Would Jesus Talk About Mentoring or Discipleship?

Is there any difference between mentoring someone and discipling someone? Mentoring is a trendier word right now, but what’s the difference really? Would Jesus even discuss mentoring if He was walking around today? Are we selling out if we mentor someone as a church leader?

Obviously, how you define these two words is the entire issue.  Here is how I personally understand the two ideas:

  • Mentoring is typically seen as something that takes place outside of the church world.  Mentoring tends to be focused on identifying a person’s abilities and intentionally building a relationship with them to improve their skills. Often in the business world, it is specifically aimed at creating new leaders for an organization.  Not many churches do this well, generally speaking.
  • Discipleship is typically found in the church world, and is centered on the idea of guiding a person into a growing relationship with Jesus, with the goal of them thinking and acting more like Jesus in their day-to-day life. This is what Jesus did with the twelve, and what He calls us all to in Matthew 28:19, 20.

So, are they the same thing? No, not really. But they aren’t opposites either. There can be overlap between the two. It’s crucial that the person serving as the mentor / discipleship leader remain clear on where that overlap falls. Otherwise we can create some painful problems in the life of the person we are leading.

You see, when we run mentoring and discipleship together, it’s easy for whoever we are working with to merge them into a leadership training system based on following Jesus.  That sounds great, and there are a ton of books written on this very idea.  But that isn’t discipleship.  Discipleship applies to everyone, whether you’re going to become a “leader” or not.  In fact, discipleship calls everyone to serve the world, not lead it necessarily.  Leadership is a gift God gives, but not to everyone, or even a majority of people.  To fuse leadership and discipleship together creates an understanding of faith that a majority of people can’t live up to, and can cause unnecessary pain.  

As a leader, check your motives.  Are you trying to develop new leaders for your ministry (mentoring), or are you working with someone to see them grow to be more like Jesus (discipleship)?  You can do both together, as long as they are clearly separated in your mind, and the understanding of whoever you’re working with.