the large boulders along the way, as well anything else the river may hide from sight. In other words, the mentor serves as a navigator who passes portions of knowledge and wisdom along to the new missionary giving suggestions and directions where needed in order to assist the mentoring partner (new missionary) to safely make the trip. The mentor is not the captain of the boat, supervising and measuring performance along the way. He or she simply encourages or instructs in such a way that the mentoring partner makes the journey satisfactorily, without shipwreck, all the way to the end.
So precisely how does the missionary mentor assist the mentoring partner, the new missionary? They invite the mentoring partner to get onboard and become a functioning and productive part of the team, they assist in making the adjustments to the new environment, they connect the new missionary to the resources they will need to make the journey, and they help provide the perspective and the incentive to see the mentoring partner through to their desired destination.
In the context of LAC, mentoring is an informal yet intentional process that is loosely structured to meet the needs of new missionaries as they arrive to their field of ministry. The mentor does not serve in a supervisory capacity, but is a highly recommended and seasoned missionary with desirable life and vocational skills that can be reproduced in newer, less experienced missionaries (known as mentoring partners for our purposes in the LAC/OARS program).
LAC/OARS consists of four key components that we believe are crucial to new missionary development and longevity. They are:
O – Onboarding relates to the first 90 days (approximately) of the new missionary’s time on the field
A – Adapting relates to key areas of adjustment such as language, culture, and relationships with nationals and missionaries
R – Resourcing is an area where the mentoring missionary makes connections for the mentoring partner the he or she might not be aware of or have access to
S– Sustainability is the objective of the three previous components and should be the outcome of the appropriate development and cultivation of those components
We want to take the remainder of this article to take a more detailed look at how those four elements work.
We all know that the first days of life and ministry in a new culture can be daunting and the intentional steps taken by a new missionary can lead to early effectiveness and long-term success. The mentor’s role as a key partner in onboarding can be seen as he or she helps the new missionary to know and understand that he or she is part of a team, to establish an onboarding plan for integrating into the new team and culture, and to interpret and navigate those issues in the early part of the process that are unforeseen.
The creation of an onboarding plan involves establishing strategies for specific situations that the new missionary will face, that is, to determine the initial ministry goals related to the ministry involvement of the new missionary. As well, it involves establishing early wins for the mentoring partner, wins that are focused on partnerships and not on productivity. The establishment of these early wins should lead to the ongoing development of relationships on the part of the new missionary with his or her missionary colleagues and national brothers and sisters. Finally, it helps in the establishment of a listening culture on the part of the mentor as well as the mentoring partner.
The benefits for the mentoring partner in the onboarding process are access to a mentor who brings to the table their spiritual and vocational passion, language proficiency, cultural understanding, creativity, discernment, influence and values.
The onboarding phase consists of three segments or sessions that are not necessarily linear and may overlap. First is the vocational segment that has to do with the actual skills of missionary work, followed by the relational segment that is critical to all of our missionary labors, and finally the spiritual segment that is the heart of all missionary development.
The areas involved in the adapting component are also not linear, and the time element of each is not predictable since each missionary and situation is unique (that is, this is not a “one size fits all” approach). The primary areas dealt with in this component continue to be language, culture, and relationships, along with any additional areas that may present themselves along the way. The mentor’s role in this phase is to evaluate (especially when it comes to managing the expectations of the new missionary with regard to his or her development and progress) as well as to provide coaching with the necessary skills and relational tools for growth.
Some of the additional areas where assistance may be needed are managing the pace of change that the new missionary is navigating (helping to find an optimum work rhythm) as well as dealing with disappointment, developing a more realistic set of expectations, and how to positive leverage all of their newly established relationships.
The mentor should always be looking for ways to help the mentoring partner access additional resources for his or her development. There are many ways that this can take place but we have chosen to focus on three.
The best resource will always be the relationships that the mentor can make available to the mentoring partner helping the new missionary to connect with individuals that they may not know or with whom they have not had contact.
Also, a unique part of this model is to provide access to experts or specialists to interact with the mentoring partner. In this manner and over time the new missionary will develop a mentoring constellation that goes well beyond the original mentoring relationship.
Finally, the mentor can help to establish an improving base of technology and media resources. The mentoring partner may benefit from websites, blogs, podcasts, music or other media that they are not aware of yet.
Before proceeding to the final component, it is important to note that if the O-A-R components are functioning and healthy, the outcome, or the S component is much more likely to take place.
In his book “The Three Box Solution” Vijay Govindarajan shares a three-part strategy for sustainability: forget the past, manage the present, create the future. For the mentoring partner, this model will greatly assist him or her with managing the present and creating the future. The benefits of starting correctly (onboarding), managing change effectively (adapting), and utilizing developmental helps (resourcing), should lead to sustainability. The mentoring process will best lead to long term effectiveness on the mission field should include a significant amount of relationships to help interpret the best steps for the new missionary and to be there to challenge and correct any missteps along the way. A long-term mentor/mentoring partner relationship should result in a door that is always open for this type of interchange and development to take place.