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The Accidental Mentor

Jane Carr

I just celebrated my 20th year of ministry at my church. Yep--that's 20 consecutive years at the same church. For my anniversary, the staff assembled a memory book filled with photographs and letters from people I've been privileged to do ministry with over the years. Some were from people who've been my mentors, and others were from children who grew up at my church, volunteers, parents, and current and former staff members.

I must admit that I went through a box of tissues as I read through those pages. The sentiments that stood out to me most were, "You've left an imprint on me," "You impacted my life," "You've been a mentor and friend." Wow--me, a mentor? I guess the word mentor just seems like what other people are to me; older people who have a lot of experience and wisdom, far more than someone like me.

Perhaps mentoring can seem like an intimidating prospect when you think of it in formal terms, but in daily life you may already be a mentor. The best person to define mentoring isn't the mentor--it's the person being mentored. That's because what matters most isn't whether you see yourself in the role of a mentor, but whether someone else sees you as one. When someone ascribes the title mentor to you, knowingly or unknowingly, intentionally or unintentionally, you're impacting that person's life. Here's how to make the most of your influence as a mentor.

Mentoring Myths-Busted

Often misconceptions and fears hinder great people with a lot to offer from pursuing mentoring relationships. Perhaps you recognize these common internal doubts.

What do I really have to offer?

One primary reason people don't actively seek out mentoring opportunities is they don't think they have anything valuable to pass on. They feel as though they haven't got it all figured out yet or that they still have so much to learn. But a mentor is someone who's just a step ahead of the mentee--and, yes, someone who's still learning. As the saying goes, "Hindsight is always 20/20." Mentors simply share their hindsight, the understanding that's brought to bear as a result of the passage of time.

I've never even had a mentor.

Most of us have never had a formal mentor relationship. The very word mentor sounds so ominous. How can you be something you've never experienced? Fear of the unknown keeps us from doing so many things in life, including mentoring. Reality is, formal mentoring relationships are few and far between, yet all of us have had people in our lives who've impacted us in significant ways. Informal mentoring happens around us all the time; we just don't often recognize it as that.

What if I don't live up to expectations?

The fear of people "finding out" who we really are and realizing that we aren't what they expected is a huge--and unfounded--hindrance. Simply put, you have to get over yourself. People seeking a mentor aren't looking for a picture-perfect, airbrushed model; they want someone they can relate to in life and in ministry. They want people who, just like them, struggle with real-life issues. They want people who from time to time blow it big-and still live to tell about it.

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