One group of servant leaders who invest in the lives of our students are local mentors. Rockbridge students are required to enlist local ministry coaches for every course. Our students serve in a wide variety of settings, including small rural churches, ministry organizations, large urban churches, and in other countries and language groups. The coaches help students apply their learning to the local ministry context. Over 250 mentors have volunteered their time and resources to assist our students. We could not accomplish our mission without their invaluable help.
We believe that regardless of where you are in your journey, all of us need cheerleaders and coaches. Our mentor process is effective, in part, because students personally enlist their ministry coaches rather than Rockbridge assigning them mentors. It is important for students to be able to relate personally to their coaches. Students choose mentors who are effective in the ministry skills they need to develop. Students may use multiple mentors throughout their program.
We’re fortunate to have the best of the best investing in our students. We ask students to meet weekly with their mentors. These mentors are busy, and yet they give sacrificially to serve our students. Because of the bond students form with their mentors, it is no surprise that students tell us their experiences with mentors are an important influence on their educational experience at Rockbridge.
Seventy-three percent of students identify their mentor experience as important or very important to their growth as a leader. Students tell us that their relationship with their mentors helps them in many ways, with these three benefits listed at the top: (1) gaining a better idea of their strengths and weaknesses; (2) improving their pastoral skills, and (3) achieving greater self-understanding.
While the mentors provide encouragement and guidance to the students, they report that they also gain from the experience, as seen in this sampling of comments from mentors about their students:
“[This student] has tremendous self-awareness of who she is, her gifts, her weaknesses, her skills and abilities–-probably more than anyone I have met at her age! She is passionate about making a difference.”
“[This student] prepared and delivered his first public sermon. He also was able to get critical feedback from peers. Go God!
“[This mentoring experience] enlightened me regarding the historical and biblical perspectives of worship. It also provided me with information regarding the diversity of worship in different congregations. I enjoyed the experience and am blessed to be able to serve as a mentor.”
Students begin their journey at Rockbridge by taking a Ministry Skills Assessment inventory (MSA). This tool appraises their skills in worship, fellowship, discipleship, ministry, and evangelism. At the end of their program, students, mentors, and coworkers of students evaluate the students in those same skills. The average student begins the Rockbridge journey with a composite score on the skills assessment of 2.58 on a 4.0 scale. At the end of the program, the average student’s self-scores increase to 2.96. However, on the mentors’ evaluations of the 2019 cohort, students’ ministry skills scores averaged 3.58 on a 4.0 scale. This means students went from the beginning and developing stages in their skills to being strong and well-developed ministers.
Mentors not only impact the lives of their mentees, but through the mentees’ disciples impact the lives of thousands. That is the power of ministry coaches.