the shape of leadership

Two Questions You Should Ask About Mentoring

The help you need may be closer than you think

Donna Barrett on August 6, 2018

How can I find a mentor? It’s a question I often hear from young men and, especially, young women in ministry. But perhaps this is the wrong question. I’d like to suggest two better questions: How can I receive mentoring? How can I be a good mentee?

How Can I Receive Mentoring?

If I’m looking for a mentor, I’m searching for a person. One who is willing to invest in me repeatedly, guiding me in several areas, over a long period of time. On the other hand, if I’m looking to receive mentoring, the help I need could come from multiple people, each sharing knowledge from his or her area of expertise.

When I stepped into the lead pastor role as a church planter, I needed mentoring. Though I had been an associate pastor for 17 years at two different churches, there were areas in which I sought advice and training. Rather than looking to any one person, I reached out in several directions for smaller mentoring exchanges.

The thought of leading an annual business meeting was beyond me, so I asked two different senior pastors for permission to audit their congregational meetings and to have a copy of their annual report booklet. Both pastors happily accommodated that request. It required very little from them, and I gained the help I needed.

I sought the coaching of a respected senior pastor in our area who had also planted his church. He agreed to give me an hour a month for a year. When we met up for coffee, his executive pastor or wife joined us so there were three people present. Some months, we met by phone. I had a list of questions and updates ready to make good use of his time, and he always imparted wisdom.

For three years, I was part of a peer group that met monthly to discuss ministry-related topics and glean insight. I was the only woman. They were colleagues, both inside and outside my tribe, and they became trusted co-laborers who helped one another.

When ministers gather, it’s a great time to receive mentoring from several people at once. Arrive early, and be intentional about engaging in conversation people you know can contribute something to your life and ministry. Ask powerful questions, and listen intently. Ask follow-up questions, and volley the conversation back and forth, deepening the conversation. This isn’t the time to tell long stories about yourself or cluster with your own staff and friends. Don’t be afraid to step up and address strong leaders. A quality interaction might be as short as 10 minutes, but this can be a valuable time of mentoring.

A well-placed, powerful question can help a mentor unpack the information you need.

Most people who would make good mentors are not looking for more to do and don’t have a lot of extra time to give. If you make your request easy, they are more likely to be able to help you. Try one of these approaches:

  • I have a few questions about an area you excel in. Would you have 20 minutes for a phone conversation if I set up something with your secretary?
  • Would you mind if I emailed you this week with a few questions I have about ________ (fill in the blank)?
  • Would you be willing to look at my résumé and give me your thoughts on it?

Rather than looking for one person as a mentor, consider looking for several people who, together, can provide you a mentoring package.

How Can I Be a Good Mentee?

If you want to establish good mentoring relationships, you must be a good mentee. Here are six things you should be doing:

1. Be brave. If you’re too intimidated to approach a strong leader, you’ll just keep talking to the people you know. Though I felt very intimidated, I heard myself introducing myself to the stranger who had just come off the stage and welcoming her and her husband to our state as new directors of a major counseling center. She was gracious and appreciated my welcome, and we eventually became good friends and golfing pals. Twenty years later, we still stay in touch. Marlene is a valued mentor.

2. Mostly listen. When I was a 20-something youth pastor, the seasoned pastors would gather, invite in a guest, and ask questions and listen. I noticed none of them used that time to talk about themselves, had their own conversations going on around the table, or sought to inform the group. They asked questions, listened and received mentoring.

3. Ask thoughtful questions. A well-placed, powerful question can help a mentor unpack the information you need. It might be insight he or she will never think to articulate until someone asks the right question.

4. Make sure you’re a good investment. A high-quality leader who will be a great mentor for you is not likely to volunteer and probably has limited time. That person will need to know you’re serious and a valuable investment of his or her time. You can be a good protégé when you arrange a meeting that’s handy for that person, show up on time, come prepared with topics and questions to discuss, listen well, follow through, and follow up on what comes out of the conversation.

5. Make a clear request. If you’re asking for mentoring, define what you have in mind. Your "ask" might be something like this: "Would you be open to a monthly hour-long phone call for six months about what it takes to be a lead pastor?"

6. Take the initiative. If you want mentoring, pray and ask the Lord to send people your way. Then have you radar up for God’s answer. Not every request may turn out like you'd hope, but take the risk. When you walk into a ministers’ meeting, arrive a little early, engage in conversation with someone from whom you can learn. Be intentional about where you sit, whom you’re near, and how you use the time. Prayerfully invite a mentor into your life, and take the initiative.


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