Why I am Banning the Word "Mentor"

Christians are really good at creating and using language that is non-existent in the Bible.

We construct rules for ourselves, like “quiet time” and “devotionals.”  We use phrases that are out of touch and inexplicably alienate non-believers.

We are also really good at taking a concept in scripture and attaching so many restrictions, rules, and regulations to it that it becomes impossible to follow. Or we water it down so much that it no longer resembles the original design.

The term “mentor” is a perfect example, in my mind. I am not sure how this word has penetrated the Christian lexicon, especially since it has no Biblical basis.

But I have an even bigger problem with the word “mentor”…

The last thing Jesus told us must have been important. He was departing the earth for a long time and had a few last things to tell his disciples.

He didn’t say, “It sure has been fun” or “Don’t worry” or “Hang in there, guys.” He gave His disciples, and thus, us, very specific instruction. He said…

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”

Ooh, it’s so good. “…go and make disciples.” Notice, He did not say, “Go and make mentors” or “Go and find yourself a mentor.”

Okay, before anyone perhaps gets in a tizzy, let me explain that I am not opposed to someone having a mentor. I think mentoring can be a valuable process and have known people for whom it has proven beneficial.

However, the reason I don’t particularly like the word “mentor” is because, more and more, I am hearing the word used in place of another, very clear word that Jesus Himself used: “disciple.”

It seems that, as the Church has moved farther and father away from the practice of making disciples, the concept of mentoring has crept in.

One definition of  mentor is “to serve as a trusted counselor or teacher, especially in occupational settings.”  A mentor is someone who gives advice, or counsels you. They offer guidance and their expertise in a particular area. Again, I recognize the usefulness of mentoring, but discipleship is something quite different.

A disciple, on the other hand, is defined as “one who embraces or assists in spreading the teachings of another,” and/or “an active adherent, as of a movement or philosophy.”

A disciple is actively following and embracing a particular teaching and then participating in telling others about that very teaching.

There is, by definition in discipleship, an inherent replication process. Jesus did not have 12 disciples whom He mentored. If that has been the case, they would have taken His teachings and all the signs and wonders they had seen Him perform and stopped there, with them.

Can you imagine if the disciples had said, “Well, that was some good mentoring. I learned a lot, but there is no need to share what I learned with anyone else.”…?

I, for one, would not be sitting here writing this. I would not know Christ, most likely, if those men had not behaved as disciples, “adherents of a movement”–the movement of Jesus Christ.

When those in the Church as so quick to use the word “mentor” and use it as a substitute for true discipleship, we are doing more harm than good. The world doesn’t need mentors, it needs radical, devoted, blinded-by-His-teachings-and-nothing-else disciples of Christ.

For starters, I am banning the word “mentor” from my vocabulary.

Do you agree or disagree? Have you had good experience being mentored? Have you ever been discipled? What were those experiences like?

On Thursday, I will answer the question: What is Discipleship? Don’t miss the follow-up.

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29 thoughts on “Why I am Banning the Word "Mentor"”

  1. Nicole,

    Astute observations. Perhaps more a matter of semantics, though.

    Considering that the first disciples were of Jewish tradition, it was Jewish tradition to have student/teacher relationships. The Greek model would be mathetes/didaskolos relationships.

    I, myself, am discipled and mentored by Jim McNally, and he is a spiritual father to me as Paul was to Timothy. We have a Jewish student/teacher thing going on.

    I agree that we, as we are prone to do!, have mistranslated the words of Jesus and not made disciples but converts, instead. The issue I have is that far too few Christians are willing to devote themselves to one-on-one discipleship/mentoring, both older men to younger men and older women to younger women. Our modern-day church model is about glamour, numbers, converts, rockstars, and making sure we don’t offend the lost (seeker-friendly trap).

    How I sometimes wish for a simpler time.

    Good stuff, Nicole. Very nicely expounded upon and explained.

    1. I suppose one could argue it is a matter of semantics.

      However, when I share with unbelievers that I am a disciple and that I disciple others, there is quite a different reaction than if I were to say “mentor.” It raises questions, which I like.

      More than that, I think words are important. Jesus was technically a mentor, yes, but He was also so much more.

      I shy away from using language that is not grounded in the scriptures.

      There is simply too many competing forces against the Gospel to be lax on language, in my opinion.

      Our response to Him being our original “mentor’ if you will, is not to make more mentors however, which we agree on.

      Thank you for sharing that link. I am going to check it out and I’m sure be inspired for my Thursday follow-up!

  2. I agree Nicole. I think mentors are great in occupational settings, like the horse training business, where things can get dangerous and they need to guide you until you’ve gained some expierience. But that is a completely different thing than being discipled. I see A LOT of Mentoring programs at churches, but there seem to be fewer people who disciple. I have seen them though! I have never been discipled and would like to partake in it, but it seems to be a difficult thing to find someone to disciple you. Should we even look? or just wait on God? I would like to hear more from you on discipling, I don’t know anyone else who is really talking about it!

    1. You are so right Kristin. I hear about all of these womens mentoring program on church campuses, but very little of discipleship.

      It is sad because it seems the church has just given into the culture on this one.

      My husband was the first person to tell me that if you meet someone who you think would be a great discipler, to ask them to disciple you.

      My husband has done it most of his life and has had the most amazing experiences with older Godly men pouring into him. He disciples younger men in return.

      I say pray,ask God to bring someone into your mind and life, and then ask them.

      I’ll actually talk more about this on Thursday too. Great questions! Thanks for sharing them.

  3. Though there is potentially overlap between the two words, I agree they are not completely interchangeable. This goes both ways. Christians who casual use of the term “discipleship” when they really are speaking of relationship that is primarily friendship and role or career based, would do us all a favor by using the term “mentorship”. For example, the relationship I have with your husband does much to glorify God, but I think it falls more in the mentorship category. We are believers, we encourage and challenge one another, but most of our interaction is as friends, mentor-mentee, and colleges. It may have many of the same benefits that will have duplicative impact the kingdom, but to call this “discipleship” in the strictest sense probably isn’t very accurate. Would you agree?

    1. Craig,

      I would completely agree with you. I think that is a great example.

      I think many relationships where we have something to learn from someone could constitute as a mentor relationship.

      Discipleship goes far beyond that though.

  4. “It seems that, as the Church has moved farther and father away from the practice of making disciples, the concept of mentoring has crept in.”

    I think you’re hitting the nail on the head although many times I think churches are doing a poor job on mentoring people as well. I’ve seen too many churches where “mentoring” was just a code for “a smaller group of men int he men’s group” and no real mentoring took place. Now and then a young person with “potential” would be truly mentored but outside of that you were pretty much on your own.

    1. SO true Jason. the term “mentor” gets slapped on men and women’s groups where there really isn’t much (if any) mentoring going on.

      I think churches must feel it sounds more official and legit. Sounds better than “men’s group” right?

  5. Nicole,

    I love this redirection. I would just add that a mentorship might be a relationship between two people to grow and challenge one another, but a descipleship relationship (in the context of Christianity) would be a relationship between two people for the explicit purpose of teaching them how to live in a way that honors God. The first is a little narcissistic, because it’s more about the needs/desires of the people involved, whereas the second is more about what God wants. The former is most likely much more comfortable and easy going than the latter.

    1. Josh,
      What a great point you bring out. Mentoring is very much individual focused. It is sort of a me-me-me approach. What can I gain from this person?

      Discipleship is ultimately others focused because we are taking what we have learned and spreading the Good News, training up more followers of Christ.

      Such a great point. I’m going to use that in my Thursday post!

  6. Like Donald said, I do believe there are some elements of semantics involved in your assessment but overall I agree. I’m a big proponent of the meaning of words so I can completely relate to your take here.

    I do like the idea of mentors but not as an end. When it stops there, there is no duplication. The focus remains on self. My walk. My growth. My improvement. But the purpose of all these things is to perpetuate it in the world. Like you said “make disciples”. We are called to spread the culture of the kingdom in this earth.

    If you stay at step one, all you have is a believer. If you stay at step two, all you have is a well-informed person. If you go all the way, each one will teach one.

    You do have to get careful though that you don’t make a theology out of discipleship. If you study the G12 movement, things can get weird.

    To me it always comes back to our identity in Christ. The first step is accepting the gift of grace and salvation.

    The second step is understanding our inheritance as sons and daughters. We HAVE to realize who we are before we can make other disciples. I think that’s where mentors are helpful (but not absolutely necessary). When we know who we are and what we carry, we can then move to step three and make disciples.

    Disciples can’t just perpetuate “teaching”. They have to live it for it to be effective. If you just come with the Word, and you’re not living it with power, the Holy Spirit and much assurance (1 Thess 1:5)…you’re not coming with the whole truth of Jesus. Then you sit around arguing theology all day rather than bringing Jesus to the world.

    1. Tony,

      >>I do like the idea of mentors but not as an end. When it stops there, there is no duplication.

      Ding, ding, ding, ding! We have a winner!

      You said it best. Our faith, the nature of Jesus, and our Father”s Kingdom is all about replication, duplication, and spiritual propagation.


    2. It seems that we are very like-minded Tony.

      The duplication portion of discipleship is tragically what if often missed.

      Every woman I have discipled knows that with our relationship comes the expectation and responsibility that they will then go and do the same.

      I do agree too that before any disciples another person they must understand their identity in Christ.

      However, I think many believers think that they are ill-equipped or unable to disciple. They see it as some special action for special people.

      That is one of the lies I am bent on exposing.

      Thank you for your thoughtful comment on the subject.

      1. >>Every woman I have discipled knows that with our relationship comes the expectation and responsibility that they will then go and do the same.

        That’s money right there. That would preach.

  7. I think the underlying issue has little to do with the label placed on the activity and that’s why this feels like it is mainly semantics. If people were doing discipleship wrong because the word mentor was being used, I think you would have a stronger case.

    Instead I believe we have the problem we have in churches (which I completely agree with you on – and I think it is awesome you are pointing it out) because people themselves have not been discipled and so they don’t know how to disciple others. It should be organic and happen correctly, regardless of what English word is chosen to represent the concept.

    Unfortunately it seems that on the whole the organic growth has not been maintained in such a way that most people in a local church are being discipled.

    I think it’s an issue that deserves much thought and energy to be corrected and if this post makes that happen then I’m pretty stoked about that. I just think the semantic discussion leaves it open to being sidetracked a bit from the real root issue.

    1. JR.,
      I had commented to Donald earlier that language is important.

      As believers, I think we should be hyper-aware of this fact. Mentor is a secular word, often used in business settings. It means something different.

      I do believe that discipleship is not occurring, at least on some small scale, because words like “mentor” are being used.

      The language used is, of course,
      not the root cause for the lack of discipleship in the church. However, I think it is a small portion and a symptom of the greater need.

      People do not understand what discipleship truly is and therefore throw around words like mentor. It is also a sign of the church yielding to the culture in my opinion.

      Your thoughts?

  8. I think we have a habit of using words today that are more familiar. People seem to think that discipleship is too (dare I say it?) Biblical. So, like all modern things, we use a more familiar word…mentor. It may mean the same thing to different people.

    I don’t have a “mentor” per say, but I do have a band of brothers that hold me accountable. Some people may call that mentoring, I call it discipleship.

    I think what matters most is the end result of the “mentoring”. If mentoring looks like discipleship, I’m all for it.

    *you can argue that some people “disciple” and do a poor job at it and it may look more like “mentoring” than true discipleship.

    1. I think your comment Moe just raises the question–What is Discipleship? Which I’ll be writing about on Thursday.

      I don’t think the church has a real grasp on the concept. People define it differently from church to church, individual to individual.

      I find issue in using the two words interchangeably. For one thing, it undermines the authority Christ gave us to “go and make disciples” if we can so casually replace the idea with a more comfortable “modern” word, as you point out.

      But maybe that’s just me…

  9. It may just be me, but I think of being mentored as a temporary situation. A person who is there to guide you until you get your feet on the ground and are able to continue on your own. Sure the relationship may continue later to a somewhat lesser degree…but it’s usually for a specific purpose or benefit. To reach a goal or to introduce you to a new skill.

    Being discipled is a lifetime engagement. You never reach the end. You may reach the point where you begin to disciple others (as you should), but as there is always someone older and wiser than you and we will never reach the end of what the Lord has to teach us, we will always be disciples.

    I’ve been blessed on both accounts. I’ve been discipled by some amazing women who are still there when I need their sage counsel. I learned from them, not with one specific goal in mind, but more as a daughter learns from her mother…by example. They may instruct me at certain points, and exhort me frequently…but the most I learn is from their example. And that example will never end. I remember it now as the Lord brings younger gals to me to disciple. I may ask them things to get them to think or research what the Word says. I may instruct or advise them. Sometimes I’m just their shoulder, or their cheerleader, or their personal prayer warrior.

    I’ve found that discipling others is most often the road that develops me most as a disciple. It keeps me in the Word and in prayer. It reminds me how many younger gals are lacking someone to teach them basic things… and how different the Church body is when there are those willing to disciple, and when there are not.

    I will never stop valuing what those older than me have learned and care to share for my benefit. And I recognize the need for me to extend the same to those younger than me. So to me, it is recognizing that while I will never cease to be discipled, I will always have something to offer in discipling others. And if I do that well…they will in turn do the same.

    1. Dee Dee,
      You said it all so well. I love your mention of the fact that discipleship never truly ends. It may change or shift, but it does not end. There was never a time when Timothy couldn’t reach out to Paul as his discipler. Paul would never have said, “Oh, well actually our time is over.”

      The key, as you point out, is that the disciple begins to disciple others–continuing the process. Jesus was focused on duplication, not one-time fulfillment.

      Thank you for commenting. I simply love what you shared.

  10. “The world doesn’t need mentors, it needs radical, devoted, blinded-by-His-teachings-and-nothing-else disciples of Christ.”

    Love it! There are a lot of things the world doesn’t need more of that the church keeps trying to reproduce in a “Christian context.” I think mentoring is popular because it makes two people feel good about themselves. The one being mentored gets attention and the one mentoring gets a do gooder high. But I think you brought up some great points about discipleship being much deeper than mentoring. While there is a relationship involved, there is also the requirement to go and do the same. And let’s face it, if we are being discipled in Christ’s teaching it’s not always going to be the lovey dovey feel good activity. When we start to find our identity in Christ we realize some cruddy things about ourselves and it can be a painful process- but I think with good discipleship and reliance on Christ it has an awesome end result.

    On a different note, I think many churches today are all about making converts, or worse yet, members. There is a salvation moment and then the person is left to figure everything else out by themselves. This is why many converts revert back to their original ways- no one discipled them. If we were focused on making disciples and not converts we would see a lot more growth and power in modern Christianity.

    Awesome post, Nicole, it really got me thinking!

    1. Carla,
      I was nodding my head in agreement as I read your comment. i think you are so wise in pointing out that some people mentor to feel good about themselves and what they are doing.

      And let’s be honest, mentoring is a lot less of a commitment, and holds much less responsibility than discipleship. Discipleship is an investment and one that many are not willing to make..

      You nailed it too as far as the lack of discipleship being one of the main reasons new believers simple quit Christ. I walked away from God after only 2 years of knowing Him. Thankfully I found my way back, but I have often wondered how different my story might have played out, if I had been discipled.

  11. I like what you say here. Even though “mentor” comes from the business world, it still sounds like “christianese” to me…much like that list you put together a while ago banning certain words. I’ll give a praise clap to your post, and hope an anointing gives blessing to your mentoring.



  12. Great post! It interesting how the church has departed from Christ’s call to make disciples. Not that churches don’t make disciples, but that it doesn’t seem to be the primary focus for many.

    I’ve had the pleasure of discipling a handful of high school girls over the last few years, and to be honest, it has been so difficult. At least it was until someone started really discipling me.

    I have had a lot of mentors but really only one person who has discipled me. I couldn’t be more thankful for her investment in my life and her dedication to helping me grow to be more like Christ. No other relationship (except maybe my marriage) has done more to refine me or encourage me in my identity in Christ.

    As I’ve been discipled, it has given me such a better understanding of how to disciple my high school girls (and more confidence to go deeper with them).

    Looking forward to your post next week!

  13. Pingback: Mentors and Fathers: by Jim McNally | The Fatherhood Of God
  14. You can blame Don Borsch for pointing me your way, Nicole. :)

    I’m also picky with words, especially when speaking. Thanks to something ingrained in me since childhood (“Don’t interrupt!” … even though my Pop, who was the one who always said that, had zero problem interrupting me), I feel the need to be painfully efficient with words.

    I write like I talk, but I do tend to go on about things. I still like to be choosy about words. Then again, I don’t want to go all “King James” on the modern world, especially since there are approximately 600 words that have changed their meaning from the KJV days to today.

    Terminology gets even messier when you deal with how those who claim Christ as their Lord have taken so many words, smashed them into meaninglessness, stuffed them full of a false meaning, and then parade them around for everybody to be puzzled.

    “Mentor” does indeed have tons of baggage associated with it. “Disciple” is much more King Jamesy, though, and is hard for the new believer to comprehend, especially since the “Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)” denomination (yes, with the parentheses and all) have tried to corner the market on the name, though not the concept.

    My favorite definition of “disciple” comes from a Calvary Chapel pastor, who got it from his teacher/mentor/guru/term-to-be-created: a disciple is “a life-long learner under discipline.”

    Sadly, the term “discipline” has been abused as much as some people have been under the concept of “discipline” by madmen under the term “father” (or “mother” or other relative).

    In this case, though, I must agree that the term “disciple” really has no better substitute.

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