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Finding a Mentor - You Have Not Because You Ask Not

Thu, 28 Jun 2012 - 12:44 PM CST

By Leila Ojala

I have heard from time to time that it is difficult for people under 40 to find mentors. So when I recently overheard a few fellow pastors discussing this, I did what anyone else curious about the topic would do - I eavesdropped and eventually butted in. The conversation went something like this:

"Man, I just can't get any older minister to mentor me! Why do you think that is?"

Following this question, there was a lot of hemming, hawing, and discussing that either older ministers are too insecure or that they don't believe in discipleship. Finally I interrupted, confessed my secret sin of eavesdropping, and asked what I thought was a simple question: "What did the last person actually say to you when you asked?" In response I received dazed looks and lots of blinking.

"You have asked these older ministers, right?" I asked.

After realizing that apparently the remarkable people these guys wanted to mentor them were supposed to be not only godly but also clairvoyant, I began to understand why it is so difficult for people our age to find mentors.

Folks, we have to ask.

My husband has been skilled at asking for as long as I've known him. (You've heard of the gift of giving? My husband Eric often says he has the gift of receiving. I guess someone has to have it.) When I met him in Bible college, he had several mentors in his life - wise, godly, gifted people who cared deeply for him, spoke truth to him, and made time for him as often as they could. When I asked how he did it, he looked at me like the answer was the most obvious thing in the world and replied, "I asked."

Since then I have followed his lead, and have been astonished at the caliber of people who have been willing to make an investment in my life. Not only has not one of them ever been offended that I asked, but some were quite eager because they had wanted to have a friendship with someone younger for some time. So since both Eric and I have been so blessed to have incredible people in our lives in every stage and location where we have lived and ministered, I thought perhaps I could give my friends some tips for finding mentors. Here are my top five:

  1. Asking is important. I know it's hard and makes you feel vulnerable, but it really is just too much to ask someone who is probably 50 times busier than you are to notice you, read your mind to see what you want from them, and then come track you down to invest in you. If someone expected that from you, you would probably think it was a little high-handed. So if you want someone to pour into your life, call them up, invite them out for coffee, and ask them.
  2. Not all mentors are created equal. I don't mean to say that some are more valuable than others, but that different people can fill different roles in your life. Although I've had one consistent mentor for years who has taught me about many areas, Eric has pieced together one "super mentor" from several different men. Once he met with a 70-something-year-old leader of our fellowship who taught him a great deal about leadership, but never talked about his family or home life. That was fine with Eric because another mentor was giving him that gift. Maybe there's a woman out there who can show you how to be an amazing mother even though she's not the best preacher you've ever heard. Or there's a woman who can deposit in you how to find your identity in Christ, but because she's single she can't completely understand how tough your first year of marriage has been. Accept that and be grateful for the contributions she can make in your life.
  3. Unclear expectations can sour any relationship. Be very clear with what you are asking from this person, and make sure they are honest in what they can give you as well. For example, they may only have 1 hour a month rather than 1 hour a week to spend with you. If you are both direct about this up front, not only will it make your relationship better, but it will take pressure off your mentor. Often people say no to mentoring others because they envision frequent all-nighters listening to every detail of their mentee's life. Or even worse, they think they are expected to be knowledgeable about and/or perfect at everything. Being straightforward about what you can each give - and not give - will help.
  4. It is mostly your responsibility to make this happen. When I lived close enough to meet with my mentor face-to-face, I would often drive 40 minutes each way to spend 30 minutes with her. Sometimes her kids would be with us or she would cook dinner while we talked. I didn't care. Now that I'm hundreds of miles away, I would give anything to sit at her kitchen counter again, no matter how many times we were interrupted by her kids' homework or the oven timer going off. Humble yourself and be willing to drive, Skype, hang with her while she shops for groceries, tag along when she picks up her kids from daycare, etc.
  5. Don't let the "no's" get you down. The truth is that most people who say no to mentoring you wish they could, but they have only so much time in the week. Try not to take it personally or get bitter about it, and certainly don't let it stop you from asking the next person God puts on your heart.

So would these five things have made a difference for those guys whose conversation I disrupted? I certainly hope so. Following these simple guidelines has done wonders for Eric and me - for our relationships with Jesus, our marriage, our children, and our ministry.

And friends, as you go looking and asking, don't be surprised if other folks come looking for you as well.

If you are looking for a mentor, check out the Network for Women in Ministry's Meaningful Connections program. 


 Leila Ojala is lead pastor of Elements Church, a new church plant in Summit County, Colorado.


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