By Sarah Doss
Take a moment to consider the people who have invested in your life.
Who in your past (or even now) showed an interest, created a safe space for you to be honest, pointed you to God’s Word, entered into the hard conversations with grace and peace, and spurred you on in gospel-growth?
I can readily name a handful of pastors and godly women who took the time to see me, know me, and humbly pass along wisdom. I count them among some of God’s kindest and most unexpected blessings. They formed and shaped me up to this point; they showed me how kind God really is and how to walk with Him.
It’s no surprise these close relationships bring such weighty spiritual fruit. The Bible is replete with examples of intentional discipleship relationships (think Jesus and Paul) and encouragements to instruct the generations that follow in the ways of God.
But, the idea of helping your congregation launch a mentorship ministry can seem daunting. Where to begin?
Mentorship, like most things, is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor. But, when considering how to begin or continue growing a mentorship program in your local church, we’ve found these five principles helpful.
1. Be a student of your congregation.
In the early stages of development, it’s crucial to work on “church awareness.” In other words, prayerfully consider the people you’re hoping to serve through this mentorship ministry.
Ask for feedback from your congregation and trusted leaders to get a sense of the breadth of needs and desires in your church. Ask them what they would like and pray for wisdom—for God to help you discern what they need and what might work best in your specific situation.
Be especially attuned to the common themes that seem to rise to the surface. The Lord may be directing in the unity of their hearts.
2. Play to your strengths.
Consider how this mentorship ministry could best work in your environment. It may help to think through the following:
- How connected are the people in our church? Would mentors and mentees naturally know one another? How could we easily create opportunities for them to know one another?
- Realistically, how often would the mentors/mentees in our church be able to meet?
- How much support would most people need? Who has the bandwidth to provide this support?
- How structured would our program need to be? Would mentors and mentees be able to shape their time together organically? Or, would it help to provide some discussion questions or a Bible study to center the time around?
Now, you’re ready to plot your next steps.
If you’re in a small church where community is well established, a mentorship program may practically look like more consistent get-togethers. In some environments, just getting groups of younger and older men or women in the same room consistently is enough to encourage intentional and authentic relationships.
And, as you may have guessed, we encourage younger men to meet with older men and younger women with older women.
If you’re in a larger church, consider creating a leadership team to cast vision and help you facilitate a mentorship ministry. Some large churches take the next step and match mentorship pairings—using an interview process to connect mentors to mentees that might not otherwise be acquainted.
Keep in mind: This approach requires a bit more administrative work to maintain and steward well, but it may allow you to serve your congregation with much more precision based on personality and gifting. Leadership teams should also strive to serve as a resource for the mentors, caring for the mentors as they care for the mentees.
Craft this ministry according to the strengths of your church—something you can do well, something that you can scale as necessary.
In either scenario, the onus of the responsibility in these mentorship relationships both practically and spiritually will fall to the mentors. You’ll want to make sure they’re clued in as to what you’re trying to accomplish, as they will likely have to initiate and lead in the relationship for the first bit at least.
3. Cast a theological vision.
Speaking of “cluing in” the mentors, explaining the theological underpinnings of mentorship ministry will be crucial to its success.
If these mentorship relationships aren’t rooted in the unity of the faith, they can easily become another social obligation on the calendar. Coach your mentors to fight for authenticity and spiritual focus. When the spiritual is given priority first, the everyday things of life will naturally come in.
Consider, for example, 1 Corinthians 11:1, “Imitate me, as I also imitate Christ,” as you explain the call for mentorship. Shepherding this ministry theologically will be an on-going work, not just a one-hour meeting at the launch. But, it is well worth the effort. In providing solid theological framework, you set the tone for your mentorship ministry.
4. Don’t force it.
Be flexible and learn as your mentoring ministry evolves over time. The insight you gain from your participants will prove invaluable.
We all know that sometimes our brilliant ideas fall flat in the light of day. Adjusting your approach or fine tuning things along the way is a sign of health, not failure. If you let it, your ministry will grow within the gospel-centered guardrails you’ve provided to meet the needs of your faith family.
5. Be on the lookout for leadership potential.
As your mentorship ministry matures, likely so will the mentees. Try to keep tabs on the growing leaders in your midst who might be ready to help pass along some wisdom to those coming behind them.
Ask your church leaders and current mentors to do the same. Part of the joy of this ministry is watching God grow people into maturity so they can minister to others.
Though mentorship can feel overwhelming, there’s good news—we’re called to steward what God has given us in mentoring those who come after us, but He has promised to bring about the growth and life change.
Lifeway has recently created FLOURISH, a Women’s mentoring resource in partnership with Passion City Church. In addition to this written resource available for purchase, find many free videos and helpful FAQs regarding mentoring and building a mentoring ministry in your local church at FlourishMentor.com.
SARAH DOSS (@sarahdossy) is a content and production editor for Lifeway Christian Resources.