Sharing the gospel is inextricably tied to sharing other aspects of life with those we’re mentoring. Consider what the apostle Paul says: “We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us” (1 Thessalonians 2:8). Biblical mentoring requires engaging the whole person for more than just a scheduled time each week or month. It includes meeting for lunch or coffee, showing up for an important event in the life of the woman you’re mentoring, inviting her to be part of your life or family, serving together, and even enjoying together the seemingly “frivolous” activities such as watching a movie or going shopping.
Life-on-life ministry comes quite naturally to many of us women as we love to care, nurture, and share emotional intimacy. Yet as in every other relationship, there is danger that I find my identity in mentoring another young woman and so become enmeshed in an unhealthy relationship. My definition of “unhealthy relationship” is a relationship where one of my idols takes the central place that belongs to Jesus. In mentoring, this can happen when my idol of being needed replaces Jesus as what I am worshiping and serving in our relationship.
What does this idolatry look like, and how can you establish healthy biblical boundaries? First, identify the idolatry. You may be serving your idol of being needed more than Jesus if you notice the following in your mentoring relationship:
- Reluctance or refusal to speak the truth in love to her when needed out of fear of losing her approval or the relationship.
- Rearranging your schedule, neglecting other priorities and responsibilities (such as family and work) in order to spend time with her.
- Tending to give her advice immediately when she asks for your counsel without asking questions to help her think through the issue for herself.
- Avoiding sharing your own weaknesses and struggles, presenting yourself as strong and seemingly invincible.
- Always being available to her regardless of what time she calls or what you are doing.
- Expressing disapproval of decisions she makes on her own, perhaps even explicitly encouraging her to talk to you first before making any decision.
- Discouraging her from other influential relationships outside your mentoring relationship or neglecting to connect her to others within your church community.
Second, repent of seeking life outside of Christ, humbly acknowledging that your need to be needed has become an idol in your heart. Repent of allowing this idol to cause you to unintentionally mentor women into people-worship instead of God-worship. Rejoice that you have a God who mentors you (and her) perfectly and even now is restoring you back to himself through Jesus. He is jealous for full-hearted worshipers, and he lovingly redeems you and me from all of our false worship.
Finally, realize that repentance will include setting healthy boundaries in your mentoring relationships. The purpose of setting boundaries is not for your ease and comfort but out of love for God and the woman you’re mentoring. Healthy boundaries flow out of the foundational belief that you both need Jesus more than you need one another. Your goal in mentoring is to help this woman to grow more fully into the unique person God has created her to be in his image, not to recreate her in your image.
Keeping that foundation in mind, practical boundaries might include:
- Involve others in your relationship. Connect her with other women in the church, serve together with others in the community, invite her over to dinner with your family or roommates, and so on.
- Appropriately share your own weaknesses and struggles. This is a tangible way of showing that you also need Jesus Christ and that you are not her savior.
- Ask questions that help her think through dilemmas and decisions she presents to you and support biblical decisions she makes, even if it’s different than what you would have done.
- Communicate when you are and aren’t available. For example, if she tends to call you later than when you’re normally up, let her know that it’s best for her to call you before your bedtime (or family time).
- Know your limits. If she is struggling with an issue beyond your ability, time commitment, or experience to handle alone, recommend she talk to a pastor or counselor. Help her find this person and go with her to a few sessions if she’s open to that assistance.
- Lovingly confront her when necessary, in humility. This is a way of pointing her to Jesus as her Redeemer and together finding grace at the foot of the cross. Remember that you are ultimately serving Christ, not seeking to win her approval (Galatians 1:10).
- Stay accountable to someone else. Ask a close friend or family member to give you input if you’re unsure of whether you’re fostering an unhealthy relationship with a woman you’re mentoring.
- Point her to Jesus! This is the obvious point, of course, but it is foundational to a healthy Christ-centered mentoring relationship. Pray together with her when you’re trying to sort through a tough issue. If she calls you at a time when you’re not available for a long discussion, suggest that she spend time praying about the issue and reading Scripture. Verbally remind her (and yourself) that you want to help her to seek Jesus and become dependent on him, not on you. She needs Jesus more than she needs you.
As you keep your eyes fixed on Jesus, prayerfully seeking wisdom as you mentor other women, he will give you grace in the moment as you need it. The danger of boundaries for boundaries’ sake is that I would use them to protect my own comfort and selfishness. But biblical Christ-centered boundaries foster increased dependence on Christ for you both.
As you abide in Jesus, he will give you wisdom to know when you should drop what you’re doing to lovingly sacrifice your time or agenda and allow yourself to be interrupted by her needs. He will also give you grace to trust him when you’re not able to be there for her in a difficult moment of need. And most importantly, as you find your security and identity in Christ your Redeemer, you will be able to mentor her into finding the same for herself.