“Dude, why can’t you live around here,” she said flippantly. “I need a mentor.” She said it as if she were joking. And in that moment I saw a spark of myself reflected in her.
Not my current self but my 20-year-old self, filled with passion to do ministry and a hunger to learn, but held back by my own insecurities and fear. I wanted to be a worship leader, a pastor, anything—and I wanted someone to pour into me. I needed someone to look at me and say that they believed in me.
I was not the star of the class in Bible college. I was not the kid that everyone looked at and said, “Ah, that one. She will do big things.” I was the awkward one, the one who tried too hard or didn’t always get it. But I had something boiling inside me that wanted to change a small piece of the world. And I felt like no one could see me.
So when she jokingly tossed her comment my way, I saw in her what I had felt in myself. A passion begging to be directed. A kid raised in church with deep questions about her own beliefs. A girl who needed someone to say, “I pick you. I believe in you.”
I told her I would mentor her if she would join me on some of my itineration trips. She started joining me on my four-hour drives and learned to set up my missionary table. We have had hours-long conversations about everything from dating to leading worship to any touchy social issue of the day. And I have enjoyed every second of it.
I am by no means an expert in mentoring. Not yet 30 (for another month anyway) and much less experienced than other women she could have found. But when you see a bit of your former self reflected in someone who is on the same path you have walked, you offer to hold their hand. You teach them the lessons you yourself have learned. You hope and pray that by the time they get to where you are, they are ready to launch further than you will.
The spiritual leaders in my life, from a young age, encouraged everyone to have a Paul, a Timothy, and a Barnabas. We all need someone in our lives who is showing us the ropes, fielding our tough questions, and providing accountability for us. And we all need someone for whom we can do the same.
Mentoring is a selfless act. It’s walking with someone through the lessons you’ve already learned. It’s sometimes inconvenient. It’s love in action. It’s giving someone a soft place to fall for their mistakes and letting them take all the victory for their successes. It’s intentionally investing in someone’s life so that they can stand on your shoulders to reach higher than you did.
So here are a few lessons learned from the years I’ve been in mentoring relationships with girls:
Pray that God would send someone into your life that you can pour into.
When I first encountered the concept of mentorship, I began praying that God would send me someone to mentor. And He did. Crazy how that works. It was a seamless transition into that relationship and it was God-ordained from the beginning.
Keep your eyes open for people you can mentor. It might be a chance encounter or someone you already have a relationship with.
The girl I mention in this post? She tossed the ball at me and I caught it. I could easily have blown by it but I was watching for the opportunity.
Make sure you both understand the expectations.
When I start a mentoring relationship I like to ask them what they are expecting me to be for them. I respond to this by letting them know what I will expect of them. This varies greatly with age and the mentoring situation. Will you go through books together? Pray together? Will you meet regularly?
The expectation-setting conversation is a great time for this. How often will you meet? Is it okay for them to interrupt your family time? What days are off-limits? Are there areas of their life in which they are not looking for your leadership?
Be a speaker of truth in their life.
We <40s are used to being catered to and told lots of fluffy stuff. We need someone to give us the truth, whether it’s comfortable or not. Be that person for your mentee. Speak truth, correct in love, and don’t be afraid to tell them what they need to hear even if it’s not what they want to hear—or even what you really want to say.
Don’t be afraid to say no to a potential mentee.
There have been girls who have come to me and asked me to mentor them when I didn’t sense a connection with them. In these cases I would usually offer something else, such as meeting on a regular, but infrequent basis to talk about their lives. If I don’t feel that I am the right fit as a choice of mentor, I am honest with them to that end. You can’t mentor everyone, so choose the ones with whom God is connecting your spirit.
While praying for one of “my girls” years ago, I flipped to this verse and it resounded in my spirit: “For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? Indeed, you are our glory and joy” (1 Thessalonians 2:19-20). There is truly no greater joy than seeing a spiritual daughter or son put things into action as a result of your influence. Let’s take the things God has taught us and the truths He’s spoken to us and entrust them to the next generation just as they were first entrusted to us.