by Natasha Sistrunk Robinson
For me, mentoring started when I walked out the gate of my college campus and knocked on her door. That’s when Mary welcomed me into her heart and her home. She taught me how to love Jesus, study his Word, and walk in the Way. Then she prepared me to do the same for others. As a small group leader, Marine Corps officer, seminary lecturer, consultant, and parent, I have entered into many mentoring relationships over the years. I have been blessed by those who committed to mentoring me, and have, in turn, mentored others at various stages of their life or leadership journey. As someone who has written and coached extensively on mentoring, the question I’m most often asked is, “How do I find a mentor?”
This question meets a basic need and that’s why we need to ask. We all need companionship and wise spiritual counsel on this journey called life. From the beginning, God said it was not good for humans to be alone. The presence of mentors in our lives meets critical emotional, physical, and spiritual needs. The primary way we connect with mentors is by asking—either we ask someone to mentor us or they ask to become our mentor.
Asking may be difficult, but it is part of God’s pattern for us. When the disciples wanted to know how to pray, they asked Jesus (Luke 11:1). Jesus taught and modeled for his disciples the importance of asking the Father to meet our needs.
Asking can be complicated, too: When James was writing a letter to the early Christians, he warned them that sometimes they don’t get what they ask for because they ask with the wrong motives (James 4:3).
We need a basic understanding of mentoring for God’s kingdom purposes before making or considering an ask. Let’s take a look:
What is a mentor? Or mentoring?
Mentoring is a trusted partnership where people share wisdom that fosters spiritual growth and leads to transformation as mentors and mentees grow in their love of Christ, knowledge of self, and love of others.
What I remember most about my years with Mary, is that she loved Jesus and she loved the Word. I grew to love the Word because I watched it change and shape Mary’s heart first. She was committed to Christ, and he continued to transform her life. She was discipling me. I was her student and she was my spiritual mother. Yet ultimately, I was growing and being transformed because I was being discipled by and growing more in love with Jesus. I was affirming my identity in him, and learning how to love others well.
How do you find a mentor?
We need different types of mentors as we grow and mature on our life and faith journey. When a child is testing their boundaries or trying out for sports teams, they need mentoring. When a woman enters college or becomes a new wife or mother, she needs mentoring. When she is entering a new career field, deciding about missions, or seeking a promotion, she needs mentoring. We need mentoring whenever there are life transitions and we are asking for God’s help to sustain us through these changes.
This is where the asking comes in. Our first ask is of Jesus—our best mentor and teacher—praying for a mentor who will walk beside us to model the way and point us to himself. Asking, listening to God, and prayerfully waiting are good spiritual practices when we are seeking a mentor.
We can also specifically ask God to help us sort through our motives and expectations. We may need different mentors for different reasons, and that’s why James’ counsel to check our motives is important. Mentors are not saviors or deliverers. Mentors cannot be Jesus to you. We are all mere mortals in need of a Savior. This is important to remember so we do not have unrealistic expectations or unhealthy, codependent mentoring relationships.
What does a healthy mentoring relationship look like?
When we ask for or agree to mentor, we want to ensure that the relationship is healthy. Mentoring relationships are cultivated over time when people mutually commit to each other as they commit to Christ, sharing and creating safe and loving spaces for learning and growing together. Some mentoring relationships may last for a lifetime, and others only for a season or specific situation. Regardless of the timeframe, it is wise to think about the following things when asking:
• Define the relationship: What will this mentoring relationship look like? How often will we meet? (When I asked Stefini to mentor me, I was very specific with my ask. I said, “Stefini, can we meet every other week? I would love for you to teach me how to pray the scriptures.”)
• Set clear boundaries: When and how is it appropriate to reach out and connect? When are you not available?
• Set clear expectations: What are we doing together? Are we saying and understanding the same things?
Mentoring is a committed relationship that is sustained through to presence (literally showing up for people), living a disciplined life (by following Jesus), pursuing God’s mission (by mentoring and multiplying), fostering a community, and loving well. May it be so with us.
Natasha Sistrunk Robinson is the author of Mentor for Life: Finding Purpose through Intentional Discipleship and its accompanying leader’s training manual, the Hope for Us (Nicene Creed) Bible study, and the new release, A Sojourner’s Truth book. She is the visionary founder and chairperson of Leadership LINKS, Inc. and co-founder of the SheGrows Conference, a conference for mentoring across cultural and generations. Connect with Natasha: website, blog, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube.