what is mentoring?

29 years in kid’s ministry and I cannot tell you how many times I have been asked that question. The truth is, I have asked myself that question. Just what does it mean to mentor someone?

When I’ve been asked to mentor someone I found myself reluctant to agree because of all the doubts running through my head:

“What if I don’t do it right?”
“What wisdom do I have to offer?”
“What book should I go through with them?”

Maybe you too have the same questions. Maybe you have been reluctant to mentor someone because of the fear of not doing it right. If that is you, I encourage you to contemplate these things that mentors do, because there are so many more leaders that could be and should be pouring into someone else.

here are seven things that mentors do in a mentoring relationship


1. be yourself:

If you’ve been approached by someone with the formal request of, “will you mentor me?” or maybe it is just a repeated request to grab coffee or hang out, recognize that they are asking that because they want more of what they see in you. So, be authentic, don’t try to be someone you are not. Be transparent, because transparency breeds transparency. Be willing to share your failures along with the growth that came with that failure.

2. listen, (really listen):

“Are you listening to me? Really listening?” Jesus asked that question in Matthew 11:15 (MSG) Why? Because people often hear words, but they aren’t really listening.

In our self-centered world, it is rare to find someone who will listen without turning the conversation to themselves. In a mentor relationship, we must commit to not just hearing words, but really listening to what the person is saying. It is also important to listen to what the Holy Spirit is revealing to you. When you slow down and commit to being present in the conversation mentoring will come naturally.

3. ask questions:

Jesus was great at this, wasn’t He? He knew how to ask the kind of questions that would provoke thoughts that would lead the person to a whole new level of understanding. Asking questions also communicates that you care to know more about what they are saying which in turn builds trust. Don’t be afraid to ask the hard questions. If you’ve been invited into a mentor relationship more than likely the person is counting on you to challenge them to grow. Asking hard questions will do just that.

4. see what “they” don’t see:

I have found that often the person I am mentoring doesn’t see her or himself in the way I see them, and more importantly, the way God sees them. Fear, doubt, and insecurity are what has them stuck and not moving forward. You have the opportunity to help them break through those fears and doubts. Be generous in your encouragement of the strengths you see and how God wants to use them. Encouragement literally means to put courage in someone. Recognize that your words of encouragement could make the difference in whether or not that person lives out the plan and purpose God has for their life.

5. do life together:

In the spirit of transparency, I must confess up until two years ago this was a hard one for me. I cherished and protected my private life outside of my “ministry world.” I would gladly meet someone for coffee or lunch during my work hours, but I was not willing to give up my personal time to invest in others. When I decided to live life outside of my comfort zone and invite people into my private world everything changed in the way I invested in others. What I found was inviting someone into my home, into my world, brought our relationship to a whole new level. Living life authentically, in community, is what many people, especially millennials, are looking for to grow them. They want to see that what we are saying is not just words but lived out in front of them.

6. empower them to lead:

As I look back on my own mentor relationships in the early days of ministry, I have to say this is one of the things that grew me the most. As I was entrusted, encouraged, even “kicked out” of the nest to lead, I was forced to fly or die. My mentor’s belief in me, and knowing they would have my back whether I failed or succeeded, grew me in ways I never imagined.

7. give them permission to fail:

Help them understand that failure is a part of growth. Most, if not all, of the successful people we know, have become successful because they were willing to take risks and fail. John Maxwell sums it up perfectly, “The more you do, the more you fail. The more you fail, the more you learn. The more you learn, the better you get.”

On that note, I would like to encourage you to take a risk and find someone to mentor, to pour your life into. Mentoring relationships will look different for everyone so don’t try to fit anyone’s mentoring mold. I believe most mentees are not looking for more information; they have plenty of books on their nightstand and Google at their fingertips for that. What they are looking for is transformation, not more information. Healthy relationships are what transform us into the person God wants us to be, to live out the plan and purpose He has for us.

so jump in and let God use you in the life of someone else!