Thursday, July 07, 2011

What Does a Mentor Do?

Over the last several months, one topic we have highlighted as a church is mentoring. I am starting to realize that we may have encouraged people to find and become mentors without ever defining what a mentor actually does.

Culturally, we have many good examples of mentoring programs. The system set up by Big Brothers and Big Sisters comes to mind: a caring adult who spends time with a needy child, teaching them valuable lessons and skills as they do fun things together. In general, this might be our perception of a mentor: take what I know and pass it on to someone else. While this definition might be useful in many scenarios, this is not actually what a spiritual mentor seeks to do. Let me tell you how I discovered a better model for mentoring.

Several years ago, I was left needing to find a new mentor when my then-current mentor took a new job. It was at this time that I sought out another pastor by the name of Tim Barton. Tim had always impressed me with his wisdom and depth; he seemed to me to be someone who walked closely with God. I believed I could learn a great deal from him.

Tim and I began to meet about every 6 weeks. My experience in these meetings was almost always the same, and forms the real content of what I want to share with you as you consider being a mentor. When Tim and I met, he would begin asking me questions about life and faith. As I talked, Tim would listen intently and nod. After I would finish, Tim would proceed to ask more questions. He would at times interject a thought or a comment, but more often than not, he would only summarize or clarify what I had already said. And then he would ask more questions. I would talk some more until our time was up, at which point we would pray and head our separate ways.

I inevitably walked away from these encounters disappointed. I would feel that I had shared my heart in order that Tim could then tell me what to do and give me some great advice. Repeatedly, however, Tim failed to share much advice at all! I would be left thinking, "What in the world is the point of this? If all that happens when we meet is me talking, I can do that by myself!" Honestly, I would feel jilted, as if Tim was holding back from really helping.

But then I started to realize what was happening in these meetings. Rather than answering my questions for me, Tim was helping me find my own answers by looking at what God was doing. Tim asked questions in order to discern where I was at, and where God was at work. The more I talked and the more Tim listened, the answers or ideas I most needed seemed to surface on their own. These conclusions always meant more and stayed with me longer because they had come from my life and my heart. When others give us pat answer or advice, we tend to forget. When God reveals truth to our own heart, we cannot help but be changed.

So this, in my mind, is what a spiritual mentor does. This is something I believe you could do. Sit with another and listen to their story. Listen and ask, listen and ask, listen and ask until you start to discern where God is at work. And then, when necessary, speak a few words to clarify or encourage. The truth is, the person you are mentoring doesn’t need more of you. They need more of God. Your job is to help them down that path.

Here are a few good questions to ask as you seek to mentor in this fashion:

What do you think God is trying to teach you in this situation?

Where have you seen God at work in your life recently?

What Scripture passages has the Spirit brought to mind lately?

When you pray, what do you find yourself praying about the most this week?

How does your recent experience fit with other ways God has shown up in your life in the past?

When you mentor someone, always keep in mind these are never one-on-one meetings. It is always three, and your role is to help the other person discover what God, the third person, is saying.

Blessings! Nick

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