The following article has been adapted from chapter 8 of Cultivate: Forming the Emerging Generation through Life-on-Life Mentoring by Jeff Myers with Paul and Paige Gutacker.
Christians of all ages need mentors. You may feel called to step up and mentor someone in your church, school, small group, or workplace but do not know where to start.
This article lays out the first step. Preparation.
Mentoring relationships are vital to success in life, but that doesn’t mean that people automatically know how to successfully conduct them.
Here are two questions to ask as you prepare to be a mentor:
Is my heart in it?
Life-on-life mentoring is a matter of the heart. Norman Willis states,
The only way the discipleship process can work is if the hearts of the disciple and the discipler are given to each other. Without hearts given to each other, discipleship can very easily become a means of control or manipulation. But when hearts are given to each other, the process is perceived as training.
If your heart isn’t in it, you’ll find it difficult to maintain relationships for more than just brief periods. Not all mentoring relationships last a long time or maintain a sustained level of intensity, but a study done by Public/Private Ventures shows that mentoring relationships of six months or more work best.113 This minimum length is especially important with at-risk adolescents, who need to be assured that you aren’t going to abandon them as so many other adults have done. And the only way they can be assured of that is if your heart is obviously in it.
Here are some tough questions to ask yourself:
- Do I really want to mentor students, or am I just doing it because I feel that I must?
- Will I be able to develop relationships that are focused on affirmation and encouragement rather than improved performance?
- Am I willing to commit to life-on-life mentoring relationships for the long term?
Do I have the maturity?
Juergen Kneifel, president of Mission2Mentor, says:
To begin mentoring you must have a self-awareness of your own maturity. Nobody has ever actually arrived as a perfect mentor, but you must know yourself, and your capacity to form and maintain life-on-life relationships.
Kneifel, who formerly served as the Director of Marketing and Recruitment with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Puget Sound, noted from his experience that approximately 8% of volunteer applicants were not selected to be matched due to immaturity. “In the mentoring field,” Kneifel said, “there is a strong belief that immature mentors will do more harm than good.”115 Immature mentors can do harm in several ways by: (1) not taking the relationship seriously, (2) not committing the time or emotional space needed to maintain a strong relationship, or (3) coming to the relationship with a self-serving agenda. The mature mentor approaches a relationship with commitment, humility, a willingness to listen, and a desire for influence rather than control.
Ask yourself these questions as you assess your own maturity:
- Am I willing to accept the fact that I don’t have all of the answers?
- Am I interested in life-on-life mentoring because I want a better way to control students, or because I genuinely want to see God’s work be done in their lives?
- Am I willing to be quick to listen and slow to speak? (James 1:19)
At this point, some readers may be thinking, “I’m not sure if I have the maturity – I have real struggles in some areas. Is there ever a point at which my own struggles disqualify me from being a mentor?” The answer is both yes and no. Yes, if your struggle isn’t fully in the past but is on-going and may stand in the way of you being a healthy influence. Such struggles might include:
- On-going struggles with sexual issues such as pornography or lack of sexual purity.
- Difficulty healing from having been sexually abused.
- Substance abuse or other undisciplined behavior that would serve as a poor example.
- Inability to work through relationship difficulties.
- Uncontrolled anger.
- A rebellious attitude toward authority.
If any of these are present concerns for you (or if another specific concern has just popped into your mind), we strongly recommend that you work with a wise mentor or counselor before taking on the responsibility of mentoring students. The bottom line is that everyone is influencing all the time – the issue is whether you should seek a greater personal influence, and we believe there are certain situations in which a person should not.
But just as we must answer the question about disqualification with a “yes” in some circumstances, we can also answer it with a “no” in others because, in Jesus Christ, there is forgiveness of sins. Scripture teaches that the plague of sin affecting all human beings annihilates our ability to stand righteously before a just and holy God. The Apostle Paul makes this point clear, but also declares the hope we have of being declared righteous through Jesus Christ:
Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)
This is fantastically good news! It gives genuine hope that we can, as one of Jeff’s mentors puts it, “Make our mess our message.”