Written By Deborah Fox, Australia
I wasn’t born when The Karate Kid was first released, but I’m thankful for the many opportunities I’ve had to watch it growing up. It taught me the importance of listening to the wisdom and advice of those who were older and more experienced. The seasoned sensei, Mr Miyagi, uses repetitive, everyday tasks—like painting the fence and waxing the car—to prepare his young protege, Daniel, with the skills he needed for his first karate tournament. It took time and incredible patience, but eventually the training paid off.
In a similar way, Christian mentoring is about allowing the skills and experience of those who have gone before us to help us grow more into the people God created us to be. Mentors are advisors we can look up to and trust.
I have been meeting with my mentor, Sarah, once a month, and it has not been the intimidating process I once feared it to be. You see, I used to have this idea that Christian mentoring would demand a high level of time and effort that would leave me mentally and emotionally exhausted. But that hasn’t been my experience at all.
When Sarah and I meet, we catch up in one other’s homes or at a local cafe. Over a coffee and a few laughs, we discuss how I’m doing with my health, job, family, and walk with God. We’ve also been reading through the book of Ruth together and looking at how the stories of Ruth, Naomi, and Boaz shape their identities. Growing in my understanding of who I am in Christ is something I would like to work on, and I’m so grateful Sarah is helping me on that journey.
Mentoring relationships may look quite different for other people. But for the most part, a mentor is a guide who can disciple you as you draw closer to God. There’s a different level of respect and trust than those of family or friends. Mentors encourage you to grow into the person God is calling you to be. They’re not your counselor or teacher, but their wisdom and experience in life and faith can help shape your journey as a follower of Christ. They encourage you and walk alongside you as you develop spiritual disciplines such as prayer, reading the Bible, and spending time with God.
One of the best examples of mentoring in the Bible is the relationship between Paul and Timothy. They traveled together, and Paul recognized Timothy’s passion for the gospel and gift of leadership. Paul shares his own experiences with Timothy, being vulnerable with his young protege to model humility and grace (1 Timothy 1:15-16). He also encourages him to hold firm to his faith and keep doing the work he was called to despite being young (1 Timothy 4:11). Paul knew that, by training Timothy in spiritual maturity, he could help others to do the same. We all need a mentor like Paul to guide us in our walk with God and become mature disciples.
So what should you look for in a mentor? Here are a few things I’ve discovered along the way which might help you in your search:
1. Mutual Trust and Confidentiality
Journeying with another person requires sharing some of the deepest parts of your life—sharing your struggles, fears, and dreams. You need to have confidence in one another and mutual respect.
I had this in mind when I approached Sarah. We served together on the same Sunday School team, and I got the opportunity to know her as a more mature follower of Jesus. She shared her story with me and I was amazed by how many similar struggles we’d both experienced.
When my church encouraged everyone to seek a mentor, Sarah was an obvious choice for me. She understood me, and I knew I could trust her implicitly. Similarly, when Sarah shares personal things about her life with me, she knows that I will always keep our discussions in confidence.
2. Spiritual Maturity
It almost goes without saying, but you need to seek out a mentor who practices what they preach.
Hebrew 13:7 says to “Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.” If you are to model yourself on someone else’s actions, you need to agree with the example they are setting. Do they attend a Bible study? Are they living with integrity? Do they put God first in the decisions they make? Are they generous, loving, and passionate about the gospel? Are the spiritual fruits of love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control evident in their lives (Galatians 5:22-23)?
If your potential mentors are not actively living out the faith they proclaim, cross them off your list. Sarah is someone I want to emulate. She shines the light of Christ by the way she lives, and it makes me want to improve my own faith.
3. Relationship Boundaries
It’s important to like and admire someone you spend one-on-one time with, but boundaries are important when it comes to choosing a mentor.
Years ago, a woman I worked with offered to mentor me. She wasn’t much older than me, and we had a number of mutual friends we would hang out with. While I enjoyed catching up with her, it was difficult to maintain an easy-going friendship while simultaneously being mentored by her. We also tended to fall into the trap of gossiping about people we both knew, and I would come away from our time together feeling like I had more issues to work through than when we first began.
Just like the relationship between Paul and Timothy, I would recommend choosing an older mentor removed from your regular friend groups, someone who is able to look objectively into your life and provide sound advice. If you feel like your relationship limits how much you can share with them, don’t chose them as your mentor.
4. A Good Listener
There is a well-known saying that God gave us one mouth and two ears for a reason. We should be quick to listen and slow to speak (James 1:19). While your mentor will no doubt have good advice for you along the way, it is also important that they listen to you and that you feel comfortable opening up to them. When someone understands where you’re coming from, they can offer you the best kind of support.
As someone being mentored, you also need to hone your listening skills and be willing to take on advice to improve. And know that your mentor’s advice comes from a place of love.
However, bear in mind that a mentor is not necessarily an expert. They may provide helpful advice and feedback, but they’re not infallible. A good mentor will be aware of this and be open to rebuke. You may also find that your mentor is able to learn new insights from spending time with you.
5. Someone Who Will Both Encourage and Challenge You
As disciples of Jesus, our faith cannot stay in a state of infancy. We need to keep growing and developing as we expand our knowledge of God’s Word and deepen our walk with Him. We are encouraged to move from spiritual milk onto solid food—an active faith of substance (1 Corinthians 3:2-3). Having a mentor has helped me to see how I was neglecting my regular quiet time with God. I’m now making a conscious effort to block out time each day to be still and talk with my heavenly Father. This has brought to light aspects of my character I would like to improve, but has also given me confidence to use the unique gifts God has given me for His glory.
Having someone help me navigate through life from a Christian perspective has been invaluable. Are there areas of your faith you would like to grow in? Why not consider finding a mentor? There may be people within your church or workplace you could approach. Youth leaders may know some older people in the congregation you could connect with. You might like to meet someone for a coffee and get to know them a bit better first, before you decide whether you want to pursue an ongoing mentor/mentee relationship.
Jesus’ call in the Great Commission (Matt 28:19) is not to make lukewarm fans, but disciples who actively imitate the life and teaching of Christ. The training of disciples also creates a multiplication effect as they are then able to train and invest in the lives of others. Like it says in Proverbs 27:17, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” Finding a mentor may be one of the best decisions you make as you grow in spiritual maturity and help others to do the same.