The Bible is full of examples of people who had mentors in their walk of faith. Paul mentored Timothy. Moses mentored Joshua. Elijah mentored Elisha. Naomi mentored Ruth. Elizabeth mentored Mary, the mother of Jesus. And most important, Jesus mentored his disciples.
Mentoring is all about relationships—usually one-on-one relationships. Spiritual mentoring involves teaching but is also about modeling how Christians walk with the Lord.
In the Christian Reformed Church, the mentoring of seminary students and new pastors is mandatory, and advocates say the benefits of both being a mentor and being mentored are many. But mentoring is valuable for more than just pastors.
Rev. Heidi De Jonge knows the value of mentoring. She’s had the benefit of being mentored for many years. “In high school I was mentored by my youth pastor in Bellingham, Washington,” she said. She was mentored at Dordt College by professor John Vanderstelt.
Her mentor now is Rev. Marvin Hofman, pastor of Fourteenth Street Christian Reformed Church in Holland, Mich. He has been her mentor since she was ordained in 2005. (All new ministers in the CRC must have a mentor for their first five years of ministry.)
“We meet once a month for breakfast, and we talk about the joys and stresses of pastoral ministry: preaching, leadership, church growth, difficult people, worship,” De Jonge said. “Marv was especially helpful as I discerned the call to my new position at Harderwyk CRC.”
De Jonge said being mentored by Hofman is complemented by her relationship with a spiritual director, a Dominican sister in Grand Rapids, Mich.
She highly recommends having a mentor: “A mentor provides a safe space for so many kinds of conversations. A mentor is there for you in a way that others aren’t.”
De Jonge is now also a mentor herself, to a young woman training for ministry at Calvin Theological Seminary.
Being a Mentor
Rev. Mary Hulst is another pastor who has experienced mentoring from both sides. While she was pastor of Eastern Avenue CRC in Grand Rapids, Mich., she mentored another young woman studying for ministry. “We met for meals, coffee, walks, at least once a month,” Hulst said. “We talked about what God was doing in her life, what she was praying about, what she needed prayer for.”
Hulst said that an important part of the mentoring process was holding her mentee up in prayer even when they weren’t together.
Hulst still meets with her own mentor regularly, even though she has moved from pastoral ministry to teaching at the seminary. “He’s walked me through some tough stuff,” she said. She too noted the mentoring relationship as a safe place.
Rev. Kathy Smith, director of continuing education at the seminary, says that having a consistent mentor throughout the seminary experience makes a big difference for students. “It is a person with whom they can process their questions about ministry and their growing experiences in ministry practice,” she explained.
The seminary requires all students studying for pastoral ministry to find a mentor during their first term at the seminary. Often the mentor is a pastor of the local church where the student is involved during seminary.
While it may seem that the person being mentored receives the most benefit, Smith said that those doing the mentoring also gain a great deal, learning new and fresh insights into ministry.
There are many people in church settings besides pastors who would benefit from mentoring, Smith noted, including new elders and deacons and young people showing an interest in ministry.
Mentoring for Moms
At Calvary Reformed Church in Ripon, Calif., the mentoring program has nothing to do with pastors or other church leaders. Rather, young moms are being mentored by moms whose children are already older or grown up.
Gina Hargreaves is the church’s women’s ministry director. She said their mentoring program is a variation on mentoring that takes place in a typical MOPs program (Mothers of Preschoolers).
“Our older moms meet with a group of six to seven women, twice per month, focusing on the encouragement and nurture of young moms,” Hargreaves said. “The young moms need to know someone is there for them.”
Hargreaves said that all the mentor moms come from their own congregation. She looks for women who are active in Bible study and have a heart for young moms, women who can talk about what it was like when they were raising young children.
“The biggest thing is that these women testify to God’s faithfulness to them when they were raising children,” she said.
Hargreaves also noted that her church’s high schoolers have the same youth leader all four years of high school, making that person a de facto mentor.
She would love to see more mentoring happening with men in the congregation. “All it takes is for one or two respected men in the congregations to be in mentoring relationships with younger men. That example would do far more than setting up a program,” she said.
(Promise Keepers Canada has a training program for peer mentoring among men, called “Discipleship Training Unleashed: Mentoring Men to Leave No Man Behind.” See www.promisekeepers.ca.)
What Makes a Good Mentor?
De Jonge says spiritual mentors and mentees ask three important questions: Who is God? Who am I? What am I to do with my life?
“Any time these kinds of intentional conversations are happening in one-on-one ways in a church, community develops, vision intensifies, and the kingdom of God grows,” she said.
Hargreaves says that first and foremost, a mentor must be someone walking with the Lord.
And of course a mentor must be compassionate, a listener, and an encourager. “A mentor is a person who can ask discerning questions in a way that the mentee will experience caring and encouragement, not judgment,” said Smith.
“Love, love, love,” said Hulst. “Always be a safe person. And don’t give advice unless the person asks for it.”
What to Look for in a Mentor
The difficult part of finding a mentor is knowing who to ask. It can be scary. Gina Hargreaves said it can be awkward, wondering if you are asking too much of a person. There can be fear of rejection. But she encourages people to take the risk. “Start with prayer,” she advises. “Pray that God will connect you with the right person.” Then, look for someone who
- is a bit older.
- has similar interests to yours.
- listens well.
- creates an encouraging climate.
- is slow to judge.
- will ask questions with tough honesty, rather than just saying nice things.
- has wisdom.
- will help you grow spiritually.
- will respect you.
Being a Mentor
If you want to be a mentor, first of all, pray about it. Ask God to place someone on your heart. Ask yourself if people have affirmed in you the kinds of gifts that make a good mentor.
When mentoring someone,
- meet in a quiet place with minimal distractions.
- turn off the telephone and hang up a Do Not Disturb sign.
- begin with prayer.
- have a specific time set for the meeting, usually one hour.
- be alert to feelings behind spoken words.
- be patient, as people may not share deep issues right away. Trust takes time.
- insist that your mentee stay connected with a regular body of believers, providing a wider context of accountability.
- help your mentee develop his or her own spiritual gifts.