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Vol.23 No.1 May 2004

Reverse Mentoring

by Dr. Waylon B. Moore

The concept of “reverse mentoring” sent a shock wave around the business world when Jack Welch, then Chairman of General Electric, instructed 600 of his top managers to reach down into the lower levels of their organization to find internet junkies, and learn about the internet. 1 Mentoring is valuable at any age, but especially powerful when an older leader is open to learn from someone with ability outside the leaderís immediate circle. Iíve been surprised, being asked to do reverse mentoring with some leaders over me. My life has also been enriched as a receiver of reverse mentoring from younger men whom God placed in my path and ministry. Are you open to reverse mentoring?

Let me share two treasured learning experiences from my past in this principle. Dawson Trotman was President of the Navigators, and on the Board of Wycliffe Translators and World Vision. He originated the successful individual counseling and follow-up ministry, while a member of the Billy Graham Team. I vividly remember hearing him share at a conference about a recent change of course in a certain matter. “Let me tell you how the Lord has been teaching me recently. Iím a board member of a new organization called Campus Crusade. The President is a wise, young businessman named Bill Bright, who has started university evangelism at UCLA.

“Recently,” Daws went on, “Bill privately asked to talk with me, and then confronted me hard. He had heard me speak negatively about the lack of spiritual commitment of college and seminary graduates. Many of those I had discipled while in the military, started to college and graduate school after WW II. A lot of these men began to drop their disciplines of Scripture memory, quiet time, and daily witnessing. Since then Iíve not wanted potential Navigator staff to be in higher education. But God used Bill to change my mind.”

“Bill asked me quietly, ‘Daws, could you use 20 new workers with college and seminary degrees, who are in the Word, disciplined, and winning others to Christ, and who have a great work attitude?’ ‘Sure,’ I told Bill. Then Bill said, ‘Guys are joining us who are just like you want, and they all have college and many have seminary degrees. Daws, youíll never get close to this kind of man being so negative about education! Itís like youíre trying to recruit people and then hitting them over the head with a baseball bat.’” Then Daws smiled: “You can learn a lot if you are open to listening to a guy. Bill was right. Iíve seen that education doesnít make or break a man; it simply reveals him.”

Trotman immediately changed his recruiting focus. At that time I was one of only two Nav staff with a seminary degree. As a result of that decision, that Fall Daws sent me, a single guy, to start a Navigator training home in Dallas, TX. The young Bill Bright was a reverse mentor, learning from Board member Trotman; but Bill also made a major contribution to Trotmanís ministry.

The next day Daws took me aside and said, “You had preaching classes at seminary, didnít you?” “Yes, I did take two courses.” Daws then shocked me, “I want you to critique my next message; help me speak better.” “Who am I to critique you, Daws?” “I want you to help me do better. I never started to college. Watch me, O.K?”

I agreed. I gave great attention to his total message, gestures, and voice. After the message, he motioned me forward. “I know you saw something. What was it, Waylon?” “It was nothing, Daws. It was insignificant. Your message was empowered.” Daws insisted, “Tell me what you saw!”

“Well, your hand gestures are excellent, yet you kept putting one hand in your pocket and I heard coins clinking from the third row.” “Ooooh,” Daws groaned, hurting. “I really thank you.” He instantly removed the change and dumped it into his back pocket. Giving me a hug he then invited me to eat. I never heard him rattle change again the next 40 messages over a 5-year period. Daws remains in my heart, the most consistently effective communicator of Scripture and its application to life Iíve ever heard.

Daws had experienced reverse mentoring. What is it? It happens when the mentoree mentors the mentor. When someone in a level of management or authority is open to learning something deliberately from a younger or lower-level management employee. This person whose experience levels are high listens to gain an insight, learn a craft or a skill, or see a totally different perspective than his current track. When he or she is open to someone with less experience, thatís reverse mentoring. Wise mentors are always open to the Lord and to others. They are continual learners. They want Godís best, so they are open to change. The mentor recognizes when God is working through someone younger, less known. The mentor is not afraid of reverse mentoring; rather he encourages it and grows.

Reverse mentoring in the Bible

God uses the unnamed, the “little” mentorees in the lives of major people in the Bible. Itís reverse mentoring. Recall the servant girl of the wife of Naaman the leper? This mentoree taught her mistress about the prophet, Elijah, and about Godís power. Soon the remarkable Naaman was healed (2 Kings 4:1-8).

Consider the unnamed servant who gave David, a young sheepherder, an introduction to Saul. The recommendation was so strong (though not all true) that David was immediately brought from the pasture to the kingís court (1 Sam. 16:16-20). Later on, David, a country mentoree to the house of Saul, found a peer mentor, Jonathan. The kingís son loved David, and was superseded by him as the next king and poet of the greatest hymnal, the Psalms.

The mentoring pictures of Paul and Barnabas stretch through Acts. The mentor, Barnabas, has a pupil, mentoree Saul. Later “Barney” has a peer relationship with Paul as they travel in ministry. As the story unfolds, through Godís grace, Paul becomes a pacesetter to Barnabas and others. Read how the former mentoree at Antioch stands against the Apostle Peter and mentor Barnabas. They were afraid to eat with Gentiles, choosing the law and Jerusalem over grace and Antioch (see Galatians 2:11-20). Sometimes the mentoreeís ministry is gifted to be deeper and broader than his mentorís. What a thrill to see those I mentor move beyond my limitations. Itís also true that reverse mentoring doesnít always work. Peterís advise to Jesus to miss the cross (Matthew 16:21-24) was rejected as Satanic counsel.

Surprises in reverse mentoring

Many large-church pastors, including Andy Stanley in the Atlanta area, have immediate staff evaluations of each sermon and of the worship service. For years, Billy Graham has used different Research Assistants as mentorees. Their ministry was to read, collect and organize quotes and notes on many topics. These were discussed with Dr. Graham and some became part of his sermons and books.

Ed Young, Jr., pastor of Fellowship Church, Grapevine, Texas, has over 15,000 attendees listening to his messages on a weekend. I heard him say that his sermon preparation involves discussions of up to five hours with six chosen staff about each message. They start with a topic or need. Then any of the group may offer comments, questions, and Scripture suggestions.

Mentorees have stimulated, changed, and upgraded my life and ministry over the years. They shared their expertise with me about computers, or investment, or modern church planting — my ministry expanded. Each person I mentor is given the right to hold me accountable, as I do him or her, for anything we agree to do together. Iím even more motivated, in turn, to study and stay on the cutting edge. I recall three men whom Iíd mentored inviting me for breakfast. I discovered I was breakfast, as they lovingly exhorted me, and led me to see a blind spot in my life. God brought conviction and change that week in me. My two grown children, Bruce and Martha, have many times given me wonderful reverse mentoring with cut-to-the-point counsel about my ministry, questions about my personal life, and even tips about clothes. Iím much more effective because of them.

Each of us needs this fellowship of accountability in order to grow with consistency. Seeing someone mature in his walk with Christ — whether that be your “pupil” or yourself — is truly an ultimate thrill (see 1 Thessalonians 2:19-20; Philippians 1:22-24)! “Iron sharpens iron, so a man does the countenance of his friend” (Proverbs 27:17).

1   See www.coachingandmentoring.com from the Center for Coaching and Mentoring, April 22, 2004.

Great Mentors I Have Known

Imagine a chubby lady with thick glasses, dressed in red with a flamboyant hat, multiple rings, and pizzazz! She speaks with passion and commitment . . . strong, warm, and full of the Bible. Thatís Henrietta Mears, one of the great mentors I have known. God used her deeply in the beginning ministry of Billy Graham. He wrote about her, “I doubt if any other woman outside my wife and mother has had such a marked influence on my life. She is certainly one of the greatest Christians I have ever known.”

Never marrying, she had hundreds of “spiritual children.” She became Educational Director at Hollywood Presbyterian. Some of her many mentorees included Dick Halverson, who became Chaplain of the US Senate, Bill & Vonette Bright, along with Dr. Bob Munger. They found in this older lady a vision for a great God. She was a model of Christ-centeredness. With her drive for souls, and ability to plan and prepare, the church grew with a great pastoral team to over 4,000! On Sundays for Bible Study, I heard her talk to 500 university students and singles. Many of the church Bible study groups attracted businessmen and well-known movie stars to Christ. Needing strong biblical literature for hundreds of new believers, she began to write her own, and Gospel Light Press was born. She also bought and directed Forest Home Conference grounds.

I met Miss Mears when she was mentoring Bill and Vonette Bright; they lived with her near the UCLA campus. For a 6 a.m. Bible study I can still see her appearing down a winding staircase, smiling, perfectly dressed, and full of energy. She spoke loudly to our sleep-startled group of guys, “Well, whatís the Lord taught you since you got up this morning?” All was quiet. She would look us over, then share something from the Scriptures that blessed her. You didnít meet her again without time with God. She was a pacesetter, a confronter with the anointing of the Spirit. Her goal: “Only the best possible is good enough for God.” She had a world vision. She prayed with an openness to a limitless God.

With the multiple millions who have been saved through the ministries of Graham and Bright, Miss Mears shares in those and many other harvests. She was nearly blind, and could read only with great difficulty. She said about this challenge, “My failing eyesight has been my greatest spiritual blessing. It has kept me absolutely dependent on God.” Order her biography! Dream Big: The Story of Henrietta Mears, Gospel Light Press.

Coming Events:

28-Hour Mentoring Workshop, Tampa.
October 18–19, Monday 1 p.m.–Tuesday 4 p.m.

Make plans now to join Dr. Waylon B. Moore and Dr. Bill Steeger of FBC, Beech Street, Texarkana, AR. These greatly-used mentors of men want to encourage your life and the multiplication of laborers for the harvest.

Pastors, missionaries, and other church leadership are invited. Great discount rates available at AmeriSuites Hotel. Donít miss this excellent workshop — youíll get all the “how” plus the excitement of group sharing and fresh answers to your questions. Just one day and a half. Registration is $60, single; $80 for couples; plus hotel room.

For more information see www.mentoring-disciples.org.


In April it was a joy to teach mentoring to the North Germany IMB missionary team, see Marthaís university ministry, and be with FBC, Brandonís great volunteer group. Martha arrives in July for three months of furlough and solid family time. Weíre seeing growth and new families each week at son, Bruceís pastorate, at CrossPoint Church. It is a constant challenge. I am facing a physical challenge involving surgery soon. PRAY for the right decision and recovery. PRAY for a needed office person to help with Missions Unlimited. Clemmie needs rest after 30 years from details, orders, and accounting. We are so thankful for you and your teaming with us in His ministry to raise up multiplying laborers.

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