It’s easy to confuse mentoring and friendship. Friendships are essential connections important to our sense of well-being. People need friends. Times with friends bring laughter, listening ears, and encouragement. As friends do things together, their conversation may lead to an important question and an opportunity for biblical guidance. But the conversation often goes no deeper than weather and sports and kids. Friendly advice may be offered, but rarely are friends intentional about moving us toward maturity in Christ.
Mentoring relationships can sometimes get stuck on the friendship level. People spend time together, tell each other about their lives, and encourage each other, but there is no spiritual movement. People often learn best through sharing life experiences, but mentoring is more than telling someone about your life. Mentoring is a relationship with a purpose. Without purpose, the relationship can meander aimlessly, becoming little more than friends “hanging out.”
Mentoring is more than friendship or giving advice. Our purpose is to help people follow Christ and be transformed into His image. Intentionality in the relationship allows us to move in this direction.
Mentoring that appeals to postmodern men and women starts with careful listening. Their world of connection-through-technology creates hunger for a patient, wise listener. When busy schedules rule the day, listening may seem like a waste of time. On the contrary, listening is a powerful mentoring tool. When you listen carefully to your mentee, trust is built and he/she feels accepted, valued, and understood. You begin to see them, and their heart begins to open to you. A mentee is unlikely to receive your input until they feel heard and understood. “I joined a mentoring program but dropped out after two months,” revealed a young woman. “My mentor kept telling me what to do, but she didn’t even know me.”
Develop Quality Conversation
An intentional mentor facilitates quality conversations. As you listen with purpose, eventually guide the conversation beyond what happened and who did what. Ask good questions that bring out what is going on inside your mentee. Questions like, what do you dislike about this situation? What do you dislike about yourself in this situation? What are you confused or upset about? Where do you need help? How do you want to change? What do you sense God wants you to do? Make no assumptions and give no advice at this point; only listen.
Good questions help you listen to your mentee’s heart and discern where they are spiritually. After they answer, summarize what you heard and let them verify the accuracy so both of you grasp their situation. When the mentee hears his/her own thinking, they begin to see the problem, and the door opens for spiritual growth. Good questions lead them to reflect, something they probably seldom have time to do, allowing them to process their life in light of God’s truth. Quality conversation takes the relationship beneath the surface and creates the depth young people crave. Their needs bubble to the surface. When this dynamic is present, they feel seen.
Discern Their Spiritual Situation
Spiritual mentoring needs to be both informal and organized. Coming from Auckland, New Zealand, which is called the “City of Sails,” I see the organized elements (such as showing up in each other’s lives, listening “fiercely,” and asking great questions) as hoisting the sails so that the informal elements (the wind of the Spirit, in an attitude of daily dependence) can hit our sails and take us to places in our relationship that we would never have dreamed.
Informal mentoring may be natural but isn’t without effort. As the mentor listens, he or she works hard to discern the other person’s place on their journey with Jesus. To do this, you must listen to the mentee, the Holy Spirit, and yourself—all at the same time. Now, that takes serious mental and spiritual effort.
As you listen to the person, be alert for unbiblical thinking, sinful or unwise behavior, harmful habits, strengths, weaknesses, gifts, knowledge of the Bible, their understanding of God. Is this mentee just starting the journey, or have they traveled the road for a while? What experiences with God does he/she bring with them? Listen for what the Spirit reveals and how He might direct the conversation. God is the one who causes growth, and He has opinions about the life of your mentee. How is He moving? You are there to help them hear and respond to God’s presence and activity in their life.
Listen to your own thoughts as well. What obstacles in their life do you observe? What comes to you from Scripture? Is there a similar experience in your life you can relate? Mentoring is a dynamic interaction between listening and discerning. This has been referred to as “wholly listening, holy listening, and holy seeing.” Mastery of this skill enables you to bring life-giving truth to your mentee and comes with practice over time. Give yourself grace and depend completely on God to work through you in the process. He will.
Use of Curriculum
As you and your mentee identify their needs, a book or Bible study could be helpful. Most men and women are open to a “study” if it relates to their current need. If you don’t know much about the subject, no problem; you can learn along with your mentee. Mutual learning creates the collaborative atmosphere they love. Remember, you are not the answer person. They chose you because they trust you and want to learn from your life, so relax. If a book is selected, be sure to discuss it together instead of “teaching” the material.
It is our opinion that mentoring should include biblical truth. God’s Word is foundational for all of life and too many postmodern lives are untouched by it. Encourage your mentee to attend a strong Bible study to complement your influence in his or her life. We find that many people already attend a Bible study and don’t want more of the same in mentoring. Nevertheless, in the mentoring relationship they are open to exploring Scripture that relates to their needs and growth goals.
Remember, the mentor is always responsible to bring God’s perspective to the table. If your mentee is not in a Bible study, you want to think about how to introduce God’s Word into your relationship. If they have never done Bible study before, it may take some time for them to value God’s Word and want to learn from it. Once your relationship is established, the two of you may decide to choose Bible study as a growth goal, and you can teach him/her how to study God’s Word, or perhaps attend a Bible study together.
Traditional approaches to mentoring led us to believe that study of prepackaged material was the best way to grow someone. Our people, especially our young people, have voted and this is not their choice. Instead, they want a mentor who listens to their lives. They hunger for truth presented in a believable format. They want to see firsthand how God works in a man or woman’s life, how to know and obey God in a messed-up world. Shared life experiences give them opportunities to connect their lives with biblical truth. If we want to draw our young people back, relationships must switch from a teaching focus to a relational focus where shared experiences are prominent.
When you make it your goal to see your mentee and respond to his or her needs, both of you experience a rewarding relationship. They grow, you grow, and God is glorified in your lives together. Isn’t this what we want? The results can be transformational when we put aside our workbooks and manuals, look into the eyes and hearts of our mentees, and begin the process of intentional listening, sharing, and loving.
Excerpted from Organic Mentoring. Copyright © 2014 by Sue Edwards and Barbara Neumann. Used by permission of Kregel Publications.