Who are your mentors, the people who are helping you grow in your faith? Proverbs 13:20 says that “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.” (I share some more thoughts about the importance of godly mentorship, especially related to our children, in this 1-minute audio clip.)
Sometimes knowing how to find a mentor and start that relationship can be challenging. My longtime dear friend Barry Arnold, who pastors Cornerstone Church in Gresham, Oregon, shares some thoughts about the importance of seeking wisdom from others, as well as five simple steps for pursuing mentorship:
Proverbs 1:3-4 says, “To receive instruction in wise dealing, in righteousness, justice, and equity; to give prudence to the simple, knowledge and discretion to the youth—Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance, to understand a proverb and a saying, the words of the wise and their riddles.” We’re told that a truly skillful, or wise, person will never stop learning, especially from others who are even more skillful than they are.
This is why the generations have to be together. No matter what your age, you need people of other ages close to you. Older people have the wisdom younger people need. Younger people have the energy and enthusiasm older people need. The best small groups in church I’ve been part of have been inter-generational. You also need to pass on the wisdom—the life-skill God has given you—to younger people.
Let me tell you one way mentoring can work. Let’s say there are three or four men or women in your church—a little older than you—that you admire. By the time you get to their age you would like to be a lot like them. You would like to be “mentored” by them, but you don’t know how to go about asking. (On the other side, older people who have life skills are just as awkward about offering to be a mentor.)
Somebody has to make a move, and I’m suggesting it should be the younger person. Here’s what not to do: Don’t go up to an older person and ask, “Would you mentor me?” Most older people, even if they have bad knees, would bolt out the door and may never come back. “Mentor you? What’s that mean?” The older person pictures C. S. Lewis in his library, smoking a pipe and discussing Aristotle and Polycarp with a group of young men—and they think I could never do that.
But what you want to know is what strategies this older person has found successful in resisting temptation. Perhaps you want to know how to be completely fulfilled as a single person. Maybe you want to know how they kept loving their spouse—for decades. You want to know how they study the Bible, what they pray about, how they dealt with an insecure, perhaps even incompetent, boss. You want to know how their kids grew up to embrace faith in Christ when so many don’t. You want to know practical things—like how to stretch a paycheck and how to make good money decisions.
So here’s what you do, in five simple steps:
1. Make a list of older men or women you admire.
2. One at a time, approach them, saying you admire them, and you’re wondering if they would meet you for coffee because you’d like to ask them a couple questions about life. That’s it. Just ask to meet one time—to ask about how life works.
3. If they say yes, jot down questions starting with “How did you...” or “How have you...” and ask the questions. They don’t have to prepare anything. There’s no homework, no notebook, because what you want is not information but their “life skills” and “wisdom.”
4. If the hour is awkward, you’re done. Go to the next person. But if an hour and a half goes by quickly and you only got through one question, ask if they would mind meeting again. When you get your questions answered, you’re done. Maybe you’ll end up meeting five times, maybe twenty. The number isn’t important. Your questions are important.
5. Ask another person you admire if they would meet you for coffee. It may take two or three years to pick the brains of the people you select, but in this model, everyone wins. And when you’re finished, you’re not dragging along a program you don’t know what to do with.
Randy Alcorn (@randyalcorn) is the author of over sixty books and the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries.