Mentoring . . . Discipleship . . . Spiritual mothering.
We have many words to describe what many of us long for: an example to follow—someone to embody the truths of the gospel so we can learn from their faithful living. We want someone who will speak truth, share godly wisdom, and be a listening ear when we feel at a loss of where to turn or what to do.
To help us catch a vision for the importance of spiritual mentoring, I’ve asked a variety of women a few questions about mentoring and over the next couple of months, I’ll share our interviews. Today, we’ll hear who mentored Karen Hodge and learn that everyone is always simultaneously an older and younger woman to someone.
Here’s my interview with Karen Hodge.
Who spiritually mentored you in the faith?
My first encounter with Susan Hunt came one afternoon over a desperate phone call to the PCA Women’s Ministry office. I was a 29-year-old pastor’s wife. My husband and I were trying to plant a church, and I was looking for a ten-step starter kit to build a stellar women’s ministry from the ground up.
Spiritual mothering: When a woman possessing faith and spiritual maturity enters into a nurturing relationship with a younger woman to encourage and equip her to live for God’s glory.
Since that kit did not, and still does not, exist, she offered something far superior that day. There were no formulaic answers, but rather an invitation to build a relationship. I was speaking to the woman who wrote the book on “spiritual mothering.”
She listened and prayed with me. Over the next 23 years, she has embodied her definition of “spiritual mothering,” which reads, “When a woman possessing faith and spiritual maturity enters into a nurturing relationship with a younger woman to encourage and equip her to live for God’s glory.” She continues to enter in, and she has patiently nurtured me.
What did you learn from her life and example?
We all know Titus 2:1, 3–5 encourages older women to teach and train younger women. That command means more than just educational teaching; it means to show or unpack. What does it look like for sound doctrine to lead to sound living in our marriages, churches, workplace, and communities?
Even though we have never lived in the same town, Susan has always made herself accessible to me. That access has included her husband, Gene, children, grandchildren, church, and spiritual children. They let me see the shape of godliness in the highest highs and the lowest lows. In all of these settings, what I’ve observed is no dissonance. There is consistency and transparency.
She has had one drumbeat in her life. Many may say the beat sounds like women’s ministry, biblical womanhood, or spiritual mothering. Oh, those things are part of the music, but the downbeat is covenant.
Her words and actions are given to unpacking the content of the covenant and what it looks like lived out in the context of community. She trains me to think biblically and live out those truths covenantally or in relationship with others.
A spiritual mother also sees a daughter not for who she is but what she can become.
Most importantly, she has shown me and countless other women that whether you trace covenant through the pages of Scripture or you observe its influence throughout a 20-plus-year relationship, every thread should showcase the person and work of Jesus.
A spiritual mother also sees a daughter not for who she is but what she can become. For many years, Susan served as the coordinator for women’s ministry in our denomination (PCA). I now have the privilege to serve in that role. Since that first phone call, she has been “spiritually nudging” me to walk by faith and not by sight.
She has challenged me to move out of my comfort zone to lead, write, and teach. And she has been “spiritually fanning” my gifts and graces (2 Tim. 1:6). Now I get the joy of being a steward. A steward is a spiritual daughter, entrusted with something of great worth, who has the opportunity to invest it for the kingdom.
If a younger woman desires a mentoring relationship with an older woman, how would you advise her to find a mentor?
I love being a “hinge,” connecting people to one another. Over the years, I have sought to cultivate organic church cultures where spiritual mothering can flourish rather than programmatic mentoring pairings. I think everyone is always simultaneously an older and younger woman to someone.
I think everyone is always simultaneously an older and younger woman to someone.
Older women are often afraid to pursue relationships with younger women because they feel they have nothing to offer. Younger women are afraid to seek out older women for fear of rejection. As my friend Tami Resch says in these cases, “It is always better to be more curious than certain.”
When we start with a humble heart and an earnest curiosity, it allows God to set the expectations for these potential relationships. Here are some of the questions I have tried to ask myself and others over the years.
- Am I available and teachable?
- Do I have a margin in my life to cultivate new relationships?
- In what ways am I seeking to move toward spiritual maturity?
- Am I listening to those in my circle of influence with the ears of Christ?
- Am I actively praying for divine opportunities to encourage and equip younger women?
- Am I relying daily on God’s strength to cultivate and maintain these relationships?
- Am I willing to lay aside any personal agenda so I might seek God’s best for new relationships?
- Am I seeking to root my life and relationships in sound doctrine?
- Am I willing to wait on God’s perfect timing to bring the relationship together?
- Have I considered my expectations concerning this relationship, and do I know how to express them?
Why is discipleship in the local church context so important for spiritual growth?
Paul wrote the following verses to a young church plant, and they are much like the words he wrote to Titus as he planted the church in Crete. “So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us” (1 Thess. 2:7–8).
These verses aim to build a healthy church, not just to encourage women and men to connect. It is the content of the gospel lived out in the context of relationships. Life-on-life discipleship is essential for Christ’s life to be formed in us.
The gospel, not another person, is to be the central focus of our relationships.
This verse points to the why (purpose) and the where (proximity). The gospel, not another person, is to be the central focus of our relationships. It is the good news we seek to share rather than sage advice. And the impact is found in proximity. We are called to share our very lives.
It is a call to die to comfort and convenience—relating to others as a living sacrifice (Rom. 12:1). This posture invites a nearness that echoes Paul’s relational heartbeat to spiritual children: follow (or imitate) me as I follow Christ (1 Cor. 11:1).
What particular piece of wisdom or advice do you hope to pass on to younger women in your life?
Spiritual mothering and gospel friendships are sacred and holy work. When Susan and I wrote Life-giving Leadership together, we discovered this definition of leadership, which gives a trajectory for our relationships. A leader is someone who goes in front of or beside another person to get them to an intended destination.
Older woman, what is your intended destination? Younger woman, who are you following? Sometimes we are the older women just a few steps ahead of someone. Other times, we are gospel friends who are walking side-by-side on a journey.
Discipleship is walking this journey in front of or beside each other sharing our very lives and the gospel until we get Home.
For the believer, the trajectory of this path is heaven. Discipleship is walking this journey in front of or beside each other sharing our very lives and the gospel until we get Home. It is seeking every day to live the content of the gospel in the context of our relationship. It is walking together, trying to keep in step with the Spirit. It is the high and holy privilege of participating with the Holy Spirit to prepare others for eternity.
Karen Hodge serves as the coordinator for PCA women’s ministry, where she seeks to connect women and churches to one another and to sound resources. She is also having the time of her life serving alongside her husband, pastor, and best friend, Chris, as they plant King’s Cross Church in Fort Mill, South Carolina. Chris and Karen have two adult children, Anna Grace Botka and Haddon Hodge. She is the host of the enCourage podcast and along with Susan Hunt, authored Transformed: Life-taker to Life-giver and Life-giving Leadership.
I have a new book, Growing Together: Taking Mentoring beyond Small Talk and Prayer Requests that released yesterday. It’s not primarily a book about mentoring, but a book that two women can use in a discipleship relationship to help discuss a variety of topics. It’s meant to be one way to get the conversation started, but by no means is it the only way to mentor. If you’re looking for a place to begin, I hope it will be a helpful resource!