By Annie Lavi
Elisha had Elijah.
Timothy had Paul.
And I had Jordan.
And Angeline. And Molly. And Brenda. And Elizabeth.
“You collect mentors,” a friend said to me once, and she was spot on.
I was 18 years old when I went to college and stumbled into a solid Christian community as a kind-of, not-quite-there-yet believer. It was an expectation in this place that every person in the ministry would find a mentor, and I followed suite, having no clue what I was getting into.
I decided on my first mentor, a petite, fiery blonde woman named Jordan while in a large music hall with velvet seats. I was sitting in the balcony when she walked in below, a godly woman I had admired from afar for a few months.
That evening I ran up to Jordan in the middle of a bustling crowd of people finding seats, stuck out my hand, and said hello. In a bold and daring move, I told her I was a freshman, and that I was wondering if she would want to get coffee with me. Jordan was surprised but willing, and we met up the next week, her picking me up because freshman weren’t allowed to have cars on campus.
So began one of the first great works that the Lord did in me, and a portion of it was entrusted into the hands of this woman. She spent countless hours over multiple years reading books with me, teaching me about God and graciously rebuking me when necessary.
We don’t learn kindness, gentleness or self-control from sitting alone in a box; we learn them with and through others.
Years and cities later, I was at a church event when someone asked the question- has anyone ever been personally discipled? I proudly raised my hand, thinking first of Jordan and then the other women who I had learned from after her, and I looked around the room, excited to hear other people’s stories as well.
But in a space packed full of adult Christians, my hand was one of just two that raised.
I went home that evening with my head swirling. How could that be possible? Most things I learned had come from older believers, from sitting at their kitchen tables and asking them questions over coffee- if people didn’t have that, where were they learning from? I wondered as I drove.
“Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire,” Proverbs 18 tells us, and the “Older are meant to teach the younger”, as in Titus 2. I found myself realizing how important this was, that God designs life for us to learn through relationships, not only with him, but with each other. We don’t learn kindness, gentleness or self-control from sitting alone in a box; we learn them with and through others.
Almost all the Christians I know seem to desire these relationships, and I hear the same questions wondered aloud often: Where are these older teachers? How do we find a mentor? How do we have time to do this? From my mentors to you, here’s what I have learned:
1. “Where do we begin?”
We ask, boldly. We ask God to reveal someone, and then we ask that person if they would be willing to disciple us. For many people, this step is a huge hurdle; we are uncomfortable asking. We assume that the invitation should come from above; that we should always have someone reach a hand down and offer to mentor us, and we shouldn’t need to go poking around trying to find one. But I learned early on that finding mentors doesn’t always how work this way, and that younger people can display humility in asking for help in their walk.
2. “How do we choose a mentor, and how do we know they are a good fit?”
When I meet a Christian whose faith I admire, I have been trained to note it. The people who have mentored me have ranged from early 20s to mid-60s, in all walks of life: married, single, professional, stay-at-home. No magic age, magic job or magic sauce makes a person the best “mentor material.” We know the person is a good fit if we hope our faith looks like theirs at some point in the future, because a greater relationship with Jesus is what discipleship should always focus on.
3. “What if they say no when I ask?”
In all of my years of asking someone to spiritually mentor me, only one woman ever said no. Many women told me they I could only do once a month, or they pressed pause until the next season. And the woman who said no said it prayerfully and respectfully. I was disappointed, but eventually moved on and asked someone else, who I had an astounding relationship with. The goal of the enemy is to steal, kill and destroy (John 10:10), and I think this is a place where he most often wins: he makes us afraid. He knows the power of these relationships, so he wants us to become afraid of the dreaded “no,” and unable to ask those around us to share their faith.
4. “Do I have anything to offer someone younger than me?”
These mentors taught me that no matter where I was in my faith, there was always someone newer I could find and walk alongside. If I am asking an older woman to sit with and invest in me, then I have to realize that discipleship is a cycle, and I have a responsibility to spiritually invest in someone else as well. This can be our first joyful step: when we want a mentor, we can trust the Lord and begin to give some of ourselves before we have someone pouring into us. So whether we have someone investing in us or not, we prayerfully and faithfully begin to mentor another.
5. “How do we have time to do this?”
Meeting in the park works just as well as at a coffee shop. I have met with mentors during naps and soccer practices, and one session was going so well I ended up hopping along for the after-school pick up just because we weren’t ready to stop talking. It doesn’t have to be a perfect set up to be fruitful. And I can hesitantly add, from my own messy story: I had a bold person remind me that if I have enough time to watch TV daily, I probably have enough time to be engaged in the cycle of discipleship.
I was taught in college that we should disciple people like we are going to be the ones in the room while they are getting ready on their wedding day. The comment stuck because years later Jordan, my very first mentor, was there the day I put on my wedding dress, standing in the room when the zipper went up.
So, we go for it. We learn to swim by swimming, and we become disciplers by participating in God’s designed relational plan for discipleship. Wherever we are, we engage in the circle: we boldly ask, finding someone we trust to follow, and finding another who we can humbly point towards Christ.