My son—it is a phrase Paul used no less than eight times in his epistles, sometimes with an adjective inserted: “My dearly beloved son” or “Mine own son.”
The expression gives us a glimpse into the closeness of relationship Paul shared with Timothy and Titus, in particular. He poured himself into their lives, and they received his mentoring and instruction.
I’m thankful for the mentors the Lord has given me over the years, including men like Dr. Don Sisk, who continues to be a trusted source of counsel and spiritual help. Additionally, I’ve been thankful for the people the Lord has given me the privilege to invest in and mentor.
Like any other relationship, a mentoring relationship can be something you take for granted, or it can be something you treasure and through which you learn and grow.
So how do you get the most out of a mentoring relationship?
1. Realize you need a mentor. Everyone needs a mentor, but not everyone wants one. Many people want discussion, but not instruction; they want to push back, but they don’t want to be pushed.
No one knows everything, and most of us know less than we think we know. Be humble enough to seek out those who are wiser and more experienced than you, and welcome their insight, instruction, challenge, and correction.
2. Choose a ministry mentor of like faith and practice. We all learn from a wide variety of people in a variety of venues (books, podcasts, etc.) and with varying levels of influence. But when it comes to someone you would think of as a mentor in ministry, you want to choose someone who is further along on the same road you want to go.
3. Allow your pastor to be a cherished mentor in your life. Even if you spend more time with others than you do with your pastor, give him the entrance into your life as a mentor. As a pastor, I can tell you that I have a care and burden no one else can have for those I am privileged to undershepherd. So, although there may be other mentors and will certainly be other influences in your life, remember that God has placed your pastor in your life, and value his perspective and influence.
4. Do not allow internet or social media influence to dominate your development process. Today, as never before, there are so many voices and sources of influence available to anyone anywhere. And most of them are as accessible as the phone in your hand.
I’m thankful for the electronic tools we have at our disposal both to share and receive help. When it comes to mentoring, however, it is wise to have a small core of people who know you and whose input has the greatest weight to you. If you are simply using your mentor as one of many from whom you shop counsel, you are wasting his time. That is not to say you can’t learn and receive from others, but it is to say that the others should serve more of an auxiliary role.
5. Try to understand your mentor’s communication style. Most mentors will be older than you—sometimes significantly so. While they may use electronic-based communication, they may not use it the same way that a millennial does, and they may prefer voice-to-voice or face-to-face communication for weighty discussions or easily-misunderstood topics.
6. Question respectfully. Healthy relationships have room for disagreement or questions. But be careful not to take a defensive or condescending attitude in your questioning. Remember that you wanted that person’s influence because you saw something good in his life. So question respectfully.
7. Listen. And don’t listen just for what you want to hear. Be open to receive, and listen to learn.
8. Don’t assume you know what your mentor will think or what he is going to say. If you find yourself thinking, “Well, I’d ask about _________, but I already know what he’s going to say,” that’s a good indication that you are assuming. And it is a good reason to ask…and then listen to learn. Over the years, I have often been surprised by the counsel my mentors have given me, even in areas where I thought I knew what they would say. In fact, one of the very reasons we need mentors is because we don’t already know what they know. So ask and listen; don’t assume.
9. Value the relationship through humility. If something comes between you and your mentor, care enough about that relationship to fix it. If you have wrongly judged your mentor (or your mentee, for that matter), be willing to admit it. Pride severs relationships, but humility saves them.
10. Respect the experience of a mentor. Don’t ask questions if you’re not sincerely valuing your mentor’s answer. If he gives you time, respect that time; and if he gives you counsel, receive it. You won’t always do everything exactly like your mentor does, but weigh your mentor’s experience into your decision-making process.
The mentoring relationship is one of God’s great gifts. Thank God for the people He has placed in your life with wisdom and insight, and treat that relationship with intention and gratitude.