by Maribeth Herr
This article first appeared in the September/October 2014 print edition of Daughters of Promise.
She noticed me first. I knew she was a visitor from Maine picking up my best friend from school. I was shocked that someone her age would be interested in someone as young as me. She didn’t even know me very well but her genuine interest in who I was and how I was doing intrigued me. She was twenty, I was fifteen. A year later, she moved to my area when my life got a little more complicated as I struggled with peer relationships. She was one of the key people in my life at that time that helped me follow God instead of my heart. I will be eternally grateful for her mentoring. I’ve heard another friend ask, “Will the course of [girls’] future be different if just one person takes a personal interest in their lives and truly cares about them and affirms them? I think it could be.”
We see the call of mentoring on our lives when we look at the life Jesus lived. He allowed many to be close and share life with Him. Mentoring is integral to building God’s kingdom through the body of Christ. If we read what is recorded about Jesus’ life here on earth, we notice Him spending hours speaking into the lives of others. He spent time addressing the crowds in dynamic ways but it was often when He got alone with His disciples that the truth transformed their hearts.
Just as Jesus shared the wisdom imparted to Him by His Father, we are called to share what God has revealed to us through our relationship with Him. If you are following Jesus, you have something others need. We are not required to learn all our lessons from our own lives. We experience God through other people, especially through their stories. You do not have to look far to realize people all around you struggle, often with the same questions and issues you’ve faced before or will face in the future. This is why mentoring is a serious call on our lives and not just something that is another good thing we can do. Jesus commanded us to follow His example and so have others before us.
[Older women] are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled…” (Titus 2:4-5, ESV)
This passage answers part of why we are all called to serve as mentors; the way we behave as women matters. The younger women are watching and learning from our conduct and our conduct either honors or insults God’s Word. We need to be more intentional than just living our lives to be seen by others. You can impress by living, but walking alongside impacts.
“Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us” (Titus 2:7-8, ESV).
Becoming a mentor first involves taking a good look in the mirror. “Am I qualified?” can be a scary, but necessary question to ask yourself. There will always be things to learn, and we will never “fully arrive”, but there are ways we can prepare ourselves to serve faithfully in the role of godly mentor.
First, be connected to the Holy Spirit who is our Counselor. The Truth living in our lives and doing a work in our hearts prepares us to live out the truth in an accurate, though not perfect way. This implies that we are not the Source of truth but we belong in a partnership with the Holy Spirit as we walk alongside others. This means we learn to recognize His voice and respond quickly. It is so important to Jesus that we learn to know Him and His ways through His Word. We cannot be products of another person’s wisdom about the Word but need to make things our own while walking with others. Prayer is a direct connection to the Father. You will receive communion with God through speaking with Him. Once you know His heart, then He will open your eyes and give you what you need in order to pour into the lives of others. Once you begin mentoring, younger women will get a glimpse of your prayer life as you share your spiritual journeys. Your connection with God will be an example for those you are impacting.
Ask to be made selfless. When investing in younger girls, I know I often struggle by replacing my love for Jesus and call to follow Him with good things; for instance, the blessings I receive from following Him. This struggle allows God to enable us to walk in humility. We can’t muster up the perfect motives. Humility requires radical obedience which affects how we relate to others. We are to take those around us to Jesus, and trust them to Him, not lead them to ourselves. God wants us to encourage others to become more dependent on Him. “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30, ESV).
Be vulnerable and authentic. You will only be able to mentor out of who you are. Often life lessons come through learning from our own mistakes. Sharing our failures with the younger generation helps us be real and allows them to realize there is hope even in the face of failure. It brings us down to their level; humans who struggle to produce an accurate picture of the Father. Once we find freedom in our lives, we are called to share what we have learned. You may become one of the first authentic people a younger woman has had walk beside her. It is important that our beliefs match up with our lifestyle in order for God to receive glory. If you are not you, walking closely with another will only point them towards something that is false. God is offering you grace to offer what you can: your time, your laughter, your skills, your experience, your wisdom, your hugs, and your tears.
In order to share stories of God’s faithfulness we must first be faithful. We need to learn from God how to step out boldly and confidently into things we cannot see or make out clearly. We need to grow in confidence of who Jesus is for us. Faith needs to become a daily habit. When we experience God’s faithfulness first hand, then we can encourage others to grow in faith. Faith is made possible if followed by the call to be obedient. Circumstances affect us but they should not interfere with our ability to recognize the Spirit’s voice and take action based on what we hear. Our life will speak for God when others see us continuing to walk in obedience.
Finally, we must be accountable to those around us. You are not qualified to guide others if you are not willing to be guided by the body of Christ. The need for accountability is always present, but especially so when others are coming needing guidance. Pride says, “I can help her through this deep pain myself. I have all I need to be a mentor.” There will be ways God equipped you well to mentor but there will always be things that are outside of your scope of experience.
We must display responsibility to those God has placed in our lives on purpose. In fact, mentoring begins within our own families. Our own sisters should receive priority over other young women in our lives. That may mean leaving the door unlocked so they can talk if they need to or it may be including them in some of your social activities. Our authenticity is proved when we reach those inside our home.
So by now you may be asking the question, “Am I old enough?” All of us who are walking with Jesus have something to offer to others. Young women should not shy away from mentoring because of their age. You cannot wait to begin mentoring until you reach the perfect age or you will never become a mentor.
However, there are limitations to age. A younger mentor will be unable to offer the depth or quantity of life experiences that someone older has under her belt, but that should not keep her from offering what she has experienced. Often younger women can reach out to those under them with greater ease because of time untouched by the responsibilities of an older person. There is energy in a younger mentor that the older generations cannot match. So how close to my age can the younger girl be? Most recommend five years. I find for myself that the larger the age gap, the more mentor separates itself from peer. You cannot mentor a peer. The majority of women reach a higher capacity to mentor in their mid-twenties. By then she’s had time to figure out more of who God is and what her response is to Him. Remember, we must allow God to refine us before we can be used by Him to reach others.
So when God has commanded and equipped, where do I start? One must first be approachable and available to those whom God brings into your life. When Mary approached Elizabeth with news of her pregnancy, she received a selfless welcome from a woman whom God had also called for His glory. Swing open the door of communication with those in your life and offer your time if they want it. Making yourself available communicates that you care. God may call you to take a step further and prompt you go find a need in her life. When a younger woman does approach you, whether officially or informally, God will confirm to you how He wants you to respond.
Be a safe person. Ask God to develop you into a trustworthy person. Confidentiality really matters in mentoring. If trust is violated or never established, there are consequences that can have far reaching effects on a person’s spiritual journey. Safety provides a younger woman with confidence in presenting her need to be heard and validated with the hope of grace and guidance.
There is always a significant need for a mentor to be a listener. Processing happens before input. We are called to listen, and not just to their words, but to their heart. It is a gift to hear a heart. The more we listen, the more we understand, and the more effectively we can minister the way Jesus desires us to. Listening involves being able to ask good questions that help the younger woman process well. Questions that are well framed can help her see what is really going on or point to what God wants to reveal to her.
Be a comforter. One way love is expressed to others is through comfort. People in pain need vast amounts of energy just to survive. If we love with comfort, we can help them experience the way God desires to comfort them in their pain. Love experienced through the body of Christ brings the healing God wants to offer that person.
Everyone knows flattery is wrong, but how many understand how to be an encourager? Speaking words of affirmation to someone who is growing in their walk with God is powerful. As mentors, we are called to bring a God-honoring confidence into their lives so they can face the world. There is always good in someone’s heart, so tell her. Remind her of where she has been and how she has grown. God asks you to help her see herself through His eyes. Encouragement prepares the way to speak the truth in love. “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing” (1 Thessalonians 5:11, ESV).
Be truthful. Once God’s love is present, there is relational trust for the truth to be spoken. God’s love motivates us to walk closer to Him. Guilt on the other hand is devastating. When a younger woman shares her true heart, the responsibility to respond like Jesus is great. The goal is not to fix them but to partner with the Holy Spirit as He transforms their lives day by day.
If you choose to walk along side another, be committed. God never invites us to walk with Him and then forgets to follow through. Being a mentor means we take responsibility to follow up and follow through. If she asked for prayer, write a reminder down to call her later. Ask how she’s doing next time you cross paths. Honor her for letting you see her.
Sometimes God just wants us to answer with a “yes” and stop stalling on the “why” or “how” questions. Look around you. The majority of mentoring happens just by modeling. Who is in your life now? Are there relationships that just need a little more intentionality on your end? Be the initiator. Befriend someone you had not noticed before. Look at your schedule. You would be surprised how many opportunities appear when you consider just asking someone to join you in your daily living. Invite your younger sister to go shopping with you. Call up your peers. Maybe an outing to the park could be planned with the girls in the youth group. When is the last time you have gotten down on the floor and colored a picture with a little girl? Do you have the gift of writing? God can use your blog to mentor others. When I was in high school, we had a big sister little sister program. That is mentoring. So is that one night a week you spend with inner city kids. Mentoring can also take a more formal approach. Recently I observed an older man studying the book of Mark with boys in their early teens in a coffee shop. I’ve spent many hours on my mentor’s couch with a cup of tea. There may be someone in your Sunday school class you do not realize you are mentoring. There is so much room for creativity, style, and Spirit-inspiration when it comes to mentoring.
There is blessing in mentoring as well as being mentored, as testified to by these women serving as mentors within the Anabaptist community: “It was a very rewarding experience and it really makes the mentor do some soul-searching of her own in order to be able to lead well. That was probably one of my bigger challenges but what made it so good.” “I want to mentor those younger than me, because I long for them to have someone walk alongside of them as they ‘figure out’ life and face the struggles and challenges of life. I know how much it’s helped me to have the encouragement and support of other women, and I long to offer that to those younger than me.” “The interaction with the young ladies is satisfying to me. It is good to give out of what I have learned; that is gratifying when someone wants to hear and is benefited.”
You have what it takes: God, life experience, memories of joy and pain, and the desire to follow God in the ways He has revealed. Everyone has the time to mentor. Mentoring can be a lifetime friendship, a season of shared experiences, or a one-time encounter. You are the only one who can responsibly use your time to honor God. Be intentional. God wants to use your story to redeem others and draw you closer to Himself.