By Mark Dance
Several assumptions and generalizations about mentoring have morphed into myths over time. In this post, I’ll walk back a couple of those assumptions to help you find a mentor. We all need one to help us grow as a person and as a pastor.
If we set our standards artificially high, mentoring will be just another opportunity for a guilt trip. My prayer is that after we blow up a handful of mentoring myths, God will bring someone to your mind who’s a great fit for you.
MYTH #1 – A mentor needs to be smarter than the mentee.
We stop learning and growing if we only listen to those who have more experience or education than we have.
Pastors usually start their ministries as eager learners. But pride can easily slip in and convince us we don’t need teachers after graduation or ordination.
We’ll only seek a mentor if we genuinely believe we need one.
They didn’t listen or pay attention but followed their own advice and according to their own stubborn, evil heart. They went backward and not forward. Jeremiah 7:24
A good mentor doesn’t need more degrees or a prominent position to help you move forward in your faith. A good mentor simply needs a humble mentee.
MYTH #2 – A mentor has to be older than a mentee.
I’ve contributed somewhat to this myth by recommending pastors find someone roughly ten years old than them. As a general rule, I still stand by that (Titus 2:2-5), but there are so many exceptions to that rule that I feel the need to downgrade that requirement to a preference.
One contributing factor to this myth is the term “elder” literally means an older person. The context of that term determines whether it’s referring to a church office or the person’s stage of life. Either context suggests someone that has already journeyed the road you’re heading down.
So, if your mentor has fewer birthdays than you do (which is fine), I suggest they at least need to have more ministry experience than you.
MYTH #3 – The mentor needs to initiate the relationship.
The pastors I’m mentoring these days have all initiated the relationship with me. I approached my mentors in the same way, but I’ve learned this isn’t the only valid mentoring model.
If someone offers to help you grow professionally and personally, don’t hesitate to meet with them a few times to see if the relationship is helpful.
MYTH #4 – You might get stuck with the wrong mentor.
What if you start meeting with someone who drains you or has a hidden agenda? Toxic mentors are usually not that hard to get away from, but if necessary, run like the wind!
Most of my mentoring relationships last 3-5 years. These are not contractual relationships as much as they’re seasonal.
I am delighted to have Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus present…For they have refreshed my spirit and yours. 1 Corinthians 16:17-18
A couple of my mentors are lifers. Home church pastors often make great lifetime mentors, as do state, associational, and seminary leaders. Even when I moved to a different zip code, these mentors found a way of staying in my life and in my head.
MYTH #5 – A mentor must have no authority over you.
I have to walk this one back because I’ve taught for years that a mentor shouldn’t be on your staff. Granted, it’s harder to speak frankly when your mentor is above or below you on an organizational chart, but it’s not impossible.
Paul had spiritual authority over Timothy, yet he still coached and cheered Timothy on until his dying breath.
A mentor holds a position of relational authority that’s only granted voluntarily by the mentee. Any additional layer of spiritual or organizational authority may complicate that relationship; however, it doesn’t automatically forfeit it.
The primary qualification for a good mentor is that they’ll care about you as a person, not just as a pastor. If a mentor has consistently invested in your personal and professional growth, the best way to thank God for them is to pay it forward.