Mentoring has always been very close to the heart of the Sophia Network. We've been providing mentoring training for the last three years in response to the first survey we did of the needs of women in youth work because so many people said they wanted to find a mentor or learn how to mentor others. It's been exciting to see the growth of mentoring within the church over the last few years, and we look forward to what The Mentoring Network will contribute to that.
Paul, tell us a bit about yourself
My name is Paul Frederick (and I'm so proud of that, that I once considered asking to be known as Freddie) Wilcox and I live in Worcester with my wife, Jane, and two of my children, Emma (18) and Matthew (8). My eldest son, Nathan (20), is away at university. I am part of the Leadership Team at All Saints, Worcester, but most of my time is spent mentoring guys who are in leadership, emerging leadership positions, or/and just trying to hold life together. I am also a lecturer at Cliff College on mentoring, coaching and leadership.
When did you first realise the significance of mentoring?
Almost certainly before I would have called it that! Since leaving a career in teaching, almost 20 years ago now (yikes!), I have found myself in a number of leadership positions within Scripture Union, Covenanters and Youth for Christ. The most stimulating and rewarding times with all my roles have been those spent listening to, encouraging, affirming and, at times, challenging leaders in local churches - who, according to Bill Hybels, have the potential to be the 'most influential force on planet earth'! I also had the privilege of having a number of young guys working alongside me in a voluntary capacity, for a year at a time. Again, it was the opportunities after speaking at an event or conference when we would debrief as we travelled home – talking about what went well, what didn't and why - that I found the most exciting and having the greatest potential to inspire mutual growth.
Consequently, when I knew my time with YFC was coming to an end, eight years ago, and someone asked me if I had considered stepping out in faith into a full-time mentoring ministry, I didn't have to think very long about it. After I had looked the word up in the dictionary, that is! My next step was to read, 'Mentoring to Develop Disciples and Leaders' by John Mallison. I was then able to meet up with him, talk about where I was at, and see the twinkle in his eye as he chatted with me about having devoted his life to the principles of mentoring and explaining its significance. I was hooked.
Who has mentored you? Can you give an example of a change that being mentored has brought to your life?
In terms of a practical change in my life as a result of being mentored, Jim Hartley has helped me to develop a 'grid' or set of criteria, which I always now hold over any opportunities for ministry etc, before I accept invitations. This is in direct contrast to many years spent saying 'yes' to the phone call or letter which seemed to stroke my ego, without any real discernment about whether it was the right thing to do! I have also been greatly helped on this journey by the writings of people like Henri Nouwen, Brennan Manning and Mike Yaconelli, whose own faltering senses of identity and purpose, by their own confession, underwent similar ruthless, yet necessary reappraisals.
What’s your advice to someone who is looking for a mentor? How should they find someone?
Go for it! Sharon Prior and I go into great detail about the qualities of mentors and how to find them, on the training days which we run for the Sophia Network up and down the country, and I often quote Leighton Ford in his definition of mentoring as an 'intentional and dynamic relationship of trust'. I guess you need to find someone who you think will not be scared off by working towards these qualities in a mentoring relationship ie being intentional and purposeful, allowing the dynamism of the Holy Spirit to direct the discussions and demonstrating trust, which obviously takes time. The first thing to do in all this is to pray and ask God to lead you to someone who might be suitable, then start looking around your church and networks for any likely candidates. There is nothing wrong with having an initial chat to sound someone out, but it might also be a good idea to seek the advice of your minister or a trusted friend for them to make suggestions too. For what its worth, most of the guys I mentor are vastly different in personality to me, so be prepared to be surprised by your eventual choice.
Do you approach mentoring young people differently to mentoring adults? What is best practice in mentoring young people?
Essentially, the skills necessary in mentoring, which I believe can be learned, are the same whatever the ages of the mentees or mentor. In terms of mentoring practice, however, it is vital to adhere to good safeguarding policies when working with under 18's and I would strongly recommend either 'Can We Have a Chat' by Jon Langford (a Grove booklet) or 'Mentoring Teens' by Ruth Hassall, which, in my view, are the most succinct yet professional and highly practical books around on this subject. As a parent of teens, I would also stress the importance of working in partnership with the family of the teens, wherever possible.
You’re about to launch The Mentoring Network this month. What inspired this network and what will it do?
I was inspired to set up TMN after the Youthwork conference in Eastbourne last year. I led a couple of sessions on mentoring and afterwards loads of people were asking questions about how they could find out more because they said that many of the other speakers had also been stressing the importance of being in an mentoring relationship. As I drove away from Eastbourne, I began to think how cool it would be to have a web based community of people with a heart for mentoring; a place with signposts to good resources, training opportunities and events, but also where there could be discussions around some of the issues and questions that might crop up during the mentoring process. Longer term, I also want to explore how mentoring relationships can be set up and developed by the use of skype and webcam, so that issues of geographical location can be overcome. I currently mentor a church pastor on the outskirts of Glasgow on a bi-monthly basis and all our sessions so far have been online. So...I began to bounce this idea around and it has grown from there and I am pleased to announce that we will be unveiling The Mentoring Network website at a reception at the Youthwork conference this year. We shall also be taking part in the Exhibition Area, so do come and say hello if you happen to be there. I must emphasise though that mentoring is not only for young people and youthworkers, but any age. I currently mentor a guy in my church who has just celebrated his Golden Wedding Anniversary!!