The short answer to this question is yes and no! While these terms are used interchangeably, we make a distinction for various specific reasons. Let me explain.
Since we first released our mentoring materials (Mentoring thru Intentional Relationships, 2003), you have been reading a lot about mentoring in our newsletters, as we believe this is a sustainable and reproducible model to develop new leaders within any cultural context. After doing my PhD work, I released my book, Mentoring Intelligence (2011), which drilled down a bit deeper into the topic and tried to answer the question, Whywhy after all the years of bible schools and Christian training we were still falling behind in leadership development in the church around the world. (If you would like a PDF of this book, send me an email).
Terms are important as they reflect our values or understanding of a subject. Discipling in the church is generally understood as helping someone grow as a believer. However, it has been my observation that “discipling” and “mentoring” have often been used interchangeably and I think this diminishes the different goal of each. In our context, mentoring has the specific meaning of coming alongside of someone to help them grow as a servant leader that Jesus modeled for us.
The similarity of both is the relational approach to growth, rather than just an academic or intellectual one. Our western focus tends to be in information rather than transformation (“just get the right info and the problem will be solved.”). The difference is the goal or outcome of each.
Interestingly, the term “mentoring” has been used in business contexts particularly since the 1970s, with just this emphasis, coming alongside of someone and teaching them by example, showing them the ropes, and providing practical follow through. Yet they did not invent this approach, it is as old as Jesus’ model with his disciples.
This was the model that we have been advocating through our Mentoring material with leaders around the world. Yes, there is information that is necessary but it is best delivered through a one-on-one relationship rather than an institutional approach. Any person can do this, it does not require fancy buildings and expensive budgets.
This approach has obviously struck a cord around the world and six languages later, hundreds of seminars and thousands of leaders we are seeing a change (within our sphere of influence) in the basic values of leadership and how to reproduce these in others. I believe that the more “virtual” our world becomes in the 21st century, the more appealing to younger generations such learning relationships will be.
Both mentoring and discipling should be learning delivered in the context of a relationship, However, the goal of mentoring is to develop a potential leader while discipling is about helping a new believer become mature in their walk with Jesus. In this framework, discipling needs to occur in the Body of Christ before mentoring. And it is this reality that has led us to write this new material. Many were trying to use our Mentoring materials to develop new believers, but it was never intended to do this. Yes the process was the same – a relationship – but the content led to a different goal. So these new Discipleship Guides provide a tool to help a new believer grow and then the Mentoring Guides can continue to help them find their place of service in the Body of Christ.