We All Need a Mentor

Portrait of smiling African-American boy looking at father while enjoying time together in carpentry workshop
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A Diamond in the Rough

I’d like to tell you the story of Sean*

It was 2008 and my family and I had just transferred from a small church to a larger church. I began to connect  with a young man who was a graduated 8th grader and spending his first summer in the youth group.  He struggled with a lot of the same issues of pornography that I struggled with in the past, and he was brutally honest with me about his life—every aspect of his life. I did a lot of listening to him talk about his goals, dreams, successes, failures, frustrations—and this became an organic mentorship.

As Sean grew older, matured, graduated high school, began college, and initially struggled to find a major he both loved and excelled at, I was there for him. When his father got cancer and ultimately died, I was there for him. When he graduated and wanted to go on to get post-bachelor’s education, I was there for him. He is extremely satisfied with–and amazing at–what he does for a living. I still check in with him from time to time, but now it’s me checking in with him, more than him checking in with me. And although I miss him dearly, I realize that he no longer needs to depend upon that relationship as much. The mentoring relationship has worked!

It’s important to note that I have sought out and am presently receiving mentoring from some as well. This issue of mentoring is not something that is specific to a certain age and stage of life. Being a Christian and having access to the Holy Spirit does not negate the fact that we all need at least one other person to make it through this life.

“Walk with the wise and become wise; associate with fools and get in trouble” (Proverbs 13:20, NLT). This wisdom is timeless and correct, and I’m definitely not advocating that you spend any of your time around people who are foolish or evil. Not at all!

In the Old Testament book of 1 Kings 12: 1-20 the story is found of Rehoboam, Solomon’s son; when faced with a significant challenge, he had the opportunity to treat the people in his kingdom in a different manner—better–than his father had before. And, before he made this critical decision, he asked for the opinions of both: his father’s friends and his friends, however, he chose to listen to the opinions of only those who were like him. He didn’t consider any alternative perspectives or attitudes.

Because of this, his people suffered, and they ultimately revolted and killed the person in charge of the forced labor. What’s the take-away here? You could lose a lot in life if you only have a narrow perspective. The wider your perspective on an issue, the clearer you can see the problems—and, by extension, the solutions.

So how can you ensure that you make wise decisions? The answer is simple but it’s not easy: mentoring!

What is Mentoring?

Mentoring is basically someone who is focused on helping you reach your goals, not their goals or plans or hidden agendas.
A report from the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services (1998) reported that youth are protected from violence when they have mentors (who provide career role-modeling). Mentoring has received much attention recently. A mentor is someone who is willing to develop a relationship and be a resource to another person. This certainly applies to youth and preventing dangerous behaviors. Some measurable values in mentoring have been clearly demonstrated in several different studies.

The U.S. Dept. of Justice reports research that was conducted to identify the value of mentoring relationships (Big Brothers and Sisters of America, 1992). Their findings demonstrated that mentored youth are:

• 46% less likely to initiate drug use (70% less likely if they were of a minority race)
• 27% less likely to initiate alcohol use
• 53 % less likely to skip school
• 37% less likely to skip class
• Greater than 30% less likely to hit someone
• More confident in their school work
• Got along better with their family
The California Mentor Foundation (2000) reports that of 57,000 mentored youth:
• 98.4% stayed in school
• 85.25% did not use drugs
• 97.9% did not become a teen parent
• 98.2% did not join a gang

Christian Mentoring?

You might be surprised to know that the Bible has a lot to say about mentoring—both in the Old and New Testaments.
Here’s just a sampling of mentoring relationships in the Old Testament.

  • Moses was mentored by Jethro, his father-in-law. In Exodus 18, Moses was having a difficult time judging everybody and Jethro came alongside and counseled him on how best Moses could reach his goals, not Jethro’s goals. Moses then turned around and mentored Joshua (Ex. 17).
  • Elijah mentored Elisha (1 Kings 19:19-21).
  • Eli mentored Samuel (1 Samuel 3:1-21).
  • In the New Testament, Jesus mentored His twelve disciples.
  • Saul/Paul was mentored by Barnabus (Acts 11; 13:1-3). God send Barnabus to encourage and befriend Saul. Paul then mentored Timothy (Acts 16:1-5; 1 Tim. 1:1, 2; 2 Tim. 1:1-6; 10-17), and Titus (Titus 2).
  • The “power couple” Aquila and  Priscilla and the training of Appollos (Acts 18: 18-28).

Misconceptions About Mentoring

1. Mentors are at least 83 years old.

I’d advise you to ignore age when selecting a mentor. Just look for a person whom you respect and like a lot, and from whom you want to learn. Younger protégés look at mentors as “older,” but mentors look at protégés over 30 simply as “adult.” As a protégé, you may be constantly aware of the age difference. If you are over 30, your mentor probably sees you as a young adult friend. The relationship is adult to adult, not adult to child.

2. Mentors must be perfect!

The fact is, protégés don’t expect a mentor to be perfect—or to share intimate or gory details about their past failures. This may be the reason why so many hesitate to become mentors. The bottom line is, mentors are not perfect, and they don’t need to be.

3. Mentors must have all the answers.

The same logic applies. Mentors are human. They do not have all the answers. They never will have all the answers. Fundamentally, a mentor connects a protégé to resources: his personal network, appropriate seminars, libraries, helpful videos, audio tapes and books, and even support groups.  S/he is simply a connector to many resources that the protégé needs during the growth process. As a mentor, your attitude should be, “I’m here to help you, and I’ll do what I can.”

4. The mentoring process involves a curriculum the mentor needs to teach a protégé.

Believe me, no such curriculum exists. The mentoring process is unique to each protégé. Learning is based on the protégé’s agenda, priorities, questions, and needs — not on the mentor’s preset program. Within a trust relationship, protégés are able to ask questions they would never feel comfortable asking most people. They learn best when their need to know is greatest. Therefore, the single most teachable moment of any protégé’s life is the few seconds immediately following a sincere question. No curriculum, checklist or theory could replace a mentor’s life experience and compassion in such a teachable moment.

5. A mentor’s focus is holding a protégé accountable.

My observation is that many people focus on accountability for one of two reasons: they enjoy holding other people accountable but do not particularly want to be held accountable, or they lack self-control and try to put that responsibility in someone else’s hands. Obviously, both of these motivations are unhealthy and would be detrimental to a mentoring relationship. Accountability should not be the focus of the mentoring relationship. The focus should be supporting, strengthening, and encouraging.

How to Begin the Process

If you are interested in searching for a mentor, the first and most important thing to do is to begin to pray intently about it. God will bring you to the right person, but you must take the first step and ask Him.
Additionally, it’s a great idea to ask several friends and family who know you well, care about you, and who will be honest. Ask them what type of person do they think would be a good fit for you.

What to Look for in a Mentor

The following checklist is a rather detailed, point-by-point list to help you find the ideal mentor for you. But even before you start reading, let me suggest that what you’re really looking for is a person that you know cares for you, believes in you, and naturally encourages you. A good mentor is a person you enjoy being with, who has more experience than you have, and who would be happy to help you win in life. If you already have that person in mind, this checklist will only confirm your intuitive guess that this person would make a great mentor.

The checklist is also helpful if you have two or three mentors to consider, but cannot determine which one you will ask. The mentoring checklist can bring out a few fine points that may help you make your final decision.
Before you choose a mentor, check to see if s/he has these qualities:

Your Ideal Mentor Is…

1. Honest With You
2. A Model for You
3. Deeply Committed to You
4. Open and Transparent
5. A Natural Teacher
6. One Who Believes in Your Potential
7. One Who Can Help You Define Your Dream and a Plan to Turn Your Dream into Reality
8. Successful in Your Eyes
9. Open to Learning From You, As Well As Teaching You
10. Willing to Stay Primarily on Your Agenda, Not Her/His Own

Word to the Mentors

Mentoring in Christianity—specifically in Christian ministry leadership–is important because your mentees may be gifted by God, but they are inexperienced in life and ministry, and need your help in hearing, interpreting God’s voice, call, and will, and effectively living the Christian life, in order to have them mature—not just as a leader, but—as a Christian and as a whole person! The fact is that this is a great need within the Christian church and it needs to happen with much more frequency and intensity.

As you search for a mentor, in all of your analysis, be careful not to forget the simple truth that what you’re really looking for is a person who you know cares for you, believes in you, and encourages you. A good mentor is a person who you naturally enjoy being with, who has more experience than you have (in your specific field of study, or in life because they’re older than you), who would be happy to help you win in life, to help you grow in sensitive areas most other friends simply “put up with” on a day to day basis. If you have found this person you have found a mentor.

*Name changed to protect privacy.

Learning More about Mentoring

Resources:

100 Black Men of America

Big Brothers Big Sisters

Mentoring Kings

U.S. Dream Academy

Mentoring.org

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