3 Super-Practical Ways to Mentor Like Jesus

“He’s my mentor.”

“I want a mentor.”

“Why won’t anyone mentor me?”

youth ministry, student ministry, small groups, disciple-making, discipleship, Christian, teaching, mentoring

(Original photo by FuLinHyu at Creative Commons)

We know that the younger generation longs to be mentored. And we know that Jesus commanded all believers to make disciples like He did–and that includes mentoring. But somehow, it doesn’t happen. The average mature believer in the church isn’t mentoring a younger believer. In fact, even many of us in leadership aren’t truly pouring ourselves into the next generation. It’s not for lack of good intention. It’s not because we’re willfully disobedient. So, what goes wrong? Why aren’t we living out Christ’s commission?

Maybe we don’t know how.

I mean, mentoring is a strange thing, isn’t it? I can prepare to teach a sermon. I can plan to lead some programming. I can see tangible results from a service project, or a congregational gathering, or a youth event.

But mentoring? It’s so elusive and undefined. It’s slippery. How do I know when I’ve done it well? How do I know when I’ve done it all? And what do I do while I mentor? Is it a weekly meeting? A book club? Do I mentor people one at a time, or in small groups?

And, who am I to mentor someone?

The questions stack up, the uncertainty creeps in, and soon we decide that this is a task better left to someone else.

But’s it’s not. Making disciples is a task that Jesus gave to all believers, and mentoring is a vital part of that. If mature believers throughout our churches would mentor as a primary part of their job description as followers of Christ, it would turn our churches upside down! Perhaps nothing else would so radically change the health of Christ’s body here on earth. So, how do we do it?

Lately I’ve been pondering afresh the relationship Jesus had with Peter, James, and John. (Click here for yesterday’s post about this.) Here are three things I’ve noticed:

Mentoring works best when it includes real work

Many mentoring relationships fail because they happen in a vacuum. A mentor and his protegé meet weekly at the local coffee shop. They read books together, discuss issues together, and share stories together. The time together feels valuable, but fails to produce the level of life change that Jesus achieved with Peter, James, and John. Why? Because their time together isn’t fueled by common experience. It isn’t fueled by real work. The mentee may not be truly ‘hungry,’ because he isn’t being challenged by real life. And the mentor can’t give life-changing, specific, personal advice because he hasn’t been with them to see and notice their specific needs and growth areas.

Jesus’ relationship with Peter, James, and John is totally different. From the beginning, He involves them in His work. He sends them out to evangelize with the 12 (Luke 9) and the 70 (Luke 10). While he does the miracle of feeding 5,000 people, Peter, James, and John help distribute the food and clean up the leftovers. When they cannot cast out a demon, they experience the learning that comes with failure. And Peter learns about faith not from a work book, but from walking on water and then beginning to sink. Christ’s mentoring relationship with the 3 had real work. Similarly, our mentoring relationships will always work best when we’re working shoulder-to-shoulder with the person we’re mentoring. This is the essential ‘be with’ factor of mentoring.

Mentoring works best when it includes good instruction

Sometimes, we’re tempted to swing to the other extreme. Fed up with mentoring relationships that are only based on content, we declare that “it’s all about relationships.” We spend our time ‘hanging out’ with young people, hoping for opportunities to share meaningful conversation and model Jesus. Occasionally, I’ve had young leaders express this view of mentoring. Fed up with Bible studies and formal relationships, they just want to mentor by osmosis. I’ve had to remind them that Jesus did more than just be with people–He spent a lot of time teaching and instructing them.

In fact, we see Jesus instructing His disciples in a two key areas. He gives them skills instructions: how to cast out a demon (Mk 9), how go on a missionary journey (Luke 10), how to make disciples (Mt 28). He also gives them heart instruction: teachings about how to care for your heart (Mt 5-7), instructions about having a servant’s heart (Jn 13), and conversations about pride and humility (Mk 10). These times of purposeful, intentional teaching stayed with the disciples for the rest of their lives.

Mentoring people is more than just hanging out, or letting our lives ‘rub off’ on people. For full effectiveness, it must involve a purposeful passing on of lessons learned.

Mentoring works best when it includes focused reflection

Sometimes, I’ll give someone good instruction, and then ask them how it’s going. They assure me that they’re applying what I’m teaching them–in youth ministry, in teaching, or in their personal lives. Later, when I get an opportunity to see them ‘in action,’ I realize that they’re not doing what I taught them at all! They think they are living what I’ve shown them, but when we look closer, we see that they’re missing the mark.

This is why focused reflection is so key to any mentoring relationship. As a mentor, we get to stand with people, and help them see how their real life is or isn’t matching what they say they believe. We get to ‘hold up the mirror’ to their lives, and ask them to take a look. This isn’t fun or comfortable, but it’s essential. Without it, their lives fall into misalignment, and the things we’re trying to press into them won’t take hold.

Jesus does this all the time with Peter, James, and John. When James and John ask for positions of honor in the kingdom, He asks, “Can you endure what I’m going to endure?” (Mk 10). Later, when the other disciples are upset, Jesus pauses so they can all reflect together: “Do you want to be great? Then serve.” Or notice what he does in Matthew 16. The disciples have walked, talked, and lived with Jesus, (real life), but they haven’t decided who He is (good instruction). So He asks them a reflection question, “Who do you say I am?” He’s forcing them to bring their actions and beliefs into alignment. That’s what good reflection does.

Real life. Good instruction. Focused reflection. Like a train track needs two rails and a railroad tie, good mentoring needs these three ingredients. Take out one of them, and the whole thing suffers–or even falls apart. Which of these comes easiest to you? Which one do you tend to neglect in your mentoring relationships?

My most fruitful and enjoyable mentoring relationships have included these three elements. They’ve been with people who are in ministry with me, as volunteer staff or interns. They have real work to do, and I’m doing it with them. And I offer them good instruction. In addition to staff meetings and regular youth meetings, we meet weekly or bi-weekly to talk about a philosophy of ministry, of education, and of skills they are learning. And I watch them, and look for opportunities to invite them to reflect on how their lives and their beliefs align.

A relationship like this takes huge amounts of time and energy. I used to devote the entire day on Tuesday just to meeting with people I was mentoring. But, wow, is it worth it! Seeing a group of equipped, like-minded ministers grow around you is a rare privilege. Soon, we had more volunteers than we had work to do–a good problem, to be sure! And now, we have the privilege of a few of them moving to the other side of the world to join us in ministry. Do I deserve the credit? Of course not! This is what happens when we follow Christ’s example of making disciples who make disciples.

Jesus modeled this level of disciple-making and mentoring for us. He did it with the least likely candidates–three disobedient, stubborn, stinky fishermen. Who, in your life, needs this type of relationship with you?

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