The Difference Between Mentoring and Discipleship

“What’s the difference between mentoring and discipleship?  They are closely related, but not exactly the same.  Both involve instruction based on a relationship.  But discipleship involves a call, a direct invitation from the teacher that borders on a command.  Jesus told the fishermen Peter and Andrew, “Come, follow me,” and “at once they left their nets and followed him” (Matthew 4:19-20).  Then he ran into their colleagues, James and John.  Again, “Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and followed him” (4:21-22).  The same pattern was repeated with the rest of the Twelve.

The word disciple means “learner.”  In Jesus’ day, teachers roamed the ancient world recruiting bands of “learners” who then followed these masters and adopted their teaching.  Sometimes the disciples became masters themselves and developed their own followings.  But Jesus’ command to His followers to “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19) is distinctive in that Jesus remains ‘the’ Master and ‘the’ Discipler.  He wants people who are recruited to the faith to remain His disciples and His learners.

Discipleship, as we know it today, tends to narrow its focus to the spiritual dimension.  Ideally, it should touch on every area of life – our personal life and lifestyle, our work, our relationships.  But discipleship always looks at these areas by asking the question, how do they relate to Christ?  How does following Christ affect my personal life, my work, my relationships, and so on?

Mentoring, at least when practiced by Christians, certainly ought to center everything on Christ.  But mentoring is less about instruction than it is about initiation – about bringing young men into maturity.  Whereas the word for disciple means learner, the word ‘protégé’ comes from a Latin word meaning “to protect.”  The mentor aims to protect his young charge as he crosses the frontier into manhood.

For my own part, I do not make a hard and fast distinction between discipleship and mentoring.  There is a great deal of overlap.  But I like the concept of mentoring because it focuses on relationships.  That is what we are missing in education today, whether we are talking about formal instruction in schools and universities, or informal instruction at home, in the church, and in the community.”

Excerpted from “As Iron Sharpens Iron” by Howard and William Hendricks (p. 182-183)