Several assumptions and generalizations about mentoring have morphed into myths over time. In this post I will walk back a couple of those assumptions for the purpose of helping 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 unfulfilled goal to feel guilty about. My prayer is that after we blow up a handful of mentoring myths, God will bring someone to your mind who is a great fit for you.
MYTH #1 – A mentor needs to be smarter than the mentee
We will stop learning and growing if we will only listen to those who have more experience or education than we have. Pastors usually start their ministries as eager learners. Subtle pride can easily slip in and convince us that teachers don’t need teachers after graduation or ordination. We will 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 does not 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 have contributed somewhat to this myth by recommending that 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 mere preference.
One contributing factor to this myth is that the term “elder” literally means older person. The context of that term determines whether it is referring to a church office or the person’s stage of life. Either context suggests that someone has already been down the road you are headed on.
So, if your mentor has less birthdays than you do, which is fine, I suggest that they at least have more ministry experience than you do.
MYTH #3 – The mentor needs to initiate the relationship
The pastors I am mentoring these days have all initiated the relationship with me. I approached my mentors in the same way, but have learned that this is not the only valid mentoring model.
If someone offers to help you to grow professionally and/or personally, do not hesitate to meet with them a few times to see if this friendship 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, Bullseye! (or Elijah)
Most of my mentoring relationships last 3-5 years. These are not contractual relationships as much as they are seasonal.
I am pleased 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 away from their zip codes, they 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 have taught for years that a mentor should not be on your staff. Granted, it is harder to speak frankly when your mentor is above or below you on an org chart, but it is 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, which only you can voluntarily grant. Any additional layer of spiritual or organizational authority may complicate that relationship, but it does not automatically forfeit it.
The primary qualification for a good mentor is that they will 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.