Why does finding a mentor feel like dating? You look for someone who meets all the qualities you desire in a role model. You weigh the pros and cons of a long distance relationship over Skype and the classic coffee shop face-to-face. You wonder if the person will be into it or just say "yes" to be nice.
Then there is all the anxiety around popping the question, “Will you be my mentor?” This question is often just as nerve-wracking for the potential mentor as it is for the mentee. Do you have time in your life for this kind of commitment? What is this person expecting of you? How will this impact the other relationships in your life? And what if the person commits to this relationship and you find out he or she is convinced the world is ending in 2020 and storing up stock piles of Spam in their basement?
A New Paradigm
What if, instead of thinking of a mentor relationship as an exclusive partnership to secure our desired life and career benefits, we sought to be part of a nurturing community in which we have as much to invest as we have to receive? When mentoring is an act of hospitality within the Christian community, it takes the anxious expectations out of the equation and allows mentoring relationships to foster inclusion and discipleship.
When asked about my mentors I often draw a blank. I have only ever popped the mentor question under academic coercion. An assignment in my first class in seminary required that I find a mentor to meet with regularly. The early days of that relationship were awkward. I remember eating packed lunches in a quiet conference room, just me and Cindy, not knowing what to ask, feeling silly for taking up her time, trying really hard to be worth her investment.
Even without formalized mentor relationships, however, my life has no shortage of role models, friendships that give me room to wrestle with questions, or colleagues who are willing to share their favorite books and best practices.
I was recently reminded of these incredible relationship at a gathering of 40,000 of my closest friends and family. June 2017 was the denominational gathering for the Church of the Nazarene, my tribe of holiness Christians. Nazarenes from all over the world descended on Indianapolis, filling up Steak n Shake and Starbucks and occupying every table of the mall’s food court. That crazy week reminded me of three things:
1. There’s always room for one more chair.
Life is full of mentors, and these relationships are best when they are inclusive and not exclusive. At an event like General Assembly, there are too many opportunities to gather and meet up with wonderful people. Even the most extroverted among us find it a bit exhausting. Finding a small window in my schedule, I was able to join a coffee date with a few pastor friends whom I know I can call or text when I have hit a wall or need some guidance. I may have been the youngest member of this group, but not by much. I wanted to drink in each word from these colleagues I admire and look up. But in the midst of conversation when I had something to say, they leaned in to listen, too.