Listen and Learn

Recently, I read an article about “reverse mentoring.” (Unfortunately, I cannot remember the author’s name, nor the magazine. If this should ring a bell with you, please send me an e-mail or leave a comment). The idea began to resonate with me, so I thought I’d put down my own thoughts regarding the concept.

In short, reverse mentoring involves the old listening to the young, the experienced listening to the inexperienced, and the insider listening to the outsider. It has the value of opening our eyes to different perspectives and, perhaps, clearing up misconceptions between generations or groups. I think it has particular value for those steeped in the culture of “church.”

Most of the evangelism training I’ve had over the years focused on sharing my personal Christian testimony and/or how to present the plan of salvation in x number of steps. These courses had value as they helped me articulate my faith in a clear and concise manner. Unfortunately, the majority of these courses left me ill-equipped to actually listen to those with whom I wished to share. Too often, I felt as if I were giving a sales presentation rather than building a bridge with a living soul. That has been a source of frustration with me for many years. However, when individuals have sensed that I was genuinely interested in them, they were more apt to listen to me.

As I’ve grown older, I’ve learned the value of listening – even to those with whom I may not agree. In the process of reverse mentoring, we allow someone to share their perspective on a variety of issues – from faith and culture to politics and the economy. It’s an eye-opening experience to hear from those with completely different perspectives, and it challenges us to be better equipped to defend our own positions. We can do this is a respectful, engaging manner (despite what we often see on the public stage, particularly in the area of political discourse.)

The apostle Paul encouraged his young protoge’, Timothy, in this regard. Timothy was a very young pastor, serving in a culture where age and experience was revered and the younger generation was generally tolerated but not taken seriously. In 1 Timothy 4:12, he tells Timothy: “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” Obviously, Paul was speaking as a mentor himself. But he encouraged Timothy to exercise his faith as a young man – to be ready to mentor those older than him. In our modern context, all to often our various generations and groups speak past one another without really comprehending each other. That is a tragedy, particularly for the church as we seek to impact our broad culture for Christ.

If we simply view people as projects rather than individuals who are created in the image of God, we can fall into the trap of an “us” v. “them” mindset. The goal of reverse mentoring is not to compromise our beliefs. The goal is to build relationships between the younger and the older, between the follower of Christ and the agnostic or skeptic, and between the traditional and the fringe. Look to the gospels and see how Jesus accomplished that very thing. It may feel awkward and there will be  deep chasms to cross created by differing ideas, values, and world-views. Building bridges is hard work. But as we learn more about those we call “different” or those with whom we disagree, we become better equipped to engage them in serious conversation.

And isn’t that where the Great Commission begins?

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One Comment on “Listen and Learn”

  1. Scott Kramer Says:

    Good stuff. A good lesson to make bridges at the workplace.


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