The value of a mentor

Mentoring is key to developing as a leader – that’s what many women say. There’s a good case made for mentoring at certain points in our journey – such as the transition from curacy, or during a first incumbency – and in church settings as in the business world, for those who aspire to senior leadership roles. But having a mentor (or coach) can help us whatever stage we’re at.

But how do I find a mentor? Like any relationship, often it just happens. You meet someone and find that you ‘click’, and ask them if they could mentor you. But if you’re still looking, there is now another way. We encourage you to use The Mentor Network.

The Mentor Network is a digital hub for Christian mentoring and coaching in the UK. It’s got a good website and lots of FAQs and resources, so we recommend you explore it to find out more. If you are looking for a mentor, you may be able to find a mentor who lives near you.

And those who are looking for mentors, of course need someone to mentor them! So could that be you? If you think you have something to offer, sign up to be a mentor. You will need to write something about yourself for your ‘profile’ – which potential mentees will read – and also give the names of two referees (eg a clergy colleague, a spiritual director, or senior clergy). Mentoring is a great way of investing in the future, and rewarding as well. If you are one of those members of Awesome who’s recently retired and have a bit more spare time, mentoring could be a great way to serve your sisters in Christ.

What is mentoring?

The word mentor emerged from Homer’s epic poem The Odyssey. Mentor was a friend of Odysseus, King of Ithaca. When the king went to war, Mentor became a friend and advisor to the king’s son Telemachus. Mentors today continue in that role.

‘Mentoring’ can mean very different things to different people, and can overlap with roles normally designated by other names, such as coach, spiritual director, or work consultant. Read more about ‘what mentoring is’. And it’s worth noting that what some people call ‘mentoring’ other people call ‘coaching’. In their book Connecting, Paul Stanley and Robert Clinton suggest a number of mentor-style relationships which might benefit Christians, including spiritual direction or guidance, discipling, and counselling.

Mentoring can be a great tool in a church context. You can find out more about setting up a church-based mentoring network in the resource Mentoring Matters, produced by CPAS.

Finding a Mentor

As you think about what you are looking for in a mentor, consider the key areas that you might want to focus on in your mentor relationship, and the qualities to look for in a mentor. You may want different mentor relationships for different issues and at different stages in your ministry. That will also affect the kind of person you are looking for. But there are some key qualities to look out for.

Getting Started

You’ve found yourself a mentor – so how do you get started?

If you meet someone face to face it can take just a simple conversation to get started. ‘I’m looking for a mentor, particularly to focus on ….. Would you be willing to be my mentor?’

‘Let’s meet to talk about it, and then see how we feel.’

If you are using The Mentor Network you will be choosing someone from their profile. The next step is to set up an initial meeting.

Ongoing sessions

Assuming the mentor takes the initiative, the formal content of a session might look like this:

    • Start with the mentee: ‘How are you?’ ‘How can I help you today?’
    • Recall the last session: ‘How have you been getting on with X?’
    • Discussion of key areas: ‘Would you like to carry on talking about that?’ ‘What other areas would you like to look at?’ (see below on asking good questions)
    • Agree on a new task: ‘What do you think you could be working on to put this into action/ for our next meeting?’
    • Pray together

After the first meeting, it’s good practice for the mentee to email the day before an appointment with an agenda or note of what they want to explore, so that the mentor can prepare. One of the keys to being a good mentor is to ask good questions. And as you progress in your mentoring relationship, you’ll need to review how things are going.

Cross-gender mentoring and peer mentoring

In a Christian context it’s often assumed that mentor and mentee will be of the same gender. If the relationship is mainly focused on discipleship or spiritual direction, or the mentee can find someone who is ‘further ahead’, that’s great. But some women still find that if they want a mentor to be someone who they aspire to be in 5 or 10 years’ time, then it may be hard to find a suitable woman. There seem to be more women wanting to be mentored, than there are senior women willing and able to be mentors.

It may be difficult to find a woman who is more experienced in character, competence and experience, and who understand the particular challenges which the mentee is bringing. As one woman in senior leadership writes: ‘There are some wonderful women with very humble, Christ-like maturity and wisdom in the Church, but very few in the generation above me who have ‘got’ (if I can express it that way) serving and living as a leader in the church. They therefore have had little understanding and experience that I could draw upon.’

In a business context, many women, especially those aspiring to more senior positions, would see it as entirely normal to be mentored by a man, and this is the solution which some Christian women choose, though it is controversial in some quarters of the church. If this seems appropriate for you, it would be sensible to ensure you make some extra safeguards:

  • Both parties commit to meeting in public places only, and not in private homes;
  • Both parties welcome regular enquiries from some outside person as to the state of the relationship.

Another other option is peer mentoring. Read more about Peer and Group Mentoring.

Issues for women

The subject of whether there are significant differences between the way men and women lead and minister continues to be controversial. However, the lived professional experiences of male and female leaders are often different. Women will encounter much unconscious or conscious bias, and may face particular challenges: lack of role models, poor theology about women’s ministry, having a right view of oneself, male circles of power and influence, imposter syndrome.

Read more about issues particular to women, including possible questions to open up exploration.

Resources for mentoring

Suggested reading and useful websites can be found here.

A prayer for those we mentor

‘Since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding.  We pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way; bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light.’ 
(Colossians 1:9-12)

No one form of woman-to-woman mentoring connection
fits all people or all pairs.’
Carolyn Duff

‘All biblical mentoring is under-mentoring. Jesus Christ is the real and decisive
agent in Christian mentoring. We cannot bring about change in our mentorees,
yet we can influence them to be changed by Jesus Christ’.
John Mallinson

‘Mentoring is rather like running an Olympic relay race. The older, more
experienced leaders running the Christian race are—or will be—in the process
of handing the baton on to those coming up behind. They don’t suddenly hand the
baton on, for the other person may not be ready and drop it. For a time, as in the race, one runs alongside the other, giving him or her strength and encouragement and handing on the baton when they know they are ready. Mentoring is running alongside someone else for as long as it takes.’
Robyn Claydon