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(This is an updated post. I left out the 5th type of mentor in the original post. I have my explanation HERE.)

Recently I started the conversation about mentoring here on my blog. I’m still soliciting feedback through a mentoring survey. (You can help out with that HERE.)

Mentoring appears to be a need in many people’s minds these days. You will see that clearly when I share the results of the survey, which should be later this week. I know it’s on my mind a great deal more than usual. At 47, as a parent of now grown children and at the mid point in my career, I realize more than ever how much I need a mentor in my life. I’ve always been a wisdom-seeker and have had regular mentors for over 20 years.

I’ve observed that there are different types of mentors. I think many times we recognize the need for a mentor, but fail to realize the mentors all around us, perhaps because we don’t know there is more than one kind. There are probably more than I’m listing here, but these are the four types of mentors I’ve had in my life:

Intentional – This is a mentor that is usually recruited. The time is structured, with regular meetings and a set agenda or purpose. I have had about half a dozen intentional mentors in my life. Currently my intentional mentor is 73 years old, a grandfather, an avid risk-taker still and one of the humblest men I know. I asked him if he would walk through this season of my life with me. He’s experienced already what I’m now starting to experience…grown children, empty-nest, and children getting married. Plus, I recognize the need to protect my heart from foolish pride. We don’t meet together often, usually once a month, but I’m free to ask him anything and he always has wise words to share.

Unintentional – This is a mentoring relationship that forms over time, but no one asked for it to happen. Because it’s not a formal relationship, we often fail to realize it’s value at the time. I have had numerous unintentional mentors in my life. My latest example of this was on a mission trip to Costa Rica earlier this year with a man on the trip with me. (I wrote about it in THIS POST.) I have continued to observe and learn from him since that trip in informal settings, mostly email exchanges and observing him at church, as he interacts with me and others. He has taught me some practical things about life, how to be a man, and gave me confidence in who I am as a man. Unintentional mentors almost appear to be random connections, but they serve a huge purpose. It often appears as if, though they are unintentional for us, that somehow God planned them. Imagine that! It is important to recognize the people God places in our path and the wisdom He intends for us to glean from them.

For a season – These mentors walk with us for a defined period and usually for a defined purpose. I had a seasonal mentor when I was a new young manager at the age of 20. My mentor was in his 60’s, already retired once as a business owner, and he actually worked for me at the time. Through gentleness and patience he helped me learn how to lead others and kept me from making foolish mistakes as a young leader. I’ve had other mentors for a season. Some of these mentors were recruited and some were simply placed in my life at the time, but they always had a more defined role.

For a moment – This is a mentor who says the right word at the right time. (I wrote about a couple of mine HERE and HERE.) Most of the time they don’t know it’s a needed word, but it seems perfectly timed for your specific circumstances. Sometimes they see something in you and purposefully speak truth into your life. (I love when this happens and try to repeat it myself for others.) I’ve had many momentary mentors in my life. There was the pastor who told me I was a giant killer, and that instead of killing giants for my own glory I should do it for the glory of God. There was the teacher who told me I was hanging out with the wrong crowd. There was the friend who challenged me to surrender to vocational ministry, when I had resisted for so long. The key with unintentional mentors is that a person has to be open to hearing a word when it is spoken. Because it happens so quickly, we often don’t realize the value in this type mentoring until time has past after the momentary investment in our life is made.

Relational – This is the mentor you live with…and personally…I think this is the best kind. The Biblical model of mentoring and discipleship, especially in the Old Testament, is one where the grandfather, father, and son all do life together. I’m writing in the masculine sense, but the same is true for girls. The key here is to learn from the one whose blood you share.

The key for me in finding a mentor is that I must be looking for that type investment in my life. I must be open to words of wisdom spoken by others. Mentors are all around, but being mentored is up to me.

Did I miss one?

Have you had each of these type mentors? Which one is most needed in your life today?

Share your current thoughts about mentoring. I’ll be sharing more this week.

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Ron Edmondson

Author Ron Edmondson

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Join the discussion 24 Comments

  • Ariel says:

    This is a good list! I also found another really good one at strat-talking

  • Mark Brouwer says:

    I like this article Ron … thanks for highlighting the value of mentors! Coming from the background of leadership coaching, I think there is a special value in having an intentional mentoring relationship. It's a different thing than simply having someone give you a good and helpful word at one time or another. My feeling is that every leader needs to have an intentional mentor (or coach, or discipler, or whatever term you want to use). Thanks!

  • Tom Caton says:

    My Dad went on to be with the Lord four years ago.I long for someone with the wisdom and gentleness he shared with me. Iam a 59 year old man trying to prepare for my senior year’s in a world that seems to have no use for senior men.

  • Bob Prentiss says:

    One regret I have always had is not seeking out mentors. I have had a couple of them, but it seems they have always initiated the relationship. I know I have missed a lot of good wisdom by my failures to initiate.

  • Kyle Reed says:

    excited about these conversations

  • Les Hirst says:

    It is interesting that if you ask someone in Latin America who has been their mentor, they almost always start with their parents!

  • glengaugh

    In my experience, it seems that I have chosen people to be around intentionally that I would learn from, but most of the time I don't try to cement some kind of formal agreement or relationship. I just listen, learn, and ask questions. When it is someone I work with, I get tremendous value from the interaction.

    Mentoring can benefit a lot more people if we would make choices to be around other people we respect and can learn from. An intentional relationship won't change much in a person's life if they continue to be around others that don't add value.

    I am thankful you added the 5th type of mentoring. My greatest mentoring relationship is the one in which I mentor my boys, only 4 years old and 11 months old at this point.
    Glen Gaugh, @glengaugh, and

  • Eric

    I am where I am today because of the great mentors that I've had in my life. Most of them have been there for seasons while a few have been long term mentors. I'm always on the lookout for other mentors. I am now trying to find people who have qualities that I want in my life. When I find them I try to look for ways to connect with them. Offering them a free cup of coffee is a good way to start!

  • Les Hirst says:

    I am sure you are aware of Stanley and Clinton's model, but if not Connecting is a book you'll enjoy.

  • Serena says:

    I never had a mentor. After reading this post I realize that I need one. This is a great post.

  • Mentors are all around but being mentored is up to me – love that line. More young adults need to take responsibility for their personal growth.

  • Chris says:

    Lately I thought I was pursuing an intentional mentoring relationship. Someone mentoring me. I think I have learned now that that was a seasonal relationship and I am still looking for an intentional mentor. What I never expected was another relationship that had developed over the last couple of months where I have ended up mentoring someone else. Guess thats why its called UNintentional.

    • ronedmondson says:

      I didn't rank them, but we always think the intentional mentoring is where we gain the most value, but that hasn't always been the case for me.