“Will you be my mentor?”
You may hear that question from a younger woman and quickly glance around the room to see who she’s asking. You think to yourself: Surely, she’s not asking me! What exactly does she want me to do? I don’t know enough, and I’m afraid I’ll disappoint her.
Most of us still feel like we need mentoring ourselves, so it can be easy to fall into the trap of thinking we have nothing to offer. In theory, we want to invest in the church and in a new generation of Christian women. We want to see our sisters in Christ equipped for service in his kingdom. But we can get cold feet when it comes to seeing ourselves as mentors.
In addition to our feelings of inadequacy, we may be unsure about what to do in a mentoring relationship. Many women have never been mentored, so it’s difficult to have a clear vision for what the time together should look like. While every mentoring relationship is different and there are many beneficial ways to invest in others, here are a few nuggets of wisdom I’ve gleaned from older women who have faithfully mentored me.
1. Mentoring involves you, but it’s not up to you.
As a little girl, I remember an afternoon I spent playing in the front yard while my dad was busy picking up sticks and weeding. At one point, he stopped his usual work and went into the garage. He came back with some tools and began doing something I’d never seen him do before. There was a young thin tree that was bent over, suffering from the damaging effects of a storm that had recently blown through.
My father took a rope and tethered the young tree to a much older tree—one that was sturdy and strong, standing straight. When I asked why he was tying the two trees together, he explained that the older tree could offer support and strength to prevent the younger one from growing askew. The older tree had withstood years of winds and storms. Just by standing beside the younger tree, it offered stability.
This image comes to mind whenever I think about discipleship. Essentially, a spiritual mentoring relationship is one where a younger believer is tethered to a more mature believer for a season so that he or she might grow stronger in faith and be equipped for ministry. This image calms my fears about my own inadequacies and reminds me to trust God.
A spiritual mentoring relationship is one where a younger believer is tethered to a more mature believer for a season so that he or she might grow stronger in faith and be equipped for ministry.
Just as the older tree doesn’t make the younger tree grow (the water and the sun do that), a mentor isn’t responsible for the spiritual growth of the person she’s mentoring (God does that). She’s simply standing beside the younger woman, offering the strength she’s gained as God has grown her through the years.
It’s a reminder we all need: You don’t have to be perfect. You don’t have to have all the answers. You don’t have to say all the right things. Mentoring involves you, but it doesn’t depend on you. God is the one providing the spiritual growth.
2. Setting clear expectations helps you both.
Communication is important in any relationship, especially in a mentoring relationship. After months of meeting with one younger woman, I realized we had completely different expectations of what mentoring should look like. In her mind, I wasn’t living up to what she had hoped for in a mentor. In my mind, she wasn’t putting the time and effort into our meetings. She was hoping to spend time together and hang out as friends; I was asking her to work through a Bible study curriculum and was frustrated that she never completed the homework. We didn’t have a regularly scheduled meeting time, and eventually our relationship fizzled into an awkward, “Hey, we should catch up sometime!”
I learned a lot from that relationship. Since then, I’ve changed the way I mentor in a few important ways. The first is to clarify from the beginning what we’re both hoping to accomplish. The goal of a mentoring relationship is to spend the time together purposefully pursuing spiritual growth. This can be accomplished through reading the Bible together, praying together, or working through a book together. (If you’re looking for a mentoring curriculum, that’s the content of my new book, Growing Together). Whatever you decide to do, it’s important to discuss the focus of your time together before you begin meeting.
Mentoring involves you, but it doesn’t depend on you. God is the one providing the spiritual growth.
Another important detail is to set an expected frequency and duration for time together. Set a specific date, time, and location. Will you meet once a month, twice a month, or once a week? Perhaps you’ll meet the first Tuesday of every month for breakfast or every other Thursday evening at the park. Figure out what day and time works best for you both—and commit to that time together.
It’s also helpful to set a specific duration for how long you’ll plan to meet before reevaluating. It may be six months, a year, or until you finish a study, but it’s good to have a set time so that you’ll both look at your schedules and consider if you have time to keep meeting. Communicating clearly from the beginning helps foster healthy expectations for your time together.
3. There’s never a better time to mentor.
You may not feel like you have the time to mentor—life feels too busy. But there’s never a perfectly convenient time. Each season has its own busyness. Instead, it’s helpful to consider natural ways to invite others into your life.
The goal of a mentoring relationship is to spend the time together purposefully pursuing spiritual growth.
Look around and think about your daily routine. Who’s a younger woman you enjoy being around? Perhaps you could invite her for dinner every Sunday evening or go for a walk together on Saturday mornings. Maybe you could serve together in the church nursery. What are you already doing on a regular basis that you could do together?
As you invite her into your life, she will learn. She’ll grow in hospitality as she experiences hospitality from you. She’ll grow in affection for God as she hears of your love for him. She’ll grow in understanding as she learns how to apply the Word in her own life. She’ll learn to pray as she prays with you.
You may not feel equipped, but if you’re walking with the Lord, you can share what you’ve learned with others. The wisdom you have is wisdom she needs. Pray with her. Memorize or read Scripture with her. Be a listening ear. Faithfully point her to Jesus. The effort is worth it, and the blessings will extend to you both—you’ll grow together as you learn together.