I’m passionate about Christian mentorship. But healthy and effective mentorship that bears good fruit doesn’t happen by accident. It requires intentionality, strategy, and self-reflection–for both the mentee and the mentor.
In this article, I’ll talk about three essential keys for Christian mentorship: being principled in practice, using investigative inquiry and discernment, and being challenging and confronting.
3 Essentials for Christian Mentorship
1. Principled in Practice
Strong ethics are the backbone of the mentoring practice. If you are a mentor, it’s key to adhere to core values and beliefs that are rooted in sound doctrine. If you are a mentee, being able to see this consistency in your mentor can help you recognize someone with whom you can establish a healthy and effective relationship.
Here’s what it means to be principled in practice:
- Handles confidential information judiciously
- Treats mentees with respect and dignity
- Maintains integrity
- Navigates conflicting interests
- Adheres to professional ethics
- Acts always in the best interest of the mentee
- Negotiates parameters of the mentoring relationship
- Commits to professional development and performance review
Unquestionably, we all come across situations that test our principles.
A common one I have found is conflicting interests; where there is a dual relationship between the mentor and the mentee. One of the key differences between a therapist and a mentor is that therapists keep the relationship strictly in an office, whereas mentors often have pre-existing relationships with their mentees. This has the benefit that mentors see more, understand more and bring this knowledge to the mentoring relationship. However, it also brings greater complexity.
A hypothetical situation might be a mentor who is working with their brother-in-law. In sessions, the mentor might find themselves thinking of their sister, of her needs and desires and wanting to prioritize those. But that is not the role they need to fill. At that moment, the brother-in-law isn’t family. He is only the mentee. It’s essential to be able to separate these relationships within sessions. Serving the best interests of the mentee is always the primary goal in a mentoring relationship.
When deciding whether or not to work with your mentor or mentee, consider if there is a dual relationship. Are they also a friend? A co-worker? Will you be able to separate yourself from the pre-existing relationship, and serve as a non-judgmental and unbiased source of help?
2. Challenging and Confronting
No matter who we are, there are moments in our lives when we are pulled into heavy and challenging topics that sometimes lead to conflict. Well-being mentors tend to face these moments a little more often. It’s part of the joy and difficulty of the job; to get into the deeper areas of life, to sit in the pain with someone, to ask the questions most people in life won’t ask.
The deeper a mentor goes, the more they can understand and help a person, but just like in life, mentors will inevitably come to a point of confrontation with some of the people they work with. That can lead to conflict or other challenging reactions.
Whether you are a mentor, a leader in your community, a mentee or simply debating entering the world of Christian mentoring, it’s important to be aware that confrontations may arise. In fact, at times they should.
Here are the behaviours Dr. Charles R. Ridley (Chuck), Marcy Bradford, and Dr. Robert E. Logan (Bob) and I have collected that will support a healthy mentor as they gently challenge and confront mentees:
- Insists on hard and uncomfortable conversations
- Identifies unbiblical behaviours and attitudes
- Corrects unbiblical behaviours and attitudes
- Clarifies discrepancies in words and deeds
- Helps mentees to move past their fears
- Urges mentees to focus their energies and efforts
- Overcomes mentor’s own discomfort with difficult conversations
- Ensures a theologically sound view of God
I don’t find it naturally easy to challenge and confront others. I dislike difficult conversations. However, I’ve found this to be a necessary attribute. Mentors will see ingrained and deep behaviours that the mentee may not see.
I find it pragmatic to tread lightly, and challenge as needed; being rough or shocking can cause a person to become defensive and angry. Instead, silently hold an anchor in your soul that the attitude or unbiblical behaviour needs to change. Ask challenging questions that help the mentee come to a point of understanding the need to change.
Sometimes, challenging conversations are less about anger and more about fears. I once had a mentee who seemed convinced that he was going to be fired. As we explored the basis of the thought, I learned that he had a previous place of employment where he had been unjustifiably fired. He transferred his previous boss’s behaviour into his new situation. It wasn't Biblical behaviour to respond through fear and anxiety. Recognising this helped him change his attitude, let go of his previous experience and forgive and move on. He changed the way he acted at work, which ultimately changed the way he was treated. Soon after, he was given a promotion!
3. Investigative Inquiry and Discernment
Have you ever been mid-conversation with an acquaintance or a friend and they say something that sheds light on just how different they are from you? Maybe it goes back to vastly different cultures, or the way your parents parented. It might be philosophical or religious. It could even go deeper into areas of trauma they experienced…or didn’t experience. There are millions of reasons we differ from one person to the next, and differences can feel isolating and confusing. They can also open up a window into a person’s background and help you better understand them.
Mentoring is full of these moments. In fact, mentoring relies on these moments. We will never be exactly the same as the people we mentor or those who mentor us. Eventually, all mentors are going to have to seek and work to understand their mentee; their past, their relationships, their current circumstances. It’s the mentor's job to try to make sense of why a person is the way they are, because the more they know and understand a person, the more they can help them. A mentee can help the process by being forthright and vulnerable.
This is why investigative inquiry and discernment are essential behaviours for mentors. It may feel strange to think of investigating as part of the process, but on an emotional level, that is exactly what needs to be done.
Dr. Charles R. Ridley (Chuck), Marcy Bradford, and Dr. Robert E. Logan (Bob) and I have created a profile of what behaviours support investigative inquiry and discernment:
- Asks probing questions to elicit honest and relevant information
- Extracts unmentioned facts
- Helps to build a clear picture of current realities
- Determines valid spiritual and personal implications
- Challenges erroneous spiritual and personal implications
- Ascertains how God is speaking to the mentee in the circumstances
- Identifies key areas for growth
- Retains humility in curiosity
I recall having a mentee who was facing a possible division in their church; a number of people were potentially leaving his church for a congregation started by another leader within the same church. As I probed with questions, it became clear that the difficulties were based in cultural differences. The other leader had a male-dominated, fundamentalist world-view, whereas my client had a shared leadership with his wife and was very egalitarian. It helped to understand that this was a cultural difference, not personal. As a result, I was able to guide my mentee to new insights almost entirely by asking the right questions.
Here are a few major things that shape us all, and a good place to begin to understand a person and the factors that are impacting your mentee’s world at this time:
- Past traumas
- Financial situation
- Current employment
- Tribe or denomination
- Impact of Coronavirus on personal life
- Ethnicity and identity
- Health of relationships
New to Mentorship?
Are you mentoring someone for the first time? Or would you like to brush up on your mentorship skills?
The Well-Being Q is an assessment tool developed to help you and a mentee get started on fruitful conversations today.
Learn more about the Well-Being Q here.
Or....are you interested in becoming a mentor?
Learn more about Mentor Q here. Take the assessment to reflect on your effectiveness.
What could help you develop further? See Mentor Growth Track.
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