I remember the first time someone asked me to mentor them. My initial reaction was a mixture of honor and inadequacy. I wasn’t sure I would be able to live up to their expectations.
Over the years, I’ve learned that my response is not uncommon. Unfortunately, I’ve watched great potential mentors decline the request because of their lack of confidence: “I have so much to work on. I’m aware of my own flaws. Can God really use me in someone’s life?”
The answer is “yes.” Mentors are not superhumans. Mentors are simply those who have some experience under their belts, have learned from their past mistakes, and are willing to share those with others.
Over the years, I’ve had to adjust my expectations of myself and mentoring. So the next time someone asks you to mentor them, here are three tips to help change your expectations before you even begin:
1. Rather than give advice, ask questions.
As a mentor, don’t think you need to have all the right answers. Asking good questions, instead of giving lots of answers, leads to a better mentoring experience.
Jesus is a great role model for us. He took his position as mentor to the disciples very seriously. He longed for them to grow in their understanding of who he was and what the Kingdom of God was all about. Rather than merely dumping information in their heads, Jesus engaged them with questions. When he did teach, he often hosted a Q&A session with his disciples afterward. One theologian counts that throughout the Gospels, Jesus was asked 183 questions and he only answered three of those directly. He asks questions of others 307 times–that’s a lot of questions.
The beauty of questions is that they challenge the other person to think for themselves. When we learn through this kind of engagement, we tend to have greater retention and higher ownership of our new knowledge. By asking questions, we will challenge and encourage others to become active learners and disciples, rather than passive receivers of information or advice.
2. Know and embrace your limitations.
Another pressure we place on ourselves is to be wise in all things. I call this the “Yoda Syndrome.” This unreasonable expectation keeps many people from saying “yes” to mentoring because they think they need to be “all knowing about all things.” Instead, embrace your limitations and focus on what you do bring to mentoring: your life experiences.
Most people seeking a mentor want someone who’s a little further ahead of them on the road of life. Life gives each of us experiences to share, and when we thoughtfully and prayerfully reflect on those experiences, it leads to wisdom. We can then offer the insight we’ve gained.
Our limitations exist around the topics that we have little experience with or know nothing about. To mentor out of a place of humility–as people who know and embrace their limitations–is to mentor without the burden of having to be an “expert.” Rather than “faking it” or pretending to know more than we do, we can own our limitations, which makes us a much more appreciated mentor.
3. Give the gift of encouragement.
When I ask people what they’re most looking for in a mentor, they don’t always know. Some think they want advice, insight, or direction. When I’ve asked people what they’ve gained from being mentored, I almost always hear, “encouragement.”
The apostle Paul was a great mentor of others, and also a great encourager. Throughout his writings, he’s always “giving thanks” for those he’s mentoring and working alongside. Paul gives encouragement in two practical ways:
- He reminded people of their identity in Christ. It’s tempting to focus on people’s’ skills and abilities, but even more powerful is to remind them of the significance of their life and work as a part of God’s greater story.
- He encouraged others to pray for them. One of the most important roles you can play as you mentor another is to pray for them.It’s a reminder to all of us that the most important work that’s done in our lives comes not from us, but from the work of the Spirit in our lives–for His glory, not ours.
Many of us might feel like we’re not up to the task of being a mentor. Instead of allowing that feeling to prevent us from mentoring, we can embrace it with a sense of humility while we say “yes” to the challenges and rewards of mentoring.