The Importance of Mentorship (and What to Look for in a Mentor)

Written by: Angela O'Neill
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A dear mentor in my life would always talk to me about being a lifelong learner. She not only emphasized this simple idea often, but she also lived it out practically through her approach to life. As a result, I have adopted this principle, integrating it into my own way of living, and I’ve found life so much more interesting when approached with a constant desire to keep learning and growing.

And this is just one of many principles I have adopted from my incredible mentor. Her leadership, work ethic, walk with Lord, and love of people has left an impact on my own life and so many more. This mentor and several others have encouraged me, prayed with me and for me, kept me accountable, and simply lived life with me.

Here are three ways these special relationships can deeply impact our lives for the better (and some things to look for when searching for a good mentor).

Mentors Help Us Keep God at the Center

Imitate me, as I also imitate Christ. (1 Corinthians 11:1 CSB)

When we’re seeking someone to mentor us as Christians, it’s vital to look for someone who has a strong walk with the Lord. Because we desire our own lives to have God at the center—shaping how we approach lifes questions, difficulties, and even joys—it is important that our mentors are seeking to live their lives with the same emphasis.

None of that is to say that they must be perfect in their faith, but we certainly want someone who understands our perspective and will challenge us to move towards greater alignment with who God created us to be. The mentor I referred to above would often repeat the phrase God first,” reminding me of how I desired to prioritize God in my own life.

As we are growing in our faith journey, it is so important to have a faith mama—or auntie, or uncle, or older brother or sister (or all of the above). These are those related to us by the blood of Christ and they can help to guide us along the way.

Paul and Timothy had this relationship. They were not related, but Paul took on a fatherly role in Timothy’s life. He became a sort of spiritual father, guiding Timothy and living a life that provided him with an example. By following Paul’s lead, Timothy made a huge impact on those he pastored and has a lasting legacy that we remember and learn from today.

Mentors Teach Us from Their Experiences

Let a wise person listen and increase learning,

and let a discerning person obtain guidance. (Proverbs 1:5 CSB)

When seeking a mentor, it is important to look for someone ahead of us in experience, understanding, and maturity. Perhaps they have been following Christ seriously for some time. Or maybe they have gone through an experience similar to one we are going through currently, and can help us navigate that situation with their firsthand insight.

Good mentors are able to share wisdom from their lives—learned from both successes and failures. This is someone who allows God to grow them in the midst of their mistakes, their triumphs, and their experiences—and someone who can help us do the same.

A beautiful example from the Bible is the relationship of Elizabeth (mother of John the Baptist) and Mary (mother of Jesus). In Luke 1 we the story of two women whose pregnancies came with heavenly announcements from the same angel. Two women who physically should not be pregnant. Two women whose en-wombed children would go on to change the world—one even being the Savior of the world, Jesus.

In this relationship, Elizabeth was older and a few months further along in her pregnancy. She was also more mature and experienced in her faith. Imagine the encouragement and affirmation this must have provided Mary in her journey of faithfulness to God. What beautiful grace is provided in the divine timing of these pregnancies, and in Mary and Elizabeth’s relationship!

Likewise, we will benefit by asking God to give us eyes to see the wise sisters and brothers he has placed around us, as we lean into learning from their experiences.

Mentors Encourage and Guide Us

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 CSB)

A mentor is someone who will encourage our hearts, speak truth into our lives, provide us with affirmation when we should keep going, and warn us when we get offtrack. This is someone who knows our hearts, knows our strengths, and knows our weaknesses.

Their encouragements to keep going can be the fuel we need when we wonder if what we’re doing really matters. Their guiding voice is vital when there is something not quite right in our lives, or when we are being led astray.

I love the example of Mordecai and Esther. Mordecai encourages Esther to be bold and work to save her people. He speaks these beautiful words: Perhaps you have come to your royal position for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14).

This is an inspiring phrase that affirms Esther, but if we read the verse in context, we’ll notice that it also comes with a warning. Right before his well-known words, Mordecai says,

Don’t think that you will escape the fate of all the Jews because you are in the king’s palace. If you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will come to the Jewish people from another place, but you and your father’s family will be destroyed. Who knows, perhaps you have come to your royal position for such a time as this. (Esther 4:13 –14 CSB)

Mordecai is reminding Esther that God will be faithful to deliver his people whether she says “yes” in this moment or not. Of course, Esther does join in what God is doing and through her the people of Judah are saved, but Mordecai offered her both encouragement and wisdom that was perhaps hard to hear.

This is what good mentors do. We all need people in our lives to affirm and encourage us while also being willing to speak harder truths to us. This is not an excuse to put up with abusive or overly harsh critique, but it is a reminder that guidance towards growth is at times tough to embrace.

Mentors are vital parts of our faith journey. They walk through life with us, know us, and, most importantly, know God and guide us into closer relationship with him. And as we embrace the beauty of the mentor-mentee relationship, hopefully we, in turn, will become mentors of others.

As I write this, I see the faces of my own mentors, which have been etched into my mind. They are the ones who helped me get through hard times, encouraged me to keep going when I wanted to quit, provided me with accountability, and let me glean from their experiences. To them I say, “Thank you! Your faithful mentorship has helped to make me who I am today.”

And I pray that you too find friends like these—those to teach you, encourage you, and draw you ever closer to your Lord. Amen.