by Sam Simmons
Sam Simmons is cofounder of Rockbridge Seminary, a fully online seminary with a curriculum organized around the five biblical purposes of the church.
Most church leaders today recognize the need for mentoring, but not all mentoring relationships are created equal. Some are less than useful and others, quite frankly, are a waste of time.
While helping hundreds of seminary students with their mentoring relationships, I’ve noticed the same mistakes being made over and over. Here are the top five to avoid:
Expecting too much
The myth of the “super mentor” is alive and well – that elusive individual who holds the key to future success and effectiveness. A surprising number of ministers are in search of their super mentor, trying to persuade a potential super mentor to help them, or they are blaming a super mentor’s rejection for their present circumstances.
Mentoring is important, and a mentor can be helpful to your journey; but don’t expect a mentor to take responsibility for your calling and development. Instead, think of mentors as coaches who come alongside of you at different points in your journey. They can advise you, encourage you, support you, and hold you accountable. Yet no matter how helpful they are, it’s your journey, not theirs.
Paul D. Stanley and J. Robert Clinton define mentoring as a “relational experience in which one person empowers another by sharing God-given resources” (Connecting: The Mentoring Relationships You Need To Succeed in Life, p. 33). Notice the word “empower.” Expect a mentor to empower you to take the next step in your development, but don’t expect a mentor to take the step for you.
Forcing a relationship
Some relationships click, some don’t. Pressing someone to mentor you may put the mentoring relationship at risk before it ever begins. You might secure a “yes” from a mentor out of guilt or a sense of responsibility but be frustrated later when your mentor lacks commitment or focus.
The best mentors come out of relationships that already exist. Find potential mentors who know you, care about your ministry, and want to see God’s best for your life.
Derrick joined the staff of a growing church thinking that the more experienced staff members would eventually become mentors. Staff relationships strengthened over time, but none provided the mentoring support he felt he needed for his development. That’s when Derrick decided to change his approach. Instead of searching for potential mentors, he focused on broadening his circle of ministry relationships without a mentoring agenda. Eventually, potential mentors became easy to spot and natural to recruit because the relationships were already there.
Lacking a plan
The best mentors are more likely to say yes if you can describe for them the coaching that you need and why it is important to your journey. Be prepared to answer these questions from a potential mentor:
- What is your best understanding today of God’s call for your life?
- What has been your development journey so far in preparing for this call?
- Where do you need to focus your ministry development learning right now? Why?
- What specific ministry competencies do you need to strengthen?
- What exactly can a mentor do to help you right now?
- How will you and your mentor know if the mentoring relationship is moving you forward in your development?
- What kind of time commitment are you asking a mentor to commit to?
Even better, use these questions to design a mentoring plan before you start recruiting. This will help you in two ways. First, you will have a much better idea of how a mentor can help you. Second, you will be much more likely to recruit the right mentor with the skill sets and experience that are best for you.
Creating an unhealthy dependency
Unfortunately, a mentoring relationship can drift into unhealthy dependency if either the mentor or the mentoree fails to honor the core principle of mentoring – empowerment.
Seth’s intentions were good when he agreed to serve as a mentor, but the mentoring relationship quickly turned into a source of significance that he desperately needed. Without realizing it, Seth grew dependent on the relationship, needing it for his sense of self-worth. Not surprisingly, the mentoring relationship gradually became unhealthy. When his mentoree suggested the regular meetings were no longer necessary, Seth found himself using manipulation and coercion to keep the relationship going based on his own needs.
How do you avoid mentors who are unhealthy? First, seek mentors who are learners. Besides the mentoring support you will receive, you will also be stimulated by the freshness of their ideas. The mentor who is not growing is like a stagnant pool with little to share that is relevant, passionate, or innovative. Second, seek mentors who are transparent, authentic, and community-aware. Isolated leaders who have little accountability and no commitment to community are more likely to be unhealthy themselves.
Wasting the opportunity
Without purpose and direction, a mentoring relationship often becomes nothing more than one-on-one teaching guided by the mentor. While helpful to some degree, this is usually a surface mentoring that misses much of the point of the relationship. Think of mentoring as a development tool to be utilized rather than a rite of passage to be checked off. To invest in a mentoring relationship without ever connecting the dots between your mentor and your journey is a wasted opportunity.
Be proactive in helping a mentor know where you need support and why. If you find that your mentor isn’t connecting or seems to have another agenda, it may be time to move on. Doing so may help you avoid making a mentoring mistake.