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 learn who mentored Trillia Newbell and consider the importance of looking for a mentor in the local church.
Today, we’ll learn who mentored Trillia Newbell and consider the importance of looking for a mentor in the local church.
Here’s my interview with Trillia Newbell.
Who spiritually mentored you in the faith?
It’s interesting because I imagine when you ask this question you might have in mind the Titus 2 relationship of an older woman mentoring a younger one. I’ve had plenty of those relationships, but I’d venture to say that my mentoring relationships haven’t been isolated to age. For example, when I first became a Christian, a woman my age mentored me. We eventually became dear friends, and the relationship changed, but at first it was very much a discipler/disciple type relationship. She taught me about the Scriptures. I watched her life and grew in my understanding of grace. She refused to gossip, so I learned quickly what a true friend looked like.
I’ve also had the beautiful older woman/younger woman relationships. Much of those relationships happened in the context of a living room conversation, washing dishes, or popping in for a visit. Rarely have I had formal mentors where we met up to speak and I asked questions. But I say rarely because I’ve also had those relationships, and they have been a gift. Just recently I emailed a small group of older women for advice on one of my kids.
So, my relationships have looked like all of the examples you could imagine. We’ve met up for coffee, spent time in the Word, folded laundry together, shared meals, and so much more. It’s been a blessing to have had many women in my life who have been mentors. And each one has been different.
Why did you want that particular woman to mentor you?
When I’ve pursued a mentoring relationship, I haven’t had a certain category in mind except that they are often but not always older than myself. But much of what I look for is experience and faithfulness. They don’t have to have a master’s in theology (most people don’t!), they don’t need to be in full-time ministry (again, most people aren’t!), but I do desire some sort of experience in whatever it is I’m hoping to learn from them. For example, I have a woman I reach out to often about motherhood. She’s a grandmother! She has several grown children. It makes sense to ask her questions about my teens. Although I’m sure that I could glean wisdom from a new mom—they were teens themselves once—it makes the most sense to go to a seasoned mom. Same with marriage. When I’ve suffered, I typically talk to someone who has suffered too.
If a younger woman desires a mentoring relationship with an older woman, how would you advise her to find a mentor?
I’d start by saying identify who it is that you hope might mentor you. Think local church and community. It’s wonderful if we admire someone from afar and learn from her, like (name your favorite author), but the women who will serve you best are likely right beside you in the pews. Look around and see who might be there.
The women who will serve you best are likely right beside you in the pews. Look around and see who might be there.
Most people simply don’t ask. So, I’d encourage her to identify a woman and ask. I do know of a friend who was rejected once. There are a number of reasons why someone may choose not to meet or would feel uneasy with the idea of a mentoring relationship. But most don’t mind and would be honored to serve in this way. We just need to ask.
Why is discipleship in the local church context so important for spiritual growth?
The letters in the New Testament are mostly written to local churches. In order to obey much of what God teaches, it’ll be walked out in a local church context. Local is how we can best exercise all of the “one anothers” we find in the Scriptures. I am not saying that discipleship outside of the confines of the local church is sin—by no means—I’m saying it seems like it’s where the Lord directs us most often. Local communities typically know us best. It’s where we will grow and unfortunately, it’s often where we sin the most and have opportunity to repent. It’s where relationships flourish. So, local ministry is important.
Reading articles is helpful, but it should be in the category of learning and growing so that you can love God and your neighbor more effectively. Articles are wonderful tools for thinking and gathering ideas. But there is no substitute for the local church and no substitute for Bible reading. They are a tool, a gift even, but not the best at discipling long-term. Discipleship is about relationship. Articles can’t produce that.
And same with those you follow on social media. They are limited people. I don’t care how friendly the man or woman you follow is on social media, she or he cannot serve you long-term if they are involved in their local communities. She may be able to engage from time to time, maybe you will develop a real, lasting relationship. But there’s no way she can be faithful to thousands of strangers. That doesn’t mean her love is not genuine, but your expectations should be low and measured. Don’t seek discipleship from random social media friends.
I’d like to say one more thing about that. In our celebrity culture, the problem with hoping for a mentor who is “popular” could be a sign of our unfortunate elevation of people based on social media followers. It’s an insult to our local church saints, many of whom are likely godly people, walking out their faith in private. Let’s evaluate why we desire certain people. There are loads of caveats and “but also” that could be said, so don’t take this as a law. We all need wisdom here.
What particular piece of wisdom or advice do you hope to pass on to younger women in your life?
In all seriousness, I could write a book on what I’d hope to pass along. Every time I look at my daughter I think of things I hope she knows. So, I’ll sum it up: ask God to help you love him with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. Ask Jesus to help you abide in him all the days of your life.
Ask God to help you love him with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. Ask Jesus to help you abide in him all the days of your life.
If the Lord answers those prayers, all the other stuff I might say will be answered, too.
Trillia Newbell is the author of several books including Sacred Endurance, If God Is for Us, and the children’s book God’s Very Good Idea. Trillia is married to her best friend, Thern, and they reside with their two children near Nashville. You can find her at trillianewbell.com and follow her on twitter at @trillianewbell.
I have a new book, Growing Together: Taking Mentoring beyond Small Talk and Prayer Requests that released on June 9. 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.
Other posts in this series:
- My New Book: Growing Together
- Growing Together: Who Mentored Hunter Beless?
- Growing Together: Who Mentored Karen Hodge?