Don’t ever let anyone tell you that ministry isn’t lonely. All of us who have any word that means “leader” in our role description know that when it comes to the crunch, good advisers are scarce.

My early years of ministry were among the loneliest of my life. Rick and I had been unceremoniously flung into pastoring a church with no previous experience or training, and no idea of what we were doing. Our tiny church had been birthed less than two years previously and we were its third set of leaders already. Not only that, but it had undergone a split the year before we arrived. My platform experience was zilch and Rick had only slightly more. The only thing we had in our favour was that we loved God and we loved people.

I knew I needed a mentor—that was the buzzword of the 80’s—but as it turned out, mentors are not all that easy to come by. In those days there were very few women in ministry; those who were were considered to be the “exception to the rule” (nowadays there are so many “exceptions” that any voices worth listening to have thrown out the rule). There were a handful of women I watched from afar, feeling that if one of them would take notice of me all my troubles would be over. I poured my heart out in a letter to a beautiful lady preacher I’d spoken to briefly at a conference. She never answered. I don’t blame her; she must have had multiple letters all voicing the same desperate need for someone to help them figure out how to lead.

On two other occasions, I gathered up the threadbare scraps of my courage and invited a lady preacher for coffee. I admired both those women and I knew if I could just spend an hour or so imbibing the warmth, confidence, empowerment they exuded from the platform, I would receive the equipping I needed to help me negotiate the rocky waters of church leadership.

On both occasions, my would-be mentor graciously accepted the invitation but there was to be no outpouring of my heart. My desperate little questions remained unasked and unanswered as I spent those coffee dates listening to the preacher talk about herself. The same thing happened when Rick and I spent any time (which was a lot more often) with male ministers. They all loved talking, but they were their favourite topic of conversation. Our desire to talk through our problems about church and balancing home life was of no interest to them. To make matters worse, none of those leaders had any framework in which to put me, a woman whose kitchen was generally a mess because she was working on the next message she was due to preach. I wasn’t at all like their wives, whose chief delight (!) was to serve their home, family and most importantly, their husband’s call. On the occasions I did ask questions about leadership, the pastor would listen politely to me and then turn his face toward my husband to answer, as though Rick had been the one who asked. You think I’m kidding, don’t you. I’m not.

And so I learned through trial and error (can I get an amen?) and God helped me grow, and somehow helped me grow others in the process. His words to me were deep and challenging, reminding me that in the same way orphans can still be fantastic parents, people who were never mentored can still be good mentors.

He placed a passion on the inside my heart to be there for other leaders. My experiences heightened my awareness of the multitude of other young and not so young leaders of both genders who were crying out for more experienced voices to help them make sense of their leadership call and the way it related to everything else in their lives.

I didn’t feel all that confident that I could be of any use to someone else, but I gave what I had, and that’s the secret. You may feel you don’t know a lot, but there are many others who don’t even know as much as you do. Give them the gift of engaging with them for a period of time to help them scale the mountains that seem insurmountable from their current perspective.

The Body of Christ is a fractal. To make disciples you have to engage with people who want to be disciples, giving them what you have in a spirit of humility, knowing that this is the way the Kingdom of God is built. Paul said “follow me as I follow Christ,” and those who followed him became keepers of the Kingdom, just as he was.

Tips for a mentee

  • Think about what you actually want to be mentored in. No, “everything” is too broad an answer.
  • Do you want to be a good leader, a good preacher, a good parent, to be good at the job you do? Find someone who is already doing that particular thing better than you are and consider approaching them. To find a mentor, start with who you know. Don’t look at the speaker at a large conference and decide they’re the one for you. You’re setting yourself up for rejection. You’d be amazed how many people do that. There are generally some really good people around you who can start you on the journey.
  • Like falling in love, a mentoring relationship should have good chemistry between the two parties.
  • Be aware that mentoring is rarely a lifetime relationship. A mentor is for a set season. Agree on a set time and you can always extend it if you both wish. Occasionally, a mentoring relationship can become a great friendship if the mentor is willing to allow the mentee to become a peer.
  • Have a chat with the possible mentor about their expectations and yours and agree on what you need from each other and what you can give.
  • Value that person’s time with you. Respect them and their interest in you by keeping to the times agreed, being honest and open, not operating in manipulative behaviour and not taking offense if what they say is difficult to hear.
  • Don’t talk badly about the mentor to other people, and don’t break confidences.
  • It’s not a counselling session; it’s a vehicle for your growth.
  • Be authentic. Mentoring won’t work if either party is wearing a persona to hide their true selves.
  • Check out the tips for being a mentor because some of those relate to the mentee also.

Tips for a mentor

  • Understand that mentoring isn’t just for the sake of the learner; it’s for the sake of the future. Mentoring is a primary aspect of building the Kingdom of Heaven.
  • Be aware that mentoring for the most part is an invisible act. Only later will you see the effects of what you have helped build in and through the mentee’s life. Keep the “why” in your mainframe: mentoring builds the Kingdom of heaven. It will help you when it seems pointless, but don’t keep pushing if it’s clearly not working.
  • True mentoring is seeing the prospects and potential in someone else’s life and helping them to develop their potential.
  • A relationship in which the mentee rarely responds positively to the advice given obviously has problems. There’s an old Indian proverb: “If the horse is dead, dismount.” It’s the same with mentoring; if it isn’t working, stop doing it. You have better things to do with your energy.
  • Be aware that mentoring is not a parent/child relationship in which permission is asked for and given. It’s about two adults, one of whom has a greater degree of experience that they are willing to share with the other. Decisions should be made out of discussion and agreement, not giving and taking orders. Mentors are guides to help someone on their way, not authority figures that must be obeyed.
  • Don’t be falsely modest. So many disciples have to learn on their own because of people who could give help and guidance, but refuse to do so because of their own issues with self-esteem. Go and find someone who doesn’t yet know what you know, and take them out for coffee. You never know what may come of it. Of course, don’t leap in and tell them you can see they need help and you’re their answer—a little subtlety, please.
  • Check out the tips for mentees because some of them relate to the mentor also.
  • Mentoring is a huge subject, but there are plenty of books on the subject and many are well worth getting.
  • Down through the ages, the Kingdom has been built by people willing to engage with the rising generation without threat or intimidation. They laid down their own lives in order that a legacy of godliness could be established. If mentors are willing to lay down their lives so that the ceiling we’ve reached can become the platform on which mentees can begin their own building process, the Body of Christ will grow to be strong and healthy.
  • Try it. You’ll be amazed how effective you are.

This article was originally posted on She Loves magazine.