April 11, 2022
by Greg Henson, CEO, Kairos University and David Woolverton, Kairos Affiliate Professor
One of the most common misconceptions about theological education is that those who enroll in a theological program plan to serve in pastoral ministry within a local congregation. For the seminaries in the United States and Canada that are members of the Association of Theological Schools, however, the fact is that the majority of students who enroll in a program are not planning to pursue congregational ministry as a career (even a bi-vocational one).
This is true for Kairos University, as well. We have the privilege of working with students who serve in the military and ones who work in finance or real estate. Yes, we have students who serve as missionaries, church planters, and pastors, but it is unhelpful to assume that every student engaged in theological education is doing so for the purpose of engaging in congregational ministry.
This reality is one of many examples of why it is important for mentors to listen first, then ask questions, then listen some more. Mentors across the Kairos community might describe this reality in different ways. David Woolverton, Kairos Affiliate Professor, describes it in the following way: listen—look—acknowledge—reframe.
One of the best ways to engage in this process is to ask questions first, then listen, then acknowledge, then listen and ask questions. Rinse and repeat.
Too often, the educational paradigms that have dominated modern theological education insist on someone providing content or sharing expertise rather than inviting the student to engage in self-reflection and critical thinking. In the “content-and-expertise-first” paradigm, mentoring tends to devolve into one-on-one teaching. When that happens, we run the risk of letting our assumptions about the student guide our work. We may, for example, let our conversations be guided by the assumption that the student enrolled for the purpose of engaging in congregational ministry.
One of our faculty mentors commented on how this very thing was a learning experience for him. He tended to assume he knew why someone had enrolled in a program. When he turned off that assumption (and assumptions in general), he found that by asking questions and listening to the Spirit in concert with the team as a whole, the conversations, learning, and discipleship journey of the student was dramatically more transformational.
If you are new to mentoring, however, you may find it difficult to know which questions to ask. With the help of some of our mentors, we gathered a few that might be helpful.
As students are beginning their programs, you may ask:
When students are working on various outcomes within the program, you may ask:
Asking questions is a valuable tool when engaging in the work of mentoring. It is a wonderful way to learn about the student with whom you are walking through a journey of discipleship. As you engage in your work, you will discover other questions that are useful for you. These are just a few to help you get started!