You think you’ve found a friend who will help you release your potential. But instead, you’ve attached yourself to someone who will stop at nothing to derail your hopes. Here’s how to recognize the right and wrong kind of mentor.
Mary began baking cookies for her family and friends about 15 years ago and found great joy in it. Her cookies were so good that many people encouraged her to start her own cookie business. After just five years, her business is getting requests for shipments of cookies to areas all around the United States. Baking cookies for family and friends was easy, but cookies for people in distant places? Could I do this? Is there anyone who can help? she wondered. How do I get my business to the next level? Is there someone to advise me?
Lisa feels she has a call of God on her life. She remembers an encounter with the Lord when she was a teenager. Although that happened years ago, Lisa never forgot the commitment she made to God. She promised Him that she would preach His Word. Now, many years later, she senses it is time to act on her promise. How should I begin? she asks herself. I wish there was someone who could help me get started.
Mary and Lisa are like thousands of other women. They want to obey God and fulfill their God-given destinies, but they know they cannot do it alone. They need a mentor.
Many women find themselves in situations similar to what happened when I was just starting out in ministry. I needed help, but I didn’t have anyone to turn to. Instead, I read every book I could find that I thought would help me. I attended any seminar or conference that seemed relevant. I devoured the Bible and any Bible study book I could find. I spent long periods of time in fasting and prayer.
There’s a more effective way called “mentoring” or “coaching,” which is the process of developing not only skills, but also character. A quality mentor is a respected and trusted counselor or guide. There’s something in the mentor that the protégé wants for herself. The mentoree knows she is inexperienced and is confident that she will receive excellent benefits and empowerment from the mentoring relationship.
Throughout the Bible, we can find examples of mentoring relationships. Elisha was willing to forsake everything in order to follow Elijah, the powerful prophet of his time. Even when Elijah encouraged Elisha to remain behind while he was traveling to various cities, Elisha refused. He knew what he was after! He wanted God’s resources found in Elijah.
As a result of Elisha’s faithfulness to Elijah, Elisha received a double portion of the anointing. Elisha performed twice as many miracles in his life as Elijah did during his ministry.
The apostle Paul mentored young Timothy; the New Testament is full of the wisdom of Paul in his letters to Timothy. Where would we be in the church today without those writings? As a result of Paul mentoring Timothy, this rich inheritance has helped shape church history (see 1 Tim. and 2 Tim.).
Good mentors can affect future generations. Their lives are good role models for up-and-coming leaders.
Beware of Toxic Mentors
Finding the right mentor is not always easy. There are many instances where mentors have caused serious problems and brought pain to the ones they were mentoring. These mentors are what I call “toxic mentors” and can be like poison to the protégé. Following are some of the different types of toxic mentors.
The Busy Bee. This type of mentor reminds you that you are one in a multitude of people needing her help. She will fit you in only when it is convenient to her schedule. The mentoree fights feelings of “taking a number.” Surely all the other people in the life of the Busy Bee are more important than she is!
Busy schedules are easy to understand. When possible, schedule phone calls and visits. This will help both parties.
However, emergencies do happen. What I have told the people I have mentored through the years is, “If you can’t get help when you really need it, what good is the mentor?”
The Slave Master. The Bible speaks of leaders having the heart of a servant. The Slave Master interprets this as permission to use the mentoree as her personal slave. The mentoree ends up as a glorified “gopher” of sorts-running errands, babysitting, doing chores and other such tasks. Learning the Word of God and prayer can get lost in the many everyday jobs that the mentoree is expected to do. This dysfunction causes abusive “master/slave” relationships.
The Controller. The mentor wants to know about every decision and the location of the mentoree at all times. Permission must be granted for all decisions in life. Should the mentoree make a decision without permission, the mentor usually responds in a couple of different ways. Sometimes the mentor will lash out in anger. Anger is a powerful tool that keeps the protégé fearful and insecure. If anger doesn’t work, the mentor will use guilt, condemnation and whatever else it takes to keep the mentoree under her control.
The Critic. This mentor finds fault with every leader and mentor she has known both past and present. All other mentors fall short of your mentor. Her gifts are the only perfect ones. Your gifts are very insignificant and could never measure up to hers. For your own protection, you need to stay under her mentoring and hope to someday arrive at the level where she is. Your calling and destiny in God’s plan seem unobtainable.