Having a mentor is extremely important for anyone, but most especially for the Christian who is looking to grow in Jesus. Being mentored is a difficult and often frustrating process, as those who are older and wiser push us to be more than the sum of our failures and drive us to direct our lives in ways that honor Christ more and more every day.
Being a mentor is also very important, and is much more challenging than being mentored. It requires a great deal of patience, a love for the person being mentored by you, and a love of Jesus that overrides everything. The effective mentor is a real person sharing real life experiences, struggles, and wisdom.
How can you devote time well to those you mentor?
The first and most important role of a mentor is to continually spend time praying for the one he mentors. God is the one who sanctifies His children, not you. Ask God to direct your times together, and to teach him in the events of his life. Rest assured, God is more interested in the development of the one you are mentoring than you are.
If you are going to be an effective model and help to anyone, you must be present in his or her life. Be available and approachable, and don’t be stingy. The most effective kind of mentoring is not centered around what specific little one-liners you share with him or how much time you spend being overly spiritual, but instead focuses on showing him what your life really looks like.
A student needs to see what Christ looks like in the lives of His people. Be an incarnation of Jesus in their lives; live out of His well and hand out buckets of wisdom like fresh spring water.
When in the role of an instructor or teacher, it is always easy to focus in on the negatives and constantly offer up criticism. Without a good balance, however, those you mentor may become overwhelmed with a sense of perfectionism, or may become discouraged because of their constant failure. None of us like to be constantly beaten down with our shortcomings, and will buck against the person who seems always intent on pointing out every mistake.
To counteract that, try to always praise the positive movement of your students. Positive reinforcement works wonders in encouraging right thinking and behavior, and your students will thank you for it. Your students will need you to challenge them, but they will thrive when you praise them genuinely.
When it comes to challenging students, the important thing to remember is that it is God’s job to direct their growth, not ours. Any direction or area in which we push must always be subject to what God is doing in their lives.
Still, that push is often necessary. Avoid legalism. Instead, show your students what the bar is that they should be shooting for, and teach them why that high mark is profitable and right by God’s standard. You cannot live their lives for them, but you can show them what is right and good, and encourage them to aim for it.
Know always that the lives of the students you mentor are not your own. Your students will fail, will fall, and hopefully will come crawling back when they do. Most often when that happens, your job will not be to say, “I told you so,” about every little thing they fouled up in the situation; they will know it already. Instead, welcome them back with loving arms, and show them that you, like God, will always be willing to accept them back.
Mentoring is extremely hard for the mentor because it is so easy to become entangled in their lives. Mentorship is messy. However, it will be your job as the mentor to take the stand and let them know that you will always love them, no matter what, and that despite their mistakes they will never lose you. They see Jesus in us, and we must do our best to give as accurate a representation of Jesus as possible.
Last of all these things comes our purpose. As we mentor students, we must always remember that we have an overriding purpose that must inform our decisions as mentors. Jesus is our goal, our mentor, and all that we pass on is His.
Look for the teachable moments, and always be ready to answer whatever questions a student might have. Expect that the students you mentor will not have most of the answers, and guide discussions so that you can impart truth to them so that they will know all of the facts as they too make decisions in their lives. Be strong and confident in the knowledge that God has brought you to, and do not be shy about laying out those truths as you know them.
Also, one last point if you work with teenagers:
As a mentor to students who still live under the roof of their parents, we must always remember that the parents are the primary stewards of their children. God has entrusted those parents with the care and upbringing of their children, and we who are mentors are tertiary to that role. We must honor the direction that these parents are taking with their children, defer to their authority, and support them in the manner that they have chosen to raise their kids.
Always direct kids back to their parents. Parents inform much, much more of who a child becomes than anyone else, if only for the simple fact that these kids spend so much time in the care of their parents. A mentor is in no place to step into the role of present parents, and to attempt to do so would cause damage so great as to completely outweigh any possible benefits that might be drawn from the mentoring relationship.
If you are a believer who is a ways along in your faith, please consider yourself a teacher to the younger. The actions of older believers will always impact the views of younger believers, whether by design or by accident. The benefits of taking on a mentoring relationship with a student are enormous, both for you and for the student. Let’s bridge the gaps between the generations of believers by sharing the wisdom that God has imparted in those who have lived life alongside Jesus.