I love mentoring. It’s probably the pastoral skill I’ve honed most in my life. I love going deep with someone—discerning together what’s really going on in their heart. Why are they stuck? Where are they angry? Why does God seem absent? What is God doing with today’s mess to redeem it into beauty? It’s vigorous and exciting, and sometimes I glimpse the Spirit at work. I hold it lightly, though, and remember that it’s not a mentor that God most uses to transform a life.
It’s a friend.
I discovered this from my own story. I felt like a bit of a traitor when I realized that even though I’d been mentored, the real people I thought of who helped me grow were the friends with whom I had processed my life over many years: who had spoken truth, who had listened and asked questions. They were the friends who cared about my life with Jesus—who were vulnerable when they were afraid, or angry, or distant from God—and let me do the same. They were friends who cried with and for me. They were friends who spent time with me, and who prayed.
I like to call these kinds of relationships spiritual friendships. They may be your longtime friend or your spouse; they may be your sister, brother, daughter, or mom. But what they have in common is that they know you deeply, they are committed to you, and their heart is to encourage you towards the Greatest Good.
It makes sense, actually, that these kinds of friendships have been the real places of growth for me. I’ve spent so much more time in these relationships, and they have been my places of deepest vulnerability, where I have shared my joys & hopes, but also exposed my ugliness, pain and fears. And in those painfully vulnerable moments it has been these friends who have either spoken words of life or have been brave enough to say nothing at all, but simply be the presence of Jesus beside me. To put it simply—it is those who are closest to our hearts whom God uses the most, if they, and we, are willing.
I have determined that a major role for me as a mentor is to help people learn to be both givers and receivers in these kinds of relationships. I think we often assume a mentoring relationship centers on the question: “How can I help you grow in your relationship with God?” We forget, in our excessively individualized world, that the Kingdom of God is a kingdom of relationships, and that almost every command in Scripture involves how we relate to others. To grow in our love for Jesus is to grow in our capacity to love and be loved by another.
So how do we facilitate these kinds of relationships in the lives of those we mentor?
1. We help them to learn to share about their relationship with God.
These days I spend most of my time meeting with young campus pastors, and I often reflect on how EASY it is, because they’ve already learned this skill. Many Christians, though, don’t know how to listen to, let alone share, what’s in their heart. As mentors we can teach people to build solitude in their life, to hear God’s voice, to be attentive to what their emotions are saying, to reflect on what God’s Spirit is saying to them through Scripture and prayer. And then we can ask them thoughtful questions to help them share what they are learning about God, their relationships and themselves. Many people have never had anyone ask about these deep places in their heart—I know that I hadn’t before I met with a mentor. This process of sharing with us will give them a hunger to cultivate these kinds of relationships in other places of their lives.
2. We help them to cultivate healthy relationships in their lives.
I have a list of mentoring questions that I go back to time and time again. On that list are questions that involve every significant relationship people might have: siblings, parents, friends, romantic relationships. As I get to know a person I want to know their relational landscape—because I know that the quality of their relationships matters just as much as how much they pray.
3. We encourage them to mentor others.
Whether this occurs in a formal or informal capacity, the people who grow the most are those who are helping others to grow. I have found that it is people who have taken this step who really end up building relationships of depth and quality. As they help someone share about their relationship with God, they learn how to integrate this deep kind of heart sharing in their most intimate relationships.
When I go to weddings or other events, one of my greatest joys is seeing women I have mentored with their closest friends (some of whom are also women I have mentored). When I see these kinds of relationships form in a person’s life, I know that they have anchors to hold them close to Jesus—through whatever life may hold.
Kirsten Anonby is the Assistant District Director for University Christian Ministries (UCM), the arm of the PAOC that reaches out to secular university campuses in BC. Her life as a mentor began in 1993 during her third year at university. Kirsten works for UCM half-time to make space for homeschooling (and mentoring!) her 3 young kids. She loves reading to her kids, escaping from her kids with her husband David, and moments in a comfy chair with her journal and coffee.