“Mentoring is so American,” a friend from another country told me. We were talking about older women mentoring younger women, and she had a different take on it than most people around me. “Where I’m from, people would never do it. They just take part in the life of the church and try to be faithful in their personal lives.” What she meant was that the early 21st-century American version of mentoring—more of an Evangelical, programmatic, Titus 2 system—was something unique to this culture.
And she is probably right: the one-on-one coffee dates, note taking and arranged, lay shepherding isn’t exactly something that has a timeless or universal feel. Not that this “American” version of mentoring is wrong, it’s just a cultural expression of Protestant America trying to help the older women teach the younger women.
Biblically, and as far from cultural influences as we can get, mentoring is actually a relationship between two Christians—an older one and a younger one—for the purpose of fostering growth in grace in both people, but especially the younger one. Mentoring is telling a younger believer, “Follow me as I follow Christ.” Mentoring is not stopping work so that you can run and have a coffee and ask how their week was. Mentoring is not a program that you follow.
Paul did not go out for shawarma once a week with Barnabas to ask about his quiet time, or start an accountability system in the congregation. They went on a mission trip together; they actually lived out the Christian life in close proximity, working toward the same goal. This does not mean that asking about devotions and having accountability (or shawarma!) is bad; it means that they are small parts of the much more comprehensive and full lifestyle that biblical mentoring is.
As an older woman, mentoring is opening your life and inviting younger women from your church family into your everyday work so that they can actually see how biblical principles work on the ground. It’s investing in a younger woman so that she can reap temporal and spiritual dividends. As a younger woman, being mentored is honestly opening your life to an older godly woman so that you can grow in your calling as a Christian, wife and maybe mother. Mentoring can include things like Bible memorization and book studies, but it is a lot more holistic than only that. Mentoring is an organic relationship between an older woman and a younger woman whom God has brought into regular contact with one another, where the younger woman learns about life and godliness from someone who has wisdom in those areas.
Mentoring is not a project or an event. It should be a lifestyle for every professing Christian woman: a deliberate, intentional use of the relationships God has placed us in. When it is being done biblically, there’s nothing artificial about mentoring: It’s honest, on the ground, and produces fruit, in one or both people.
Just like Christians in the New Testament era, we are living in a secular culture. Our churches are increasingly full of young women who have grown up in homes where they were not taught what biblical womanhood looks like, either because their parents were not Christians or because they had an underdeveloped understanding of biblical Christianity. A lot of these younger women are struggling and need someone to come beside them and say, “Hey, I can help you figure out how to do this.” We all need that, because none of us have ever done what we are doing before, and counsel, encouragement and warnings are all helps to keep us from falling.
Mentoring is also important for girls who have grown up in the church. If you have a daughter, you are automatically mentoring her, although that is not the best way to think of that relationship, as Scripture describes the parent-child relationship as far larger with more comprehensive ways than can fit into mentoring, though mentoring is an aspect. But we should be mentoring younger women outside of our families, just as our daughters should have someone outside the family mentoring them, since families have blind spots, shared sins, and often similar weaknesses and strengths.
Involving other Christian women with different perspectives, backgrounds, strengths and weaknesses is a huge asset for all of us. If we are part of a healthy church, this should happen by default. Older women in the church will welcome younger ones into their lives so that the younger women can develop a broader, fuller understanding of what applied Christianity looks like.
Mentoring is also important because it is personal. Google only gets you so far in getting answers, and since bloggers and dead authors don’t know you and your situation personally, they cannot speak to you specifically. And when you google instead of going to a mentor, you lose all of those little, extra interactions and comments that can be a big boost, not just in your day, but in your developing understanding of the Christian life. You can google how to roast a turkey, and sometimes you need to do that. But if you call a mentor and ask them, you will likely get the answer you are looking for plus some tips on celebrating Thanksgiving and some encouragement in your planning.