I consider and write about mentoring from the perspective of intentionally making disciples of Jesus, journeying with people to train, teach, and challenge them to follow Jesus Christ. It is a mentor’s responsibility to love and pray for those God has entrusted to her care. Through love and intercession, mentors teach disciples to love and obey Christ’s commandments.
When we have a personal encounter with Christ, our lives are forever changed. Once the Holy Spirit does a work in our hearts, we are immediately welcomed into a right and pure relationship with God. We become sons and daughters, a part of God’s family. We also become priests and heirs, those who will receive all rights and privileges of being a child of the King. Yet, our salvation means that God promises to continue his great work of transforming our hearts and our will so they both align with his intended purposes. For a true disciple, this process of change is evident throughout the believer’s life.
God uses several tools to help us on our faith journey. He has given us his Word, the Holy Bible, with the understanding that “all scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16).” He has given us wise counselors and mentors, and has encouraged us to seek out wisdom. He has given people in our new faith family the spiritual gift of intercession or the earnest desire to pray for others. The preached Word ministers to our hearts. The encouragement, gifts, talents, and generosity of the faith community all serve as a means to train us and grow us up in righteousness. He even sends angels to minister to us, strengthen us when we are tempted, and lift us when we are weak.
A disciple is made when a person understands that he or she is a sinner in desperate need of the Savior Jesus Christ, who connects us in intimate relationship with our Creator God. A disciple is also made when that same person receives God’s gift of the Holy Spirit which allows him or her to walk in a manner pleasing to the Lord, and make the commitment to live as a follower of Christ in a faith community which God uses to continue our spiritual growth.
When talking about mentoring from the perspective of intentional discipleship, one of the questions I am often asked is: How do you know when you are done? Or perhaps a clarifying question would be better: How do you know when the mentoring relationship is over?
In the physical sense, mentoring and discipleship relationships are temporal. They do not last forever. Sometimes physical death or a change in life circumstances quickly draws this relationship to an end. At other times, the mentor and mentee may determine in advance how long the relationship will last, when defining the nature and goals of the relationship. Somewhere between the two extremes of an unexpected conclusion or a pre-determined end, is the natural progression that eventually leads to a necessary transfer.
The idea of ending a mentoring relationship can be scary because both parties have already invested so much, and it is likely that either or both participants can feel a sense of lost or abandonment. It can be scary because of the uncertainty of answering questions like: “What’s next?” or “How can I make it without this person?” When considering these times of transition, it is important to remember that Jesus is our primary teacher, and he promises never to leave us or forsake us. We can, therefore, trust that He knows better than anyone what we need and when we need it. We get into unhealthy situations when we believe that we know better than Jesus what we need, when we set up idols for ourselves (even in the form of our mentoring relationships), and when we are unwilling to let go when God makes it clear that a season has past.
Please understand, just because a mentoring relationship ends does not mean that you love your mentor or mentee any less, or that you will not continue to be friends, keep in touch, or pray for each other. It simply means that you are releasing the intentionality and focus of the relationship to evolve into something else or not, and you are also open to what other mentoring and discipleship relationships where God is calling you to invest right now.
I believe Hebrews 5:11-14 can provide a framework for when to transition a mentoring relationship. It reads:
We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, no solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who be constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.
This section of the book of Hebrew is about the importance of persevering in the faith and provides warnings against falling away from the apostle’s teaching. The apostles were intentional about teaching the truth of God’s Word and making disciples of Jesus Christ. In this text, the writer says that certain levels of teaching and learning are necessary for a believer that is growing in maturity:
- Milk drinking metaphor: A new believer who expresses a willingness to learn and be taught the elementary truths of God’s Word.
- Solid food metaphor: Mature believers who becomes acquainted with the teaching about righteousness and have constantly trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.
- Teacher metaphor: Mature believers who has progressed through the first and second stages, and are willing and able to teach, disciple, and mentor others.
We all need different mentors in our lives during these transitional stages. The role of the mentor is to get us from here to there on our faith journey, while ultimately entrusting us to the care of the loving God who will never leave or forsake us, and who promises to fulfill his good purposes for us.
How do you know when it is time for your mentoring relationships to end? How has making these transitions been challenging?
© Natasha Sistrunk Robinson 2015
5 thoughts on “Mentoring: When is a Disciple Made? And When is it Over?”
Natasha, this is such a clear and insightful perspective. Being a mentor or a mentee is a fantastic opportunity to learn and grow on both sides, but it’s really important to know when to let go. I advocate a good chat about expectations in the beginning of any mentoring relationship, and that should include giving a time, which can be extended when that date comes.
Many times it works well for times to be extended but often a 6 or 12 month agreement works just fine.
The challenges are varied, but downsides could occur when a mentee no longer values the mentor’s input or when the mentor becomes autocratic in their mentoring. Sometimes it’s just a matter of either party growing past the relationship.
Thanks for this. It’s a good article.
Good wisdom here, Bev! Thanks for sharing.
This is a very interesting take on the mentor/mentee relationship. Personally, I had a mentor during my first 2 years of running my own business. We both came to the conclusion that our relationship was done after I was able to run my business with little to no help from my mentor. After the relationship was done, I found myself finding proxy mentors through other successful business people. For example, I have been following the career of Mark Hurd for the last few years now, since he has taken over at Oracle. I have also been impressed with his leadership and ability to turn a company around. I have closely following his statements at OpenWorld 2016 and I am excited for what he has in store and I am looking forward to the direction that Oracle is heading in the next few years. Hurd is my ideal mentor and coach and since I had previously outgrown my mentor, it was nice to follow the careers of other more successful people as a guide for the ext steps in my own success.
Natasha, any suggestions on what an “ending” conversation might look like? I’m particularly interested in transitioning out of one if the person hasn’t followed through or been very responsive for the past few months and how to do this in a grace-oriented, blessing, releasing way.
This is such a great question! I normally recommend having clear expectations upfront, including the amount of time you will invest in the mentoring relationship. Having goals and clear expectations makes in easier for both the mentor and mentee to determine if the relationship is progressing, when the mentoring relationship needs to transition, and what the next steps will be. Of course, we seek and trust God with the direction of all of that. If you are sensing that your mentoring commitment to this person is drawing to a close, I would recommend that you start having that conversation with your mentee now. Through a series of conversations, I would encourage you to identify the areas of growth you have observe,d and some areas where the mentee can continue to work. I also recommend assisting or pointing your mentee as the prepare for the next step of their life or faith journey. Might there be another mentor who can serve them in the next phase of their journey? Would training or other service or work opportunities be encouraged? Basically, you want to end or transition the relationship with a positive affirmation, blessings, prayer, and a commission. I write about the various aspects of this in “Mentor for Life,” and specifically in Chapters 9, 10, and 15. I hope this is helpful. Let me know if I can be of further assistance. Blessings, Natasha