It is clear in Scripture that we as humans were created by God for community. We were not meant to do life alone, without any help or influence from others. Forming authentic, personal relationships with others does not often happen by accident. We must be intentional in our pursuit of true fellowship, honest accountability, and mutual support.
This is also the case when it comes to potential mentoring relationships. Having a mentor to guide us, challenge us, encourage us, and offer the perspective of someone who has gone before us is invaluable for any of us seeking to grow in our careers, relationships, ministries, and spiritual lives.
From the time I was eleven, I grew up in the church and had potential mentors all around me. However, it wasn’t until I started serving in the local church and in parachurch organizations that I started forming deeper relationships organically. In these new places, I had opportunities to converse with other believers who were older and in vocations that I desired to pursue. These conversations turned into more intentional relationships with believers who I had grown to know, trust, and appreciate.
It was in these purposeful conversations that mentoring and discipleship relationships began to form and develop—sometimes quite naturally, and sometimes only after a more formal discussion. Some of these relationships were helpful to me for a short season, and some have been long-standing, continuing into my adulthood. And as years have gone by, I myself have even become a mentor to many other young believers.
Here are some valuable lessons I’ve learned along the way about pursuing a mentoring relationship.
What do you want a mentor for? Is it something specific, like pursuing a particular trade? Are you hoping to develop discipline in a certain spiritual practice or a better understanding of Scripture? Do you want to grow in general wisdom and discernment? Considering these questions will help guide you as you discern who to consider in your pursuit of a mentor. And we don’t have to have just one. Different people will fill different roles in our lives. Some mentors may come only for a season—such as when we are serving in a particular ministry or volunteer position—and some mentors can become like spiritual family to us. Getting clarity on the kind of mentoring relationship you are looking for and the purpose you hope this relationship will serve will help get you started in the process of nailing down potential mentors to pursue.
“Do what you have learned and received and heard from me, and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:9).
Are you a part of an intergenerational community? If not, get connected with one! A local church is the best place to do this, as it provides a regular opportunity for believers of all ages to come together in a purposeful way. Serving at your local church is the best way to connect with people of all ages there. Not all older believers will automatically make good mentors for us. But, if we start having conversations with those we are serving with, we will get a better understanding as to whether they might be someone to pursue as a mentor in the future. As you’re volunteering with others, start intentional conversations. Ask them questions about their life, their faith, their challenges, and the ways they have seen God’s faithfulness. Be respectful, of course, and ask for consent before pursuing deeper, more personal conversations. Once you do this, however, these relationships can blossom into something that has the potential to be a deeply impactful mentorship.
“And let us consider one another in order to provoke love and good works, not neglecting to gather together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24–25).
Who is already involved in your life that you could ask to mentor you intentionally? Once you have that person in mind, how are you going to go about asking them? If you have primarily engaged with this person at church or in a local volunteer situation, consider inviting them for coffee or lunch for a more purposeful conversation. Once you do, be clear, specific, and direct—what do you want out of your relationship? Ask them to think and pray about it. Be willing to adjust if that person is unable to provide what you are looking for. Maybe it’s not the best fit for them, or they are not able to offer you what you truly are hoping for in a mentorship/relationship. Once you have a mentor that agrees, discuss the details. Do you want it to be more casual or more formal? How often do you want to meet? Are you hoping for them to help you grow in your career, ministry, or spiritual practices? Do you want them to give you specific “assignments” to work on throughout the days or weeks in between meetings? If so, tell them! Don’t expect your mentor to read your mind about what you want, need, or expect in this relationship, even if they know you fairly well! Getting on the same page is incredibly important in order for the relationship to be mutually enjoyable and effective.
“Remember your leaders who have spoken God’s word to you. As you carefully observe the outcome of their lives, imitate their faith” (Hebrews 13:7).
How willing are you to be honest, real, and vulnerable with your mentor—and how willing are you to take their feedback, even if it’s hard to hear? One of the most crucial things for you to focus on in a mentoring relationship is practicing teachability, humility, and vulnerability. Be honest about your areas of weakness and struggle. Be honest about where you have been and the place you’re starting from. What’s the point in asking for help if you’re not truthful? Furthermore, while different people may have different, equally valid reasons for pursuing a mentor (see step 1 above!), one reason that is not healthy or valid is in order to “show off” to an older, wiser person in hopes of impressing them into thinking more highly of you or coercing them into giving you a special opportunity, like a job. There is nothing wrong with learning from someone in hopes of following in their footsteps, but that is not about manipulating something from them. If we are to be followers of Jesus, humility is a must—even as we grow and mature.
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves. Everyone should look not to his own interests, but rather to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3–4).
May you always keep the goal of loving God and others at the center of all your relationships!