A few summers ago, I found myself sitting on a rock in a creek with a journal in my hand. I was part of leading a discipleship program for junior high and high schoolers and we all had one task: write about what you want from God this year. So what was I asking God for? A mentor.
Mentoring was not something that I alone wanted. I’ve heard this same request from many college students and young adults. At the time, I found this search for a mentor pretty tricky. Not only is finding a mentor difficult, but as a young woman going into ministry I found it particularly challenging for a number of reasons. 1) Finding a senior pastor who is willing to let you hang out with them as they go about particular tasks is tricky. Especially since many things a pastor does are very personal and confidential, such as prayer time with God or counseling a married couple. 2) As a woman, it’s hard to navigate the boundaries of being with a mentor who is most likely a man. So I probably needed a woman. But 3) there are not very many woman senior pastors. So how should I find one?
During this time in my life, I was resolved that it was the mentor’s job to open themselves up to a mentee. But I wasn’t around anyone offering this kind of relationship. Then I realized that I did in fact have a mentor, a woman who had been mentoring me my whole life: my mother. Was she a senior pastor of a church? Nope. But she was (and is) a phenomenal woman of God who taught me what it means to follow Jesus and grow into a whole and healthy person. (Plus, the fact that she’s a licensed and practicing therapist has taught me A LOT!!!) I’ve never found the exact kind of mentoring relationship I was originally looking for, but God did provide several other relationships with incredible leaders who have mentored me in the last few years, including my pastors of Lighthouse Assembly of God in Marion, IN, Jerry and Paula Gallaway, and the incredible men I had the opportunity to work for at Indiana Wesleyan in the Dean of the Chapel office, Rev. Dr. Jim “Umfundisi” Lo and Rev. Dr. Pat Hannon. These four individuals taught me exponentially about life, leadership, and ministry during my senior year of college. And, even though they’re all busy, have opened the door to me so that I can contact them any time. I treasure them in my heart, and am sure that they will continue to hear from me as I continue to journey through ministry.
Now, in the past year or so, I’m noticing a shift in my life and relationships: instead of only being the one seeking a mentor, I now find myself mentoring others. This is the perfect sign of growth and health: using what God has given me to invest in others. This has also given me another perspective on mentoring, which is the point of this blog entry. I want to share some nuggets on what I’ve learned from mentoring relationships as both the mentee and the mentor. So wherever you are at in your journey, I hope you can take something from this.
1) Finding a Mentoring Relationship
When I was looking for a mentor, I got really frustrated, because I was convinced that it was the job of the mentor to open herself up to the mentee. Then when I found myself on the mentoring side of things, I discovered that I was assuming it was the mentee’s job to ask me for mentoring. So here’s what I discovered: no matter my position, I was always expecting someone else to take the initiative, which means that most likely, everyone else probably assumed the same thing. So here’s my conclusion: if you recognize a potential mentor or mentee, make the first move. DON’T WAIT FOR THE OTHER PERSON.
- Mentees: If you find someone that you’d like to mentor you, ask them. They may know you well or not at all, so I understand it may be intimidating to all of the sudden come out at ask them to mentor you. Instead, ask them for an appointment. Ask them for 30 minutes to an hour of their time, and tell them you’ll bring coffee. Or, if they’re not local, just ask if you can call them for about 10 minutes, and ask when they’re most available. Most people will shy away if you ask them to mentor you because they won’t feel adequate, but if you just ask them if it’s okay to get together sometime, they’ll be more open. They’ll be mentoring you whether they know it or not!
- Mentors: I was once having a conversation with a young man and told him that he should find a mentor. A few weeks later, I let him know I was willing to mentor him since he was interested in areas within my expertise. His response? “I was waiting for you to ask.” As a leader, I should constantly be looking out for others whom I can teach to replace me. When I find a potential person, I don’t have to do all the work. Instead, simply saying, “Hey, if you ever need anything, feel free to stop by my office, call, or email me,” let’s them know I’m available and want to build a relationship with them. After that, it’s in the mentee’s hands, but when the time’s right, they know they can come to me. Some people will act immediately, while others may wait a few months until they feel that they need something. But eventually, you’ll find yourself surrounded by those who want to be invested in.
2) Who Do I Look For?
Sometimes we know we want a mentor or a mentee, but don’t even know where to start. Wherever you’re at, be intentionally observant about each person you interact with and see if they have the following characteristics.
- Mentees: When looking for a mentor, pay attention to people who make you stop and think, “When I grow up, I want to be like them.” They should be a person you trust, who you think will take time to listen when needed, but also will answer questions when you ask. (And here’s a note, take the time to prepare questions and ask good ones!) They should be a person that makes you say, “If I were just half the person they are, I’d be thrilled!”
- Mentors: Look for people who have qualities that remind you of you. They may be complete opposites of you in many ways, but in certain areas you understand how they think or why they want what they do. For me, I see myself in many different people: the intellectually astute, the emotionally sensitive, the spiritually hungry, etc. Most people have entirely different backgrounds than me–like the young man who has been to jail multiple times and used to have a drug problem–but where it counts, our hearts are similar.
3) Age doesn’t matter
I’m only 23 years old, but have found myself in relationships where people more than twice my age say they’ve learned from something I’ve said or done. And on the other side, I’ve also found myself learning from the simple faith of a child. When it comes to growth, age does not equal maturity. We witness this all of the time in church when in a matter of months the new, passionate Christian surpasses the one who’s been going to church their entire life. Maturity comes to those who are willing and eager to grow and learn–to those who are teachable. So this works on both ends. The mentor and mentee alike MUST be teachable. When they’re both learning, age doesn’t matter.
4) Use Wisdom and Discernment, But Don’t Discriminate By Gender
For a very long time, I only looked for mentors who were female. I put so much emphasis on creating proper boundaries, that I worried about having a male mentor. While this is justified to a certain extent, the majority of people who have mentored me are men. Did I plan this? No. But they were the people God put in my life during important seasons who listened and shared wisdom that directed my decisions. Just because boundaries can be tricky doesn’t mean we should neglect relationships because of them. God put His image in males and females, which means that no one can share His image by himself or herself. We need each other. Now, there are certainly situations that should be avoided, but there are also plenty of opportunities that are perfectly acceptable and productive. Don’t miss out on what someone has to offer merely because their gender doesn’t match your ideal.
I’ve noticed this trend not only while looking for a mentor, but also while mentoring. One of the surprises I came across this year was how many young men God put in my life to teach. On several instances I found myself in a restaurant or group surrounded by young men as we discussed spiritual issues. The biggest takeaway for a mentoring relationship with someone of another gender is this: when in doubt, add someone else. If a situation is coming up where you may feel uncomfortable one-on-one, ask a friend to join your meeting. The more the merrier!
5) How Do I Mentor?
There can be a lot of pressure when it comes to being someone’s mentor, but mentoring does not have to be a big ordeal. So here are some guidelines for both mentors and mentees:
- Ask Questions. Mentoring is about going through life together. Some relationships will be more personal and closer than others, but make sure you’re being intentional by asking questions. Ask about the other person’s life. Ask how they’re doing. Ask questions about something you’re interested in or want to learn about. Just get started, and be intentional about your conversations. Before planned meetings, think about and prepare good questions to help direct the conversation.
- LISTEN! When you ask a question, make sure you’re taking the time to listen to their answer. Be intently engaged in the conversation. Also keep in mind that not all people are good at articulating their thoughts. So make sure you’re listening not only to what they’re actually saying, but also what they’re TRYING to say. When you listen well, you’ll pay attention to body language, tone, and the Holy Spirit, and you’ll probably hear things that the person did not even realize they were saying.
- Be intentional. One of the most important things to do in order to have a productive mentoring relationship is to be intentional. This doesn’t mean spending every waking moment together. Rather, it means planning and preparation. Plan time together, write down questions when you’re going throughout your day that you want their insight on, sit down and write an email, send a purposeful text message of encouragement (but never send a text that just says “hey” or “what’s up”–that’s just a waste of time! Honestly, most texts like that just seem pointless to me so I don’t even respond. This communicates to me that you’re bored and have nothing better to do. If you don’t have a purpose with your text, I’m not going to work to create purpose out of it.). You don’t need a lot of time to be in a mentoring relationship, you simply need to be willing and let the other person know when and how you’re accessible. Maybe it’s only for 15 minutes a month, but if you’re intentional with that time, it’ll still be incredibly beneficial for both.
Well, there are a handful of things I’ve learned about mentoring. Obviously, this is something I’ve thought about a lot, but why is it so important? I’ll leave that to one of my favorite Bible verses to answer:
“As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” (Proverbs 27:17)
We live in a culture where relationships are broad and shallow, but it’s through relationships that God wants to grow us as people. Therefore, I am committed to having intentional relationships where I’m both sharpening others and being sharpened. I hope you choose this commitment, too. I promise you that it’s worth it!