Discipling Scholars

by Caitlin Gipson

uring her sophomore year at APU, Holly Hallmark ’10 decided something needed to change. “I was going through some hard times. My family was in Colorado, and I realized I needed someone in my life who would help me grow in my relationship with the Lord.” She signed up for the Heart to Heart Women’s Spiritual Mentoring program, one of several on campus that pair students with spiritual mentors, and was introduced to Louise Ko Huang, Ph.D., who is married to APU Chemistry Professor Kevin Huang, Ph.D. They met weekly until Hallmark’s graduation nearly three years later.

"Helping them seek God's will in their lives is a joy and a delight."

Since APU’s founding in 1899, informal and formal mentor relationships like this have represented an indispensable and valuable part of an APU education—and it’s about to become even better. Recently, the university approved a new Spiritual Mentoring Initiative to support such relationships and encourage new spiritual mentors to step forward. This initiative builds on the progress made by others before it, keeping God First and students’ spiritual development at the forefront.

Growing in Their Faith

The Office of the Campus Pastors defines spiritual mentoring as “the sharing of life together in intentional, Christ-centered, discipleship-focused relationships.” These interactions assist students in “becoming fully devoted followers of Christ through regular, spiritually focused conversations.” In a 2003 study by Council for Christian Colleges & Universities (CCCU) institutions, including APU, the Faithful Change Project on spiritual development indicated that “mentoring relationships with persons of mature faith” were among the experiences in college that led to the greatest spiritual growth. Huang, who currently mentors three young women, sees this dynamic in action. “It is amazing watching young people transform through the mentoring relationship,” she said. “You watch them going deeper into their faith, wanting to pursue the fullness of God. Helping them seek God’s will in their lives is a joy and a delight.”

Spiritual mentoring has played a long-standing role at APU, often on an informal basis. In a 2008 study, 58 percent of APU students reported that they had been “mentored in a significant and positive way” by an APU faculty or staff member, while only a quarter of the student body participated in formal spiritual mentoring or discipleship groups. However, the 2010 follow-up study indicated that the current informal mentoring relationships fall short of the need—41 percent of students indicated that they were not mentored and would like to be. “Our biggest concern right now is finding new mentors,” said Jason LeShana, coordinator of the Blueprints Men’s Spiritual Mentoring program. “There are always more students looking for someone to invest in them.”

Extending the Reach of Mentors

Enter the Spiritual Mentoring Initiative. The initiative aims to increase the number of formal spiritual mentoring relationships by taking an intentional approach across the APU campus. “As we grow bigger, spiritual mentoring becomes a critical mechanism for providing spiritual care,” said Rev. Chris Adams, Ph.D., associate campus pastor for community care. “We need to make sure that we undergird and support it at an organizational level.” This plays out on several fronts. The first, a recently approved resolution, allows APU faculty and staff to incorporate an hour of spiritual mentoring into their paid workweek. “We had faculty and staff saying, ‘I’d love to mentor, but it’s hard to add that on top of my work,’” Adams said. “We want to remove that barrier.”

Additionally, the initiative provides training and campus resources to current spiritual mentors, and because these relationships often become quite close, a measure of safety and confidence for all involved. “We’re not trying to formalize everything,” said Campus Pastor Woody Morwood, D.Min. “Our intention is to provide support and resources to help increase formal mentoring on campus, while continuing to foster and acknowledge the informal mentoring that goes on every day.”

The Spiritual Mentoring Initiative aspires to increase employee involvement from current numbers (about 25 percent) to 50 percent of the APU workforce. It also endeavors to increase non-employee involvement with on-campus spiritual mentoring programs as well. “The only way we will be able to meet the need for more mentors is if the whole community—spouses of faculty and staff, local area alumni, and members of local churches—partners with us to become mentors,” said Jeanine Smith, coordinator of Heart to Heart Women’s Spiritual Mentoring program.

Morwood agrees, “The real success of this effort over the next decade will depend on local churches and alumni pouring into this university. We need every alum who has been impacted by someone at APU to turn around and pour back into the next generation.”

To become a spiritual mentor, go to www.apu.edu/campuspastors/programs/mentoring/

Caitlin Gipson is a freelance writer and marketing consultant in Reedley, California. caitlinsplace@hotmail.com