“We All Need a Few Good Mentors” read a headline in today’s opinion pages of the Wall Street Journal. It’s a sentiment I share, based on my own experience of having been poured into by older, wiser women, professors, and married couples over the past 27 years. In the article, Fay Vincent, formerly CEO of Columbia Pictures Industries, executive vice president of Coca-Cola, and commissioner of Major League Baseball from 1989-92, recalls the importance of mentors in his life. He describes them as “vital.” Reminiscing on their role leads him to feel “enormous gratitude.”
The imperative of mentoring
Like Vincent, I have looked back on What My Mentors Taught Me and marveled at the debt of gratitude I owe them. If someone as gifted and successful as Vincent benefitted from mentors, how much more the rest of us? It’s not just my experience or his affirmation, however, that leads me to vigorously promote mentoring. Someone further down the road helping you on your way is much older than the Wall Street Journal and corporate America. As I prepare to teach a Bible study on Titus 2 this fall, mentoring looms large. Titus, an ancient letter written by the apostle Paul in the first century A.D. to one of his protégés, writes:
You, however, must teach what is appropriate to sound doctrine. Teach the older men to be temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, and sound in faith, in love and in endurance.
Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. Then they can urge the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God.
Similarly, encourage the young men to be self-controlled. In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us. (Titus 2:1-8)
The older teaching the younger is of supreme importance in the church. Its purpose far surpasses obtaining an advanced degree or securing an enviable promotion. The purpose of mentoring is “so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior,” or as the NIV puts it, “make the teaching about God our Savior attractive.”
The Mechanics of Mentoring
Vincent rightly notes “mentoring is an art and it requires both time and energy,” time and energy that people aren’t always able to give. How then can you go about seeking the input and counsel of an older believer? I hear this question a lot. I’ve answered it, and other related mentoring questions at Boundless.org over the years. Everything from How to Ask Someone to Mentor You, to How to Be Mentored once someone has said yes, to How to Find a Good Marriage Mentor. Here’s a snippet from that last one:
The point of mentoring is to find someone with godly character in the area you’re hoping to work on. If you’re trying to make big decisions about education or career, you look for someone who has wisdom in those areas. And if you’re hoping to find encouragement toward marriage, you need to look for someone who esteems it as well as models a healthy relationship with her own husband. …
Being mentored means being vulnerable enough to allow someone to speak into your life. An essential precursor is trust — trust that the woman giving you feedback and advice is solid in her own faith and understanding of God’s Word.
If you are intimidated by the idea of having a mentor, or the person you want to mentor you can’t see themselves being a mentor, the article Mentoring Myths, may help you. Sometimes a person is mentoring you without really realizing it. My favorite college professor is a great example. I was telling a friend about him recently and realized as I was describing him that “he was my mentor.” Though I never formally asked him to be my mentor, that’s what he was doing in the course of those conversations about campus life and what to do after graduation. He had a lot of influence at that point in my life, steering me in a good direction. I didn’t realize just how much till much later.
Look around at the people you go to for advice. Who’s your favorite sounding board? They’re likely mentoring you, even if neither of you calls it that. And because those people do have such a big influence, it’s important to make sure they’re a good influence. Are they living a life you admire, following Christ, bearing good fruit? If so, they’re likely a source to keep seeking out. If not, look around you, especially in your church, for input that not only will help you in the day-to-day, but will prove vital, eternally so.