Mentoring in Christianity—specifically in Christian ministry leadership—is important because your mentees may be gifted by God, but they are inexperienced in life and ministry and need your help in hearing and interpreting God’s voice, His call, and His will, and effectively living the Christian life, to have them mature—not just as a leader, but—as a Christian and as a whole person! However, it has been largely ignored, due to people not knowing how to do it; feeling inadequate as mentors; not knowing who or how to ask someone to mentor them; or just plainly, mentors not wanting to share openly and authentically about their own lives, mistakes, and failures. The fact is that this is a great need within the Christian church and it needs to happen with much more frequency and intensity.
Mentoring vs Discipleship
Although there is overlap and similarity between the mentoring and discipleship process, the distinct difference between mentoring versus discipleship is that discipleship focuses exclusively on growing and maturing spiritually. Whereas mentoring focuses on both discipleship concerns, as well as every other part of a person’s life. You might think about discipleship as a slice of pie, and mentoring as the entire pie.
Well, now that I’m hungry, I’d like to tell you the story of Sean.
A Diamond in the Rough
It was 2008 and my family and I had just transferred from a small church to a larger church. I took turns with my wife, every other week, teaching the high-school-age youth and alternatively, spending time with my son, in the cradle roll and kindergarten Sabbath school classes.
Very quickly I began to connect deeply with a young man who was a graduated 8th grader and spending his first summer in the youth group program. He and I just…honestly…fell into an organic mentoring relationship. He struggled with a lot of the same issues of pornography that I struggled with in the past, and he was brutally honest with me about his life—every aspect of his life. I did a lot of listening to him talk about his goals, dreams, successes, failures, frustrations—we just did life together. We talked every week—even when I wasn’t teaching the youth.
As he grew older, matured, graduated high school, began college, and initially struggled to find a major he both loved and excelled at, I was there for him. When his father got cancer and ultimately died, I was there for him. When he graduated and wanted to go on to get a post-baccalaureate education, I was there for him.
He is extremely satisfied with—and amazing at—what he does for a living. I still check in with him from time to time, but now it’s me checking in with him, more than him checking in with me. And although I miss him dearly, I realize that he no longer needs to depend upon that relationship as much. The mentoring relationship has worked!
It’s important to note that I have sought out and am presently receiving mentoring from others as well. This issue of mentoring is not specific to a certain age and stage of life. Being a Christian and having access to the Holy Spirit is not enough. The fact is that we all need at least one other person to make it through this life.
What is Mentoring?
A mentor is someone who is focused on helping you reach your goals, not their goals, plans, or hidden agendas.
A report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (1998) stated that youth are protected from violence when they have mentors (who provide career role-modeling). Mentoring has received much attention recently. A mentor is someone willing to develop a relationship and be a resource to another person. This certainly applies to youth and preventing dangerous behaviors. Some measurable values in mentoring have been demonstrated in several different studies.
The U.S. Department of Justice reports research that was conducted to identify the value of mentoring relationships (Big Brothers and Sisters of America, 1992). Their findings demonstrated that mentored youth are:
- 46% less likely to initiate drug use (70% less likely if they were of a minority race)
- 27% less likely to initiate alcohol use
- 53 % less likely to skip school
- 37% less likely to skip class
- Greater than 30% less likely to hit someone
- More confident in their school work
- Got along better with their family
The California Mentor Foundation (2000) reports that of 57,000 mentored youth:
- 98.4% stayed in school
- 85.25% did not use drugs
- 97.9% did not become a teen parent
- 98.2% did not join a gang
You might be surprised to know that the Bible has a lot to say about mentoring—both in the Old and New Testaments
Here’s just a sampling of mentoring relationships in the Old Testament.
Moses was mentored by Jethro, his father-in-law. In Exodus 18, Moses was having a difficult time judging everybody and Jethro came alongside and counseled him on how best Moses could reach his goals, not Jethro’s goals. Moses then turned around and mentored Joshua (Ex. 17). Elijah mentored Elisha (1 Kings 19:19-21). And Eli mentored Samuel (1 Samuel 3:1-21).
In the New Testament, Jesus mentored His twelve disciples. Saul/Paul was mentored by Barnabas (Acts 11; 13:1-3). God sent Barnabas to encourage and befriend Saul. Paul then mentored Timothy (Acts 16:1-5; 1 Tim. 1:1, 2; 2 Tim. 1:1-6; 10-17), and Titus (Titus 2). Another important example is the “power couple” Aquila & Priscilla and the training of Apollos (Acts 18: 18-28).
Even with all the examples of mentoring in the Bible, people are still hesitant to find and be mentors. Here are a couple of reasons why.
Six Misconceptions About Mentoring
1. Mentors are at least 83 years old.
One of the most common misconceptions about mentoring involves age. Many people assume that to be wise enough and mature enough to be a mentor, you have to be at least 83 years old, musty, dusty, and live on some mountain somewhere by yourself. They assume the only appropriate protégés are 16-year-olds receiving their tutelage on a stuffed leather bench at a grand piano. This is simply not the case.
I’d advise you to ignore age when selecting a mentor. Just look for a person whom you respect and like a lot, and from whom you want to learn.
Younger protégés look at mentors as “older,” but mentors look at protégés over 30 simply as “adults.” As a protégé, you may be constantly aware of the age difference. If you are over 30, your mentor probably sees you as a young adult friend. The relationship is adult to adult, not adult to child.
2. Mentors must be perfect!
This misconception causes qualified people to hesitate about becoming mentors. The fact is, protégés don’t expect a mentor to be perfect—or to share intimate or gory details about their past failures.
I once spoke at a conference where I asked how many of the attendees expected their mentors to be perfect; not one hand went up. Then I asked, “How many of you have procrastinated about becoming a mentor because you assumed that you had to be perfect as a mentor?” Probably 95 percent of the hands in the room went up. The bottom line is, mentors are not perfect, and they don’t need to be.
3. Mentors must have all the answers.
This misconception is related to the one before it. The same logic applies. Mentors are human. They do not have all the answers. They never will have all the answers. Their role is sometimes to be the answer, sometimes to have the answer, but most of the time to know where to find the answer.
Fundamentally, a mentor connects a protégé to resources: their network, appropriate seminars, libraries, helpful videos, audio resources and books, and even support groups. The mentor is never required to have all the answers or all the resources. They are simply a connector to many resources that the protégé needs during the growth process.
As a mentor, your attitude should be, “I’m here to help you, and I’ll do what I can.”
4. The mentoring process involves a curriculum the mentor needs to teach a protégé.
Believe me, no such curriculum exists. The mentoring process is unique to each protégé. Learning is based on the protégé’s agenda, priorities, questions, and needs—not on the mentor’s preset program.
Within a trust relationship, protégés can ask questions they would never feel comfortable asking most people. They learn best when their need to know is greatest. Therefore, the single most teachable moment of any protégé’s life is the few seconds immediately following a sincere question. No curriculum, checklist, or theory could replace a mentor’s life experience and compassion in such a teachable moment.
5. A mentor’s focus is holding a protégé accountable.
My observation is that many people focus on accountability for one of two reasons: they enjoy holding other people accountable but do not particularly want to be held accountable, or they lack self-control and try to put that responsibility in someone else’s hands. Both of these motivations are unhealthy and would be detrimental to a mentoring relationship. Accountability should not be the focus of the mentoring relationship. The focus should be supporting, strengthening, and encouraging.
Of course, in the natural process of helping a protégé grow to maturity, you will use an element of accountability. For instance, you can hold your protégé accountable for following through on something if a little accountability support helps to form a new habit, reach a new goal, or resist some temptation. But do not feel that, as a mentor, you are supposed to hold your protégés accountable every step of the way. Their accountability needs to be developed in terms of responsibility to God, the government, and other legitimate authorities, not to you.
6. Mentors must share intimate, personal details
I have come across a great many people who have felt God calling them—or have even turned down requests to be a mentor, because of their fear that the protégé would ask them about a personal failure and they would feel forced to share an intimate or embarrassing personal detail. That is just simply not the case. In my many talks and trainings, I would often take informal polls; I would ask the question of proteges: “how many of you see it as a requirement for your mentor to answer or disclose embarrassing and personal details about a failure?” I’ve never had a participant raise their hand. I would then ask how many people didn’t choose to be a mentor because they were worried about sharing personal or embarrassing details…and, unfortunately, a large majority of people would raise their hands. The bottom line is that, as a mentor, you can share truth and life lessons without divulging personal, embarrassing, and intimate details.
How to Begin the Process
If you are interested in searching for a mentor, the first and most important thing to do is to begin to pray intensely about it. God will bring you to the right person, but you must take the first step and ask Him.
Additionally, it’s a great idea to ask several friends and family who know you well, care about you, and who will be honest. Ask them what type of person do they think would be a good fit for you.
What to Look for in a Mentor
The following checklist is a rather detailed, point-by-point list to help you find the ideal mentor for you. This checklist is only an attempt to help bring clarity in defining the kind of person for whom you are looking.
But even before you start reading, let me suggest that what you’re really looking for is a person that you know cares for you, believes in you, and naturally encourages you. A good mentor is a person you enjoy being with, who has more experience than you have, and who would be happy to help you win in life. If you already have that person in mind, this checklist will only confirm your intuitive guess that this person would make a great mentor.
The checklist is also helpful if you have two or three mentors to consider, but cannot determine which one you will ask. The mentoring checklist can bring out a few fine points that may help you make your final decision.
Before you choose a mentor, check to see if they have these qualities:
Your Ideal Mentor Is…
- Honest With You
- A Model for You
- Deeply Committed to You
- Open and Transparent
- A Natural Teacher
- One Who Believes in Your Potential
- One Who Can Help You Define Your Dream and a Plan to Turn Your Dream into Reality
- Successful in Your Eyes
- Open to Learning From You, As Well As Teaching You
- Willing to Stay Primarily on Your Agenda, Not Their Own
 “Sean” is a pseudonym used in this piece to protect privacy.