As mentors, how much should we share about ourselves?
The Bible is not short on leaders who struggled with cheating, anger, sex addiction, alcoholism, anxiety, gossip, insecurity and doubt, which honestly should be an encouragement to us. We know God doesn’t call us to lead because we’re perfect. But how are we to lead well, while knowing full well that we’re imperfect?
We’re not professional counselors (who intentionally and essentially divulge nothing about their lives) and we’re not intimate peers (who intentionally and essentially divulge most about their lives), so when it comes to mentoring, what should we tell? And what are some helpful thoughts on telling too much, or not telling enough?
Here are some that we came up with:
Be quick to hear and slow to speak (James 1:19). In other words, listen more than you talk, and when you listen, don’t just do so deriving answers and personal stories in response, but listen in order to actually hear, and then discern if and what you’re to say.
Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15). If someone close to you died last week, by all means, don’t hide such news. Leading well involves vulnerability. But also prioritize serving the other person by speaking into or listening to where your mentee is—whether that’s rejoicing, weeping or somewhere in between.
Confess to a point of acknowledging your humanness, and need for a Savior. Resist confessing to a point of unnecessary dumping, or to the other extreme of avoiding confession, in order to seem mature, or beyond sin.
Forgive as God in Christ forgave you (Ephesians 4:32). At times, the one you’re mentoring will seem self-absorbed and stuck in his/her own story. This is the tendency of being an 18-25 year old. Forgive them. At times you’ll realize you’re being self-absorbed and stuck in your own story. This is the tendency of being human. Forgive yourself as God in Christ forgave you.
Don’t substitute your mentoring relationship for peer interaction, or let it suffice for your own relational intimacy. This robs both you and the one you’re mentoring of true intimacy. It’s fair to expect that those you’re mentoring are coming to dump. It’s not fair to do the same to them. You shouldn’t be leaning into your mentee to counsel you. That’s for your intimate peers and mentors. Reflecting back on your time with someone, if you realize your tendency of talking more than you desired, or unintentionally “leaking” more about your issues and opinions than you’d planned, those are great signs that maybe intimate relationships are lacking in your life. And in this scenario, you may be tempted to curse your weakness and conclude that you’re an awful mentor. Take note: “There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” (Romans 8:1). But also take note that this may be God’s kindness, revealing that you’d do well to seek your own intimate friendships, or a mentor for yourself. It’s implicit in our great commission to “go and make disciples of all men” (Matthew 28:19), that we’ve first “stayed, and been made” by caring men and women in our lives.
When we consider Jesus’ relationships, we can conclude a range of things that help us conduct and carry out our own relationships. Consider the different ways in which Jesus communicated with others, from His closest disciples, to children, or to a woman caught in ghastly sin.
Consider Gethsemane, where we see Him sharing far more vulnerably about His sorrow and weakness than when teaching affront a crowd of followers, or sharing a parable. Or what about in Matthew 12:46-50, where Jesus withholds what might seem compassionate, or respectful, words toward His immediate family, apparently knowing the need for words directed at His Kingdom family?
Sometimes Jesus says a lot and sometimes very little; sometimes He ministers with words and sometimes with actions, or tears.
What can we learn from Jesus about how to mentor well, with both vulnerability and limit?
Based on your experiences as a mentor, would you add anything to this list?