As women’s ministry coordinator at my church, one request I often hear is the desire for a spiritual mentor. For each lady making a request, there are a variety of hopes behind it. Some know they need to grow in their faith and desire an older woman to provide advice and wisdom. Some long for a nurturing figure to encourage them. Some lack direction and hope that a mentor could give them advice. Some are hurting and hope for healing. Others feel overwhelmed and are looking for someone who might provide help to ease the burdens of life.
When I approach older ladies with the request of mentoring, they are often hesitant. Most of them have never been mentored and rightly wonder, What exactly does she want from me? They may even be fearful, not assured of their own ability to lead another because of past failure. For some, they may desire to mentor, but lack clarity on what to do in their time together.
The Hope of Mentoring
The image I like to use to describe mentoring is that of a young tree. It easily bends and sways, thrashing about in a storm. It doesn’t have the strength needed to stand tall in certain kinds of weather. It’s easily affected by the elements.
In contrast, an old oak stands firm amidst the changing seasons. Each year that passes, it’s more secure and strengthened. One method to stabilize the young tree is to tether it to an older, more mature tree. By simply standing beside the younger tree, the older tree shares its strength.
In a similar way, the mentoring relationship is one where a younger believer is tethered to a more mature believer for a season so that she might grow firm in her faith and be equipped for ministry. God is always the One doing the work, but He uses us in the lives of one another to build up the church.
One passage in particular I turn to when considering the meaning of mentoring is Ephesians 4:7, 11–14, where Paul encourages the church:
But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. . . . And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes (emphasis added).
The apostle, prophet, evangelist, shepherd, and teacher all have one goal in their training: to equip the saints for the work of ministry, in hopes of building up the Body of Christ. Spiritual mentoring has the same goal of building up the Body of Christ by investing in the spiritual growth of another believer. The entire Church is built up and unified as a more mature believer provides support and encouragement for a younger Christian.
Mentoring is much more than just developing a cross-generational friendship. It’s also distinctive from a counseling relationship. The goal isn’t to just grab a coffee every now and then. The goal of mentoring is to know Christ in a more intimate way through the benefit and blessing of walking purposefully alongside a more mature believer. This can happen by studying a book of the Bible, reading a topical book, working together in a ministry endeavor, or meeting on a regular basis to ask questions directed at spiritual growth.
The Affection of Mentoring
This primary goal of knowing Christ (not simply developing a cross-generational friendship) does not in any way take away from the affection experienced. In fact, the better goal of being equipped for the work of ministry actually fosters deep intimacy between the participants in a mentoring relationship. Paul wrote to the Philippians, “You know Timothy’s proven worth, how as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel” (Phil. 2:22, emphasis added).
Their relationship wasn’t simply rooted in their affection for one another; it was centered on their work together in the gospel. When our desires are set upon the greater hope of knowing Christ and building His kingdom, our affections for one another aren’t lessened but increased! We should hope for deep devotion but recognize it’s a wonderful by-product of a much more meaningful goal.
Spiritual mentoring, with the goal of equipping the saints for the work of ministry, is greatly needed in the church today. Culture presses in like a storm. Younger believers are tossed back and forth, struggling to stand firm.
The strong roots of mature believers are greatly needed. If you’re an older woman, consider a younger woman in your life that you might stand beside for a season to encourage. You don’t have to have all the answers. You don’t have to solve all her problems. A listening ear, a praying heart, and a love for God’s Word will supply you with everything you need.