Mentoring Part II: Where Do I Begin?
Where To Begin?
As I noted in the last post, it is difficult for us to explain or define mentoring, but we often know it when we see it. Mentoring relationships can be formal or informal and they can happen organically or intentionally. Either way it’s a relationship that may have stages focused on “personal, spiritual and emotional development [where] character formation takes center stage.” In the last post I gave the example of the relationship between Moses and Joshua as they prepared to transfer the leadership of God’s people. While we may not have specifics of their relationship we can see the development taking place throughout their story beginning in Exodus.
We do not have any real sense of how Joshua responded to Moses, except that he was obedient to God’s appointed leader. However, as the relationship continued to grow we do see Joshua developing as the next leader of Israel. So, what does that say to us when we think about our own development emotionally, spiritually, academically and vocationally? Where do we begin to find this kind of relationship? In my graduate classes, students have struggled with these questions around the idea of mentoring. Not knowing exactly what a mentoring relationship is supposed to look like causes some anxiety about how to even begin. This week we will consider some important things that a mentee can do to prepare for a mentoring relationship. There is a certain amount of work we need to do in ourselves before moving forward.
Identifying What You Need
One of the problems I often find with students is that they are not clear on what they want or need from their mentors or a mentoring relationship. Before we can approach someone about being a mentor, we need to identify just what exactly we are asking. A simple question we can begin with is, “what am I looking for?” A related question is, “in what areas do I feel I am lacking?” In what places do we simply need someone to come along side us and show us the ropes? We may not have been on this journey before, so we need someone to help us find the path that is best suited for us.
It might be helpful to write down a short list of ideas or areas where you could use some guidance. This could include things like finding guidance in syllabus and/or lesson preparation, how to deal with difficult classroom situations or understanding the cultural atmosphere of our college or university. This may also include how to navigate the culture of a secular campus from a Christian perspective.
As I mentioned in my previous post, mentors may serve different roles at different times in our lives and careers. So identifying what we are looking for as specifically as possible lays the foundation for the mentoring relationship. At this point we may feel a little overwhelmed by our list of needs, which is very normal. The important thing here is to prioritize and focus on one or two at a time. This will be a big help for your mentor as well.
How to Find Someone Who Fits
After we have identified some areas where we could use some guidance, the next step is to find someone who not only fits that role but is willing to commit to spending time with us. This is another area that often causes angst as we can think of people we would love to work with, yet we are afraid to ask. We assume they will not have time for us or that we are bothering them with our questions. No matter in what area we are looking for a mentor’s help, as Christians we need to begin with prayer. Be honest with God about the need and the negative thoughts we may be having and ask for the Holy Spirit’s guidance in who might be the best fit at this time. As those names come to mind, jot them down and ask God for discernment.
Another area to consider is personality. It seems obvious that working with a mentor will require a level of compatibility. We need to be very self-aware and honest about our own strengths and weaknesses. A mentor who really clashes with our personality type will be difficult to approach and work with. This does not mean that mentor and mentee must agree on everything. Remember this relationship is about growth and development. A mentor with a different personality type can help us to see areas where we may have blind spots or need some additional growth.
As mentioned, mentors are there to help us fill in the gaps and help us grow. Make sure that you are not expecting guidance from your mentor in an area they know nothing about or would be unwilling to explore with you. We would not ask an auto mechanic to clean our teeth! Pay attention to the mentor’s background and expertise. A good fit in a mentor relationship will include common interests, compatibility as well as accountability.
Normal Anxieties About Approaching a Mentor
Once we have recognized our needs, prayed over the decision, and identified someone who we believe is a potential mentor, we need to ask. That’s the scary part, isn’t it? Many of the students I have worked with express some level of anxiety about actually asking someone to be their mentor. I have had the same feelings when I was required to work with a mentor. I believe that anxiety is based in our fear of rejection. This is very normal, but something we do need to address.
Opening a conversation about a mentoring relationship can be difficult. This is why it is important to be specific about what you need and what you are looking for in the relationship. It is also important to have an idea of how much time that will be required. Are we looking to meet once a week or once a month? How long are the meetings and what will be the duration; will we be meeting, for weeks, months, years? Again, thinking about all of this can make us feel like no one would agree to work with us! But remember, you are looking for a trusted guide, not someone who has all the answers to all of life’s questions!
Do not be discouraged if the first person you ask does not feel as if they can commit to the time needed. The timing may not be right, and they may be willing to work with you at some point in the future. If they cannot be a mentor at this time, they may have someone they can suggest.
This is just the beginning of thinking through how to find a mentor. It may feel daunting and scary to approach someone you admire to ask for their time and expertise. Most of the time I have found that mentors are happy to engage with me or the students I have worked with. They are happy to share their knowledge and the ups and downs of their journey. While the mentor-mentee relationship has to do with gaining insight and knowledge, it does not mean that the mentor is superior. Yes, they may have more experience or a higher degree, but the relationship is built on trust and mutual admiration from the beginning. This will set the stage for a successful mentoring connection.
 Martin Sanders. The Power of Mentoring: Shaping People Who Will Shape the World. (Camp Hill PA: Christian Publications, Inc, 2004). 2.
This is Part Two in a series on mentoring. Here is the link for Part One.
About the author:
Jody Fleming is an ordained elder and endorsed chaplain in the Church of the Nazarene and is currently Affiliate Faculty with Kairos University and an Online Course Developer with Pacific Islands University. She holds an M.Div. in Biblical Studies/Teaching Ministries and a Ph.D. in theological studies with a concentration in Global Christianity and Mission and has published in the areas of the Holy Spirit and Missiology including her book Wesleyan Pneumatology, Pentecostal Mission and the Missio Dei. Jody has two adult children and lives with her husband in south central Pennsylvania.
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