Updated: Nov 18, 2019
My early years of ministry were among the loneliest years of my life. Rick and I had been unceremoniously thrown into pastoring a church with no previous experience or training, and no idea of what we were doing. Our tiny church of 12 people had been birthed less than two years previously, we were its third set of leaders and it suffered a split the year before we arrived. Although we had been involved in pastoral care ministry in our previous church, our platform experience was negligible; Rick had preached once and led worship twice and I had spoken at the ladies group.
Not exactly promising leadership material.
We were truly the representation of the scripture that says ‘God chooses the weak things of the world to astonish the wise’. We had absolutely no idea how to lead a church. Each day we would ask God to help us know what to do and how to do it, and slowly, step by faltering, inadequate, vulnerable step, the church began to build and grow strong.
However, we longed for relationship with older, wiser leaders. One of God’s greatest vehicles for training leaders is that those who know can show those who want to grow. Mentoring is one of the best tried and proven models for the establishing of great leaders and great organisations.
But mentors are not as easy to come by as it may seem. Those early years of leading the church were really tough, and I longed for someone to help me work it out. In those days there were very few women in ministry in the spheres I moved in, but I came across two or three. They were women I admired and longed to emulate, believing that if I could just attach myself to one of them, my troubles would be over. I would be the recipient of wise, confident, warm and empowering advice that would enable me to negotiate the rocky waters I was attempting to sail through.
Gathering my little scraps of courage, over a period of time I approached each of these women to ask if I could spend some time with her over a cup of coffee. Each one graciously agreed and I was so elated, believing that I may have found someone who would be interested in me, and who might help me work out my life and ministry.
Alas, it was not to be.
Without exception, I spent those dates listening to my would-be mentor talking about herself; my own miserable little questions remained unasked in my unopened note pad. The same was true when any male ministers spent time with Rick and I. They all loved talking and we were a willing audience who learned a lot by listening, but our need to talk through our problems and concerns about church and home life went completely unmet. No one was interested. No one seemed to see any value in sowing their wisdom and life experience into the next generation.
Chemistry is powerful glue in relationships, and this is just as relevant in a mentoring relationship as any other. There needs to be mutual attraction, it can’t be one sided. It’s one thing to admire someone who is highly successful in their chosen field, it’s quite another thing to ask them to mentor you. Bizarrely, people who suffer from rejection often do just this, and end up reinforcing their own rejection because of making the twin mistakes of over estimating the possibility of being mentored by their hero and under estimating the size of the knowledge gap between them.
Seeing someone on the platform that you’d love to be like doesn’t mean that person is the one to mentor you. Maybe you’re new to the concept of business and you’re looking for someone to help you get to know the ropes. Don’t ask the CEO of Microsoft to mentor you; he’ll be talking a foreign language. You’re better off getting a business coach, or asking someone who is a little further ahead of you in developing and growing their business, someone who can start where you’re at and take you on from there.
If you feel called to be a preacher, don’t ask Joyce Myer to mentor you. Is there someone in your own sphere who is preaching well, and with whom you have a relationship already? Ask that person. Time enough to ask Joyce Myer when you’re a nationally known speaker. She might ask you!
SEASONS COME AND SEASONS GO
Understand that mentoring isn’t generally a lifetime relationship. A mentor is for the time you need her. When you agree with someone to mentor you, have a chat with them at the outset about expectations, theirs and yours. This will save a lot of hassle later. Here are a few things to agree upon.
What do you need from the mentor? Be as specific as you can be.
What are you prepared to give to the relationship as a mentee? Here are a few clues – respect, valuing the mentor’s time and interest in you, and a willingness to be honest and open without manipulative behaviour. You will waste the mentor’s time and your own if you are inclined to frequent tears, jealousies, or offence at any suggestion that you may need to change some habits. The mentee doesn’t have to agree with everything the mentor says, but responses should be open and mature. Don’t go talking bad about your mentor to other people if what they say isn’t what you wanted to hear.
Agree on a set time – depending on the need, anywhere from 3 months to 2 years is a reasonable time frame. If you get to the end of that time and both of you feel that it worked well and that you’d like to continue, extend the time, again for a set period. Many times mentoring relationship become strong friendships that can last a lifetime. If that happens, wonderful. However, don’t try to make it so. It’s entirely possible that the 6 months or 12 months you agreed on is enough. Don’t hang onto an old relationship. People grow and change, and this is especially the case for mentees, or at least, it should be if both parties are doing their job. Unless the chemistry for mentoring is still there, let it go. I’ll talk more later about the pitfalls of hanging onto a mentoring relationship past its use-by date.
Mentoring is not a teacher/child relationship in which permission has to be asked and given. It’s about two adults, one of whom has a greater degree of experience that they are willing to share with the learner. Decisions about future actions should be made out of a discussion and agreement, not being told what you should and shouldn’t do. Mentors are not authoritarian commanders, they are guides to help you on your way.
Be authentic. Mentoring won’t work if either party is wearing a persona that isn’t really who they are.
POPPING THE QUESTION
If you want a mentor, begin to seriously commit your need to the Lord, asking Him to help you find the right one. Don’t be surprised if He suggests someone you’ve never thought of. He has a habit of doing that.
Try to find a time when that person has a bit of space to chat. Don’t try to engage them in conversation when there’s a whole lot of other stuff going on. You could take them out for coffee and explain your thoughts and your needs, and ask if they would be willing to mentor you.
If they say no, don’t take it personally. They will have their reasons that you don’t know about. It could be that they are already too busy, or they don’t feel the chemistry, or the timing is wrong for them. Don’t be offended or rejected. Go back to the drawing board and try again with someone else. Believe that God has the right person for you, and if that one wasn’t right, God has a better plan.
In Part 3 I’ll be talking about the four different kinds of mentors that we can all have in our lives. Some of them are there already.
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