There are a few differences between Christian mentoring and other forms of mentoring, the most obvious being that Christian mentorship is Christ-focused. Christian mentors believe that spiritual well-being is as important as mental and physical well-being and that our identities and transformation should be anchored in Christ.
Christian mentorship is more than self-help and positive thinking. It is centered on the work the Lord is doing and the transformation into the person that God designed each of us to be. Jesus is the foundation rock on which we build. Christ will bring change more powerful and beyond the capacity of us and our mentors.
That being said, there are keys to having a healthy mentorship relationship–for both the mentor and mentee. In this article, I’ll talk about one of the most critical foundations for mentorship: transparency.
As a mentor, it is our role to provide a safe and consistent space that allows our mentee to be transparent with us. However, it doesn’t happen right away: trust takes time and patience. Here are some ways we can build trust with our mentees.
This seems obvious, yet being a good listener takes work. It means that we are engaged and focused on the words of our mentee. Reframing can be a great tool to let our mentee know we are paying attention; repeat what they have said back to them, making sure that we understand.
As a mentor, we need to be careful that our responses are appropriate. A strong reaction can come across as judgmental or overly reassuring. The goal is to allow our mentees to react to their own words without our influence. This means we must guard our verbal and non-verbal communication as we listen.
Mentors can often see further than what their mentees are saying, sensing that there is more to be explored on a specific topic, or that a mentee is uncomfortable or hesitant to dive deeper. A wise mentor knows when to encourage a mentee to speak more, and when to leave it for another session. Pushing too much can break the mentee’s sense of safety. It can be more beneficial to allow the mentee to share what they feel comfortable with and trust that they will be more forthcoming in the future. It also allows the mentee to draw their own conclusions and take charge of their story when they are ready.
Clarity of Purpose
A clear contract that articulates boundaries, purposes and even relevant legal practices creates a sense of safety and understanding between you and your mentee from the very start. This will help transparency (and therefore trust and a sense of safety) grow as you both keep to your initial agreements.
Being a mentee is already a vulnerable position to be in—we offer our most authentic and honest selves to a second person, trusting that they will help us see things in ourselves that we cannot see on our own. Without transparency, the relationship doesn’t work; we are only presenting a mask, the face we present to everyone. We won’t learn anything about ourselves unless we are willing to share some truly vulnerable things.
Though the burden of responsibility to create a safe space lies largely on the mentor, the responsibility to make the most of the sessions is on the mentee. As a mentee, you can decide what you want to divulge, and when. The more transparent you are, the more effective the sessions become.
If you are entering a mentoring relationship as a mentee, especially as a leader in your church, here are some things to consider.
Leaders are guarded
Leaders are influential. Our community looks to us as an example of how to live life. It can seem as if everyone around is watching us, almost as if they are waiting for us to mess up (or so it can feel). Because of this, we have to be careful with whom we share our private life or certain privileged information. Of course, we want to live honestly and openly with those around us, but boundaries are also necessary to create a safe environment for everyone involved. Because of this essential practice, it can be difficult to switch gears in a mentoring relationship; to remember that we are in a safe space free of judgment.
Almost everyone experiences imposter syndrome, and often the more we succeed and the more influence we have, the more we feel like a fraud. This can cause leaders to avoid overfamiliarity and vulnerability. You might worry that if those around you knew the “real you” they might lose respect for you. This feeling is hard to shake. Remember, we are human, wrestling with the struggles all humans share. If we can’t let our hair down with a trusted mentor, in a setting designed for honesty, then when can we?
Care for others
Being a leader is akin to being a father/mother in many ways. We wouldn’t and shouldn’t ask our children to take on tasks or responsibilities that are meant for us. As an example, parents in a divorce may treat their children like adults, expecting them to care for them in their grief. Adults need to be adults. Similarly, leaders need to be responsible for those they are leading. And yet, leaders also need someone to help them. This is why mentors are so important. Who’s caring for the carers? Who’s pastoring the pastors? Who’s mentoring the mentors?
In Closing: 8 Reflection Questions
Here are eight questions to help both mentors and mentees develop healthier relationships with each other and deeper transformation in Christ.
- Have past relationships caused me not to trust?
- When have I felt betrayal? How has that impacted my relationships today?
- Do I battle with rejection?
- How transparent am I with my mentor?
- Where was I guarded when I didn’t need to be?
- How does God see me? How would He want me to see myself?
- What do I think Christ’s plan of transformation is for me?
- Who in my life helps me decipher the direction of the Holy Spirit?
If you’re interested in becoming a mentor to other leaders, I encourage you to take Mentor Q 360º, a mentor competency assessment that can help you discover your competencies as a mentor.