You will face an interesting dilemma when you decide to begin mentoring. Once convicted that mentoring is a responsibility of yours, then you need to find someone to mentor. What qualities should you look for in a mentee? Connecting with a mentee can be more intimidating than one would expect.
It may at times seem to be little opportunity to mentor people, but we can make the most of every opportunity. Alternatively, as you look around your church and community, you may notice a multitude of people that could use a mentor, and that can be overwhelming. You cannot be a mentor to everyone. You need to pick and choose where you will invest your time and energy. How do you make that decision?
When I was in my undergraduate program, a professor gave me the answer. I’ve continued to follow his advice throughout my mentoring ministry. He said that a mentee needs to be F.A.T. A mentee needs to be Faithful, Available, and Teachable. Once he explained what he meant by the acronym, it stuck with me to this day. If any of these characteristics are missing, your mentoring relationship will struggle.
I want to take a moment to look at the importance of each characteristic. Although the acronym goes F.A.T., I’m going to deal with these in the order of A.F.T. It's not as clever, but it is easier to explain.
This may be the largest hurdle in a mentoring relationship. We live in a culture that is always on the go. We feel like we need to be doing something all of the time. The phrase “I’m so busy” has become a bragging point.
This struggle applies to both teenagers and adults. The teenagers that I mentor have something going on every night of the week. They are often running off to track, a school play, or work. Many teenagers in my youth group have Wednesday evening blocked out for church. Outside of a Wednesday night it’s almost impossible to get together with them. The same goes for the adults I mentor. Most of them are working forty to fifty hour weeks. When they get home they want to crash or they have other responsibilities that need their attention.
The most complicated part of beginning a mentoring relationship will often be deciding on a time and place. Yet, this is a necessary step in the process. Common sense tells us that we can’t mentor someone unless we are spending time with them. In order to spend time with them they need to be available.
At times this can be very frustrating. I have had numerous teenagers that I’ve wanted to mentor (and who’ve wanted me to mentor them), but they haven’t been able to commit the time. In many cases they weren’t willing to sacrifice something in order to make this mentoring relationship work. It's frustrating and sometimes disappointing. However, this is a crucial first step.
There have been times when I’ve tried to mentor someone who isn’t available. We’ve decided that we will “play it by ear” each week because of their schedule. Typically, we end up meeting once or twice and then the relationship fizzles out. As much as you’d like to mentor someone, you can’t mentor someone who is not available. Make sure to take this first step in your mentoring relationships.
Once you find someone who is available and you've schedule a regular time to meet, then you set the expectations of the relationship. This is another important aspect of a mentoring relationship. What is expected from the mentee?
I prefer to keep my mentoring relationships pretty relaxed. We gradually work our way through a chapter of the bible each meeting. However, I still have expectations for them each meeting. They need to come to our meeting having read the chapter and taken notes. The notes consist of insights from the chapter, questions they may have, and application. It’s not much homework, but it’s still an expectation.
Once the expectation is set, then you explain to your mentee that they need to faithfully show up with these things accomplished each meeting. That’s what is expected of them. The first time they don’t show up prepared, you talk about it and work out a plan for next time. What do they need to differently in order to come prepared next time? If it happens again, the correction is a little stronger and the accountability tightens up. If unpreparedness becomes a habitual problem, then you need to have a harder conversation about whether this mentoring relationship should continue.
Proverbs 1:7 says, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction." Of the three characteristics I’ve listed, teachability can be the hardest to determine. It usually take a while before you get a sense for the “teachability” of a person. Although it is hard to determine, it is still an essential characteristic of a mentee in a profitable mentoring relationship.
I haven’t had numerous experiences with unteachable people, but the ones I’ve had stand out in stark contrast. I once tried to mentor a teenager who had an extremely unteachable spirit. We would get together to discuss our chapter of the Bible and his mind was always made up before we met. There was no discussion about the chapter. He tried to turn any disagreement into an argument. Eventually, I saw that he didn’t want to be in this relationship to learn. He was in the relationship to show me where everyone else was wrong. If they already have all the answers, it won't turn into a profitable mentoring relationship.
That may be an extreme case, but the point still remains the same. In order for a mentoring relationship to be profitable, the mentee needs to enter the relationship with a humble, teachable spirit. They must enter the relationship desiring to learn and grow as a result of the mentors knowledge and experience. If this characteristic isn’t present, a mentor will continually feel as though they are beating their head against the wall.
Like anything else, there are always exceptions to the rules. You may find yourself in mentoring relationship with someone who doesn’t fit this mold exactly and it’s working well. That’s great and keep it up. Keep pouring into the individual and watch God bless the relationship (I’ve had that happen a couple times).
However, as I look back on my experience and evaluate the mentoring relationships that have had tremendous impact, they have had all three of these qualities. Those are the relationships that still make me smile when I think back on our times together. Those are the mentoring relationships where I find myself repeatedly praising God for the opportunity to play an influential role in their life.
Rev. Dr. Rob Toornstra