Updated: Nov 18, 2019
A man stood near a construction site where several bricklayers were working hard in the hot sun. He asked one guy, ‘What are you doing?’ The guy looked at him as though he was a sandwich short of a picnic and said ‘Duh! I’m laying bricks.’
The man moved on to a second bricklayer, asking him the same question, ‘What are you doing?’ The second guy straightened up with a satisfied smile and said ‘I’m building a wall, and doing a pretty darn good job of it, if I say so myself. I’m one of the best bricklayers in this area. These young fellas, just starting out, they’re going to take a long time to catch up to me.’
The man continued walking around the site, stopping by a third bricklayer to ask again, ‘What are you doing?’ The bricklayer looked up from his job first at, and then beyond the man, as though he saw something in the distant future the man was not yet aware of. “I’m building a cathedral for the glory of God’, he said simply, turning back with trowel in hand to lay another brick in the wall.
Mentoring is a creative art, an act of construction! Christian mentoring is working alongside the Divine Architect to build the Kingdom of God by imparting precious and powerful characteristics into other lives for the sake of a great, unseen future.
THE BIG PICTURE
True mentoring is seeing the possibilities and helping them come to pass through someone else’s life. You won’t mentor effectively unless you understand the big ‘WHY’ that undergirds all the little ‘whats’.
In many ways mentoring is an invisible act. Few people can see what is being built, especially early in the process. Even the two whose lives connect for a season have no idea of how the course of the future might be changed through their relationship; possibly bearing fruit long after both the mentor and mentee are dead and forgotten.
Mentoring isn’t for the sake of the learner, it’s for the sake of the future.
The Kingdom of God is built as one generation takes the faith, wisdom, hope, encouragement, power, experience, opportunities, love and expertise it has gained and imparts those things into the people who are rising to carry the baton into the future.
Only someone who is used to seeing beyond their own borders can mentor effectively. A mentor has learned to see not only their own task, but what lays beyond that task. It’s that which drives us to pass on what we have learned to another. It’s big picture thinking. Mentors understand the Church will go on way beyond their own lifetime, and the only way to leave a lasting legacy is to do what you can, (as David did with Solomon) to enable others to be better than you.
Big Shot Complex –
People who get stuck on the need to be the most important person in the mix are seldom able to give themselves to the learner. However, not doing so is to deny future generations the right to use everything we’ve learned and won. It all stops with us.
One of the mentor’s main responsibilities is to empower others. Mentees are not baby birds with their beaks open, crying out for morsels of your bite size wisdom. They’re human beings filled with enormous potential. A common mentoring problem is to work unconsciously to keep the mentee dependent and immature so the mentor can maintain their celebrity status.
It’s not mentoring to maintain supremacy over a group of minions. Mentoring that works produces mature leaders who become equals even though not necessarily the same ministry. Moses led as a shepherd, mentoring Joshua who was a warrior leader.
The role of a mentor is to replace herself or himself, and when the issue is leadership, the willingness to do so is vital for the ongoing work of the Kingdom. The best mentors are committed to producing disciples who will go way beyond them. Jesus exemplifies this when He says to His followers: Greater things shall you do, than I have ever done. That’s the heart of a mentor.
Inferiority Complex –
Mentoring requires placing a healthy value on your own experience, wisdom, insight and skills. If you don’t have that, you’ll not be aware of the gifts you have to pass on to others. It’s quite common for women particularly to lack confidence in this area and feel they have nothing to give. If you do that, you’re denying someone else the opportunity to grow and change.
Think about it, why would you expect someone to mentor you if you’re not mentoring someone else. Look around you and see who you feel interest in or concern for, and consider whether that feeling is actually a tug toward mentoring them in a certain area.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN A PROSPECTIVE MENTEE:
Professor Bobby Clinton talks about the FAT test.
Faithful – The Little/Big test relates to Luke 16:10. Simply put, if someone is trustworthy with little things, you can trust them with bigger things. If someone wants you to mentor them and they already consistently fall down on the smaller issues, don’t think that giving them more important things to do will make the difference. It won’t.
Available – See how they respond when you ask them to do something. I often invite people who want my input to a conference I am hosting, or ask them to read a specific book, or do something on my behalf. If they are available to do what you require, then go a step further toward mentoring them. You don’t have to make an immediate decision after they’ve asked you; you can see how they respond to a few early opportunities you give them. Mentoring is one of the many instances in which actions speak louder than words.
Teachable – Being mentored is a challenging role that requires real humility and a willingness to change. The purpose of mentoring is that your time with the mentee helps them grow and develop maturity in their life and ministry. If that’s not happening, it’s not mentoring! If a mentee is easily offended, or given to having pity parties, or in other ways attempting to force you to pay attention, they’re not ready for a mentor.
Sometimes a mentee may disagree with their mentor and needs to discuss options in a way that brings a satisfactory result for both – no problem, that’s a good thing. The mentee isn’t supposed to check their brain in at the door of the relationship, nor are they denied the right to an opinion.
However if the mentee consistently rejects the mentor’s guidance, then it’s not mentoring! Unfortunately, many would-be mentees, and I’ve had my fair share of them, are under the mistaken impression that their mentor is there to chat things over with them. What they’re really looking for is attention, not mentoring.
Sometimes people want to be mentored by someone they perceive to be important so they can be important by proxy. I can tell you now from bitter experience, it’s not going to work!
If you’ve been working with someone for a while and there’s no change, or if it’s getting worse, which happens at times, then it’s time for a frank conversation in which you can tell them that it isn’t working, which means that you’re not the right fit as their mentor. Wish them well, pray for them, but stick to the decision you made to let it go.
POSITIVE SIGNS TO LOOK FOR:
Readiness to be mentored: This is much bigger than it sounds. No matter how much potential and gifting the mentee has, if they’re not ready to learn, they won’t, and the result will be frustration and confusion.
Self Direction: A mentor needs to take an active role in their own learning. Being mentored can be quite difficult and mentees need to take responsibility to respond to the mentoring process using initiative and willingness to serve.
Mutual attraction: aka – chemistry. If you’re not drawn to the person who has asked you to mentor them, there’s no point in beginning.
In making the decision to mentor, here are some points to consider –
Discuss mutual expectations – What do they mean by mentoring? What do you mean by mentoring? If you don’t have the same idea, you’re on the road to disappointment and disillusionment.
Set a time frame – 3 months, 6 months, 2 years – I would advocate beginning with something like 6 months. That will give you a chance to get to know each other but not so long that you’re tied to a relationship that isn’t working.
The mentor isn’t God – You don’t have to have all the answers to be a mentor, and if you don’t know what to do in a situation, acknowledge that and commit to pray and also to ask advice on behalf of the person, or be willing to refer them on.
NEVER, NEVER, NEVER, NEVER, NEVER (am I making this point clear?) NEVER – Promise someone that you will keep what they are about to say a secret. By that I don’t mean break confidentialities, because most things people say can easily be kept confidential. However, if they tell you about child molesting or abuse or suicidal thoughts, or something of that nature, you cannot keep that a secret. You’re not a counsellor, you’re a mentor and there’s a big difference. Tell them at the outset that you intend to keep everything confidential but that you retain the right to break that if something is said that is potentially dangerous to them or someone else.
Just as I was finishing this article, I saw this quote that says it all:
“The final kingdom, when it comes, will be the free gift of God, a massive act of grace and new creation. But we are called to build for the kingdom. Like craftsmen working on a great cathedral, we have each been given instructions about the particular stone we are to spend our lives carving, without knowing or being able to guess where it will take its place within the grand design. We are assured, by the words of Paul and by Jesus’s resurrection as the launch of that new creation, that the work we do is not in vain.”~N. T. Wright, from Surprised by Scripture
And so it is with mentoring. Messy as it so often seems, it will not be in vain. We’re building a Kingdom, using our lives as the tools to shape and develop all that it can be.
In Part 5 we will be talking about being mentored by your peers.