In his poem “Bored of Education,” Christian spoken-word artist Propaganda asserts that real learning happens as we walk through life together. He writes, “You can’t measure a kid inviting their teacher to a quinceñera or a soccer game, or waiting rooms at free clinics.” Just as Jesus entered the everyday, ordinary, and at times desperate situations of the people in the Bible, we have an opportunity to step into the real lives of others and make a difference.
The Great Commission gives us the command to make disciples (Matt. 28:18-20). A major role in discipleship is mentoring, and it should play a major role in our faith lives. This way of living is invaluable.
If you’ve ever been in leadership, you might have heard the phrase “multiply yourself.” Multiplication can be understood as replicating aspects of yourself in those you lead in hopes of seeing them do the same, continuing the cycle of handing down knowledge and practices to future generations. Passing down knowledge is not solely a Christian or even human tradition, but is actually the very nature of evolving and progressing. This is a great concept in theory, but as imperfect humans, we often distort good ideas.
In Christian mentorship, the actual goal of “multiply yourself” is not to make as many copies of yourself as you can (that would double our faults, which are as many as the San Andreas is long). It’s to make as many copies of Jesus as possible. We teach what Jesus commanded, not what we command. The secret sauce to the best mentoring relationships is not cloning the mentor, but giving the mentee knowledge and the tools to apply it in their own work.
The ‘Who’ of Mentoring
We are not called to mentor everyone. Mentoring is a special relationship—a calling, perhaps—that God can make clear to us. Sometimes it’s a teen at church who has leadership potential. Other times it’s a student from school with very little faith experience. Every time, it involves a special connection between the mentor and mentee that can be fostered and sustained over a period of time. It would be selfish, perhaps even egotistical, to think we are the best-fit mentor for every person we encounter.
You can bring exactly who you are to mentorship because there is no correct or cookie-cutter mentor to fit all needs. God uniquely designs and equips us to connect deeply with the stories of specific people. There are all types of mentors for all types of mentees.
Mentoring Is Mutual
The most rewarding mentoring relationships we’ve experienced are mutual. They are characterized by a give-and-take that is life-giving for both parties. Instead of being hierarchical, they’re grace-filled and leveling. Young people in particular do not look for mentors to tell them what to do, but watch closely for mentors to show them how to be. Mentoring is not a one-way street, nor does knowledge flow in one direction. In fact, we’ve learned more about humility and trust by being vulnerable with mentees and genuinely sharing our stories than we have in some of our peer friendships. Teens are especially eager to hear the stories of our mistakes, lessons learned, and current revelations. Let your mentee see you for who you are, and honor their story in return.
The Best Teacher
One of the most important details to keep in mind when mentoring is that it is actually okay for your mentee to fail. Overprotection can actually force a mentee into stagnation. Never let them fail so badly that they will be completely devastated, but in many circumstances, failure is a better mentor than you could ever be. In the wake of failure, a mentor can do the crucial work of caring for and guiding the mentee to a place of greater maturity as a result of life experience. Teach your mentee how to handle failure and use it as a stepping stone to greatness.
Mentoring Exists in Real Life
Some of our most meaningful conversations with teens have occurred as we’ve dragged them with us to the grocery store. Weaving these relationships into your existing schedule eliminates two common barriers to rich mentorship: structure and time. Instead of an endless series of rigid, scripted coffee dates, we opt for a more organic approach: join me in what I’m already doing. Jesus models this style with three simple words: “Come, follow me.” He travels with his disciples, mentoring them between the lines of Scripture (Matt. 4:18-25).
One significant benefit of mentoring “as you go” is that it allows the mentee to view their mentor as a real human being. This reveals the mentor’s integrity to the mentee in real time. “Life on life” mentoring transforms platitudes into actions and models positive habits for the mentee. It’s also disarming. Doing an activity, task, or service project side by side can foster a level of comfortability that sustained eye contact at Starbucks simply can’t achieve. We’re talking about real life, beyond programming and events. Relationships can start there, but they should not stay there.
I (Meghan) have brought my mentee Lemaria along with me to more events and errands than I can name. She’s been my buddy on retreats (and always packs the best snacks). We’ve served together at fundraisers from early in the morning until late at night. One time we spent two hours wandering the aisles of Home Depot. Another time she snuck out of our hotel in Washington, D.C., with her friends and proceeded to explore the city—without shoes on (but that’s a story for another time; mentoring is not always pristine).
Lemaria and I have become so accustomed to doing life together that when something exciting is happening in my world, I want her to know right away. When she was applying to a prestigious summer program at Duke Divinity School, I was quick to write her a letter of recommendation. Likewise, when I’m struggling, I want Lemaria lifting me up in prayer. And when she needs inspiration or relationship advice, I want to be there to send an encouraging text. Mentoring is naturally mutual when situated in the context of real life.
We are faithfully planting and watering seeds, expecting that God will make them grow (1 Cor. 3:6-8). Further, we believe everyone is called to mentor someone at some point in their life. This is how Jesus chose to spread his Word and how his disciples also spread the gospel. Relationships enrich our lives and are the best vehicles for evangelism. Join us in this kingdom pursuit. It’s fulfilling!