When I was a freshman at UNC-Chapel Hill, my campus staff worker for Intervarsity Christian Fellowship approached me, asking if I would like to meet on a weekly basis over the course of the semester. Over the next three years, Deanne mentored me on a variety of topics from relationships to ministry to Bible study. Her example of being an intentional discipler has been invaluable to me. As I reflect back on our times together, five important principles emerge.
As you grasp the importance of being intentional about the way you pursue Christ and help others to do the same, consider these principles before you begin a structured type of mentoring relationship. These should help to set expectations and provide a shared vision for your time together.
Principle #1: Set a scheduled meeting time and location.
When setting up a more formal type of mentoring relationship, it is important to get your calendars out and find a regular time to meet that works for you both. When I was in college, Deanne and I met every week at the same pizza place on campus. Our waiter, Joey, knew that we would be there every Tuesday and always greeted us with a welcoming smile. The consistency of our relationship allowed us to build trust and awareness of what was going on in each other’s lives.
Outside of college, most of us will have difficulty meeting on a weekly basis. I usually try to meet with the women I mentor once a month. If time permits, every other week would be a good option for a regularly scheduled meeting. If possible, set a regular day and time of the month (e.g. the second Tuesday of each month or every other Wednesday). The more consistent the meeting time and location, the more likely the relationship will have opportunity to grow.
Principle #2: Plan the duration of time you will meet together.
When Deanne first approached me about mentoring, she asked if we could meet weekly for the fall semester. She wisely understood that mentoring relationships are not always a good fit and that time commitments often change for a variety of reasons. Setting a fixed duration for our meeting time provided both of us the opportunity to reevaluate at the end of the semester. I understood that she might need to invest her time elsewhere and she realized that my school schedule might change so that I could no longer meet at our regular time. Thankfully, we were able to continue our relationship over the course of three years. Just before my senior year of college she got married and moved to a new city, so we could no longer meet on a regular basis.
I usually counsel women to plan to meet once a month over the course of a year or every other week for six months. If the relationship is going well, it is easy to extend the time together for another six months or year. However, if schedules change or the mentoring is not proving beneficial, this provides a natural end to a regular meeting time. It does not mean that the relationship ends, just that the consistency of times together may decrease. I find this principle to be one of the most important to discuss early on, in order to prevent hurt feelings or unrealized expectations.
Principle #3: Plan what you will study.
It is also important to clarify what you will do in your time together so that both parties are prepared. You may read a chapter of a particular book or discuss certain questions for accountability. I recommend having something to help guide your conversations. It is quite easy to simply “catch up” and discuss life circumstances without every truly going deeper and knowing God in more intimate ways. In my next article, I will discuss some keys to well-balanced discipleship that will hopefully provide helpful direction as you consider what to study in your time together.
Principle #4: Initiate social times together.
Deanne and I met regularly for our meetings, but we also enjoyed social times together outside of our Tuesday lunches. I saw her each week at our large group meeting and she would invite me to hang out with her while stuffing support envelopes or to go to see a movie together. These were times when we built our friendship informally that blessed our more intentional times together.
If you are only meeting once a month and rarely see one another outside of your time together, it may prove difficult to develop an open and honest relationship that is productive for spiritual growth. It is important to find informal times when the two of you can enjoy each other’s company. It might be riding together to a church retreat, volunteering on the same committee, enjoying a home-cooked meal, or walking together one morning. Finding ways to spend time with one another will build the relationship in encouraging ways.
Principle #5: Pray for one another.
I find prayer to be one of the most important aspects of any mentoring relationship. Each time you meet together, make sure to each share ways you can pray for one another. It is helpful for the mentor to share his or her prayer requests, as well as the mentee. Understanding that matureChristians still struggle and have prayer needs is an important lesson for those they are mentoring. It allows the younger believer to enter into and hear the struggles of their mentor. Being open and honest before the person you mentor may be the very thing she needs to allow her to open up with you in deeper ways.
One of the most intimidating things about entering into a mentoring relationship is the fear of failure. Openly communicating about expectations and considering these principles can help to begin a relationship that will bless both participants. This type of discipleship builds the church in powerful ways. Be encouraged – mentoring relationships are worth the time, energy, effort and thoughtfulness you put into them.