There is a great need for mentors in churches all across America, but there is very little on how to do it. Many couples are afraid to take on a task that requires so much emotional investment, especially when they feel like they’re treading on new territory.
Let me encourage you not to be afraid—others have gone before you, and have left you this list of dos and don’ts to encourage the weary and equip the lost.
Do realize that you are not alone when it comes to mentoring. Put your confidence in God—He will do the work through you. God often uses our weaknesses to strengthen others. So you don’t have to have everything together to be a mentor; you just have to be willing to be used.
Do remember that your goal is not to increase the amount of knowledge that a person has but to increase their dependence on God. As a mentor, your job is not to fix a person’s problems, but your job is to guide them to God. Often a couple will begin to depend on you for all the answers, but you must not allow that to happen. You must always point them to the One who has all the answers.
Don’t wait until your marriage is perfect to be a mentor. No one’s marriage is perfect. The willingness to share our failures is often the most powerful part of mentoring. When a young couple sees that their mentors’ marriage isn’t perfect, that couple learns to depend on God instead of the older couple. Also, when you are able to share your imperfections, it gives you the opportunity to show, not just teach, them how to depend on God.
Don’t fear unanswerable questions. God has the answers to everything in life. Alicia Britt Chole is a well-known author and speaker on the issue of mentoring. In an interview with Woman’s Touch magazine1, Alicia said, “Being a mentor is not being an answer-giver, it is being a question-asker and a director towards truth. I encourage people to know God isn’t nervous when they have questions. He does not withdraw from emotionally loaded questions. He takes delight in an inquiring mind.”
Don’t mix gender when you’re meeting one on one. Young women, especially, have the tendency to see an older man as a father figure. When you see that a young person of the opposite gender is talking to you a lot, redirect them to talk to your spouse, instead. Depending on how much time and emotion is invested in the relationship, two couples can become very close, and if one-on-one meetings aren’t kept between the same gender, an inappropriate closeness could result.
Don’t stop being mentored yourself. Jerry McCartney of Little Rock, Ark., explains, “If you’re experiencing mentor relationships correctly, you are giving out and taking in. In our society, we tend to move out older couples that are slowing us down. But that’s what we need—to slow down. For too long, we’ve missed the value of sitting at wisdom’s feet. Older people are more experienced and they have seen more, and the Bible says that we are wise if we listen to the counsel of others.”
Do guard your time and make room for your own relationship with your spouse and your relationship with Christ. Mentoring can take up a lot of extra time. You have meetings, phone conversations, and preparation time if you go through a study together. But unless you have time to develop your own relationship, you are really digressing in your effectiveness as a mentor. You must learn to take time out from ministering to others so that you can be rejuvenated. Even Christ took time out from healing the sick to spend time with the Father (Luke 5:15-16).
Do set boundaries. Have set meeting times and stick to time limits. If you say you’re ending at 9 p.m., then end at 9 p.m. This will not only protect the time for your family, it will also keep you accountable to make the most of the time that you have. Then, set other boundaries as needed. Let them know when they can and cannot call you. Don’t allow yourself to be used as a financial crutch or automatic babysitter. Make sure to address problems like these as they come up.
Don’t take it personally when couples don’t accept your advice. Always preface your statements of advice with, “This is my opinion.” Remember, your job as a mentor is to guide these couples to make decisions based on God’s word, not your advice. Ask the couples to pray about their decisions and depend on God for the answers. You advice should never be considered the absolute.
Do be a listener. Remember, the purpose of being a mentor is not necessarily to teach but to guide, and oftentimes, a couple can work out their own problems if you just facilitate enough communication. A person who listens not only has a better understanding of the entire situation, but he or she allows the one who is speaking to understand the situation better as the speaker processes through the communication.
Do stay neutral. It’s especially easy when you are meeting one on one to take that person’s side and make his or her spouse out to be the enemy. Remember, however, that you’re only hearing one side of the story. Keep in mind that reconciliation is the goal. Don’t allow yourself to further separate a husband and wife.
Don’t share something personal without your spouse’s permission. You and your spouse are a team, and you need that kind of unity if you plan to mentor other couples. Before you share something personal about your spouse or your relationship, ask your spouse and then pray about it as a couple. Wait to share that information until you both have a peace about it.
Do expect growth. David Ready, a mentor at Skyline Church in Southern California, says, “If you find yourself putting more into the relationship than your mentorees are on an ongoing basis, you’re wasting your time. You can only go as far as they let you.” Both couples must be willing to make the most of the relationship to work, and if they do, then there will be a natural growth that takes place. Alicia Britt Chole said, “Mentoring is not a function of our personality or position or some kind of superlative form of Christianity. Mentoring is a function of health—healthy things reproduce themselves.”
Don’t assume that this relationship will last a lifetime. You can’t meet the need of a couple throughout every stage of their life. Besides that, it’s good to have a variety of relationships in life that give a mixture of wise advice. Jerry’s wife, Naoma, says, “There’s an ebb and flow.”
Although there’s no magic formula that tells you how long you should invest in a couple, both couples usually know when it’s time to move on. When you feel like God is moving you to a new situation, Jerry suggests saying something like, “We have enjoyed our time together, but we feel there is another couple that we can help. God is ending our time, but I want to encourage you to find another couple.” A statement like this accomplishes two things: You are giving them the encouragement they need to find someone else to meet with, and you are also clearly establishing a break between you.