Partnering for growth
There are two vital and complementary elements to this process. They are described by the words formation and information.
This requires you, as a mentor, to teach something to the couple/individual. This teaching happens in response to the discovery that they are missing the knowledge, tools or skills with which to solve their own problems.
There are many ways to teach people. Three possible examples (and there are many more):
- Taking the time to explain a relationship tool to them yourselves
- Reading a book by a well-respected relationship expert together with the couple
- Watching a DVD teaching series on relationships together with the couple
All of these can be done either together with the couple over an agreed period of time – such as a weekly supper together- or suggested as an investment they can make in their own time. What is key is that the information must be valid, reliable and practicable.
Firstly, validity means: is the resource applicable; does it cover what it says it covers? Secondly, does it speak to the actual issues at hand in the couple/individual’s lives?
Reliability looks for the source of the material. From who and where does it come? Is the information thoroughly and rigorously researched and peer-reviewed? With social media proliferation many people are learning the hard way that not all sources should be considered equal. It is also worth seriously interrogating materials from churches. Sad to say that not all churches can be considered equally versed in sound teaching and material. When selecting, I would contend for the presence of a good balance in the author between sound theological knowledge as well as a grounding, and preferably practice, in the social sciences. I find that a healthy cynicism – some people call it discernment 😉 – is useful to separate out the wheat from the chaff. Know what you are offering someone. If you aren’t sure then ask someone who does know.
Practicable: This covers the practical aspect. It begs the question: is it possible for the couple to access and use the resource? This covers things like affordability, language, education level etc.
The information supplied is credible if it ticks all three of the above.
The information delivery is usually the easier part, and is why many mentors default to this as the only way of helping people grow. It is, I would argue, only the beginning of growth and learning. Formative work accompanies information delivery for mentoring to be genuinely effective.
This is the harder, and most often overlooked, part of growth. It means to partner with the couple/individual as they internalise the information they have been given. Formation means that the people we mentor have integrated the information into themselves. This means that there is a depth of interaction with the content that has gone beyond a superficial memorisation process. To memorise, and then be able to repeat, information is a very different concept to genuine learning.
The information to formation process is similar in broad terms. Information needs to be consumed, interrogated and then, finally, integrated wholly into the person for genuine learning to take place. This is the root of the word – it is imperative to be formed by this process.
A biological analogy seems the most apt description. When food is eaten, the body exerts different forces on it, all with the same purpose in mind –to break the food down so as to get at the nutrients contained within. What is useful for the body to grow is then transformed into the body itself, or used for energy. Whatever is not useful is then discarded.
The presence of the mentor is vital in formative work. The gift of your presence is evidenced in two different approaches. Firstly, mentors must know when to press in closer so as to be available to both field and ask questions. Secondly, mentors must know when to allow space so that a couple/individual can bring their own effort to their growth. This variation in approach is a delicate line and is usually only obtained through precious experience. The idea is to be supportive of growth through proximity, but not to rescue people from relationship work only they can perform for themselves.
Secondly, where a book or DVD can be a static resource, a human presence is dynamic. This provides opportunity for conversation, debate and questions that a static resource may not allow. A mentor can also pick up when a couple/individual are interpreting information through their own dysfunction instead of accurately and vulnerably responding to it for the purpose of forward growth.
There are two outworking’s of this mentor presence as well. Firstly, you, as mentor, bring a supportive safety net to the learning process. Learning can be unsettling because it may include either a removal of false knowledge, challenging of preconceived ideas, or a broadening of world views. This may shake a couple/individual’s foundations, and so the stability and support of a good mentor is vital in carrying people through possible uncertainties because it reinforces the courage to face this foundation shaking.
Understanding what information and formation are means your knowledge has increased; knowing how and when to use each of these is the beginning of wisdom in mentoring couples, and is usually paid for in precious experience. This experience can only be found in getting out there, being as humble as possible and starting to use these tools as sensitively as possible.
Having just said the above, a final disclaimer, for the sake of everyone’s health and wellbeing. If you are not sure where or how to start, or even whether you are ready to start– please consult a professional. This blog is not intended to act as a licence to use people as emotional guinea pigs. People’s emotional wellbeing is a sacred thing. Please respect and treasure it, as you would your own.
Bless you if you’ve made it to the end. Part of my heart in sharing all of this is to sketch a very brief overview of the possibilities of working with people towards their relational development and health. There are so many intricacies involved in this process that this series cannot even begin to do justice to it all. It is meant merely as an appetiser.
I hope it has benefitted you. If you have any questions please feel free to contact me – I am always open and keen to engage.