Why Experience Is Not a Qualification for Mentoring
“It’s so wonderful to see you! How are you?” We talked a mile a minute as we began to catch up. Old friends from our high school homeschool group, we hadn’t seen each other in years. We were so much the same, and yet so different.
“What do you want to be doing?” she asked as we finished reminiscing about the past and began to share future dreams.
I looked more closely at my old friend. Would she understand what I wanted to share? I took a deep breath. “I want to be a marriage and family counselor. Or someone who helps people in their relationships.”
“But you’re single!” She laughed as she arched her brow quizzically at me. “You can’t do marriage or relational counseling!”
She meant no harm, and her laughter came from a place of ignorance, not malice. But her words still cut deep. Maybe she was right. What did I know?
I hung my head and tried to not let the tears come. She meant well, but her words touched a very tender place because they hit the root of my own questions and insecurities about my dreams and passions. Many friends had been blessed and encouraged by our conversations about their relationships but I still ached as I wondered if my own relational status would prevent me from being all that I felt the Lord was calling me to be.
Would my age also hinder me? An older woman in my church found out I was also mentoring women who were older than me, in addition to teens and young adults. “Wait, you disciple women that are older than you? It’s great that you disciple people, but I think it’s inappropriate for you to mentor women who are older than you. Isn’t that disrespectful? Titus 2 says…”
Oh, my heart knew well what Titus 2 said. I fought back tears of frustration, thinking, Maybe if older women like you would disciple and mentor the younger women like me, there wouldn’t be a need for me to do so. It’s because you won’t and don’t mentor that I do.
With all the self-control I could muster, I kept the unkind thoughts from coming out of my mouth, praying, Oh Father, forgive me! I will not be what she is accusing me of: disrespectful. Please, I want to show Your love here too. Thank you for shutting my mouth. Then I lifted my head in repentance, extending grace as I listened and tried to understand and humbly receive the pieces that I could.
Was I enough to mentor and disciple others?
That was the heart of the question that wove its way through my experiences and played into countless other fears. Would I know what to say? What did I have to offer teenagers who were “trying it all”? I was not naïve, but I was innocent. I knew about it, but I hadn’t done it. What did I have to offer mothers? As the oldest of 12, I’d certainly parented a lot, but I hadn’t birthed any children. Single, childless, young, and innocent: what was I enough for?
My fears and the concerns of others were all correct:
I’m not enough.
But Jesus is.
Every single time
It is not our experiences or relate-ability that qualify us to mentor or disciple someone. The Holy Spirit in us is our only qualification: He is the Answer and He is enough.
If we mentored only out of what we experienced firsthand, we wouldn’t have much to stand on. For example, if the qualification for speaking into someone’s marriage was being married, then both Paul and Jesus would be disqualified. And they had more to say about marriage than anyone else in Scripture. Our experiences position us to “comfort those with the comfort we ourselves have received” (2 Corinthians 1:4). But we err when we try to use our experiences as the foundation of our mentoring. The foundation of discipleship and mentoring is not experience, but biblical truth.
Titus 2:3-5 contains a beautiful and much-needed encouragement for older women to teach and mentor younger women:
“Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.”
Meanwhile, Timothy encourages younger people to be an example to all, without letting others despise that youth:
“Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” (1 Timothy 4:12)
These passages do not present a dichotomy, but rather an encouragement that in each season of life we must share with others who the Lord is and what He has done for us. It is not age, relational status or experience that make us enough to mentor; it is the empowering grace of Jesus that heals people and lends wisdom to our words. He is what makes us enough.
It’s not that experience isn’t helpful. It is. But experience should not be the foundation that qualifies us to mentor others nor the fear that keeps us from doing so. We should never move forward with brazen carelessness or even pride in not knowing something. There are times when we need to refer a friend to someone with more experience or professional training. But in ordinary situations, why not practice saying, “I don’t know. Let’s find out together”?
Not having the same experiences as others should prompt us to listen more deeply when others are sharing, rather than jumping to conclusions based on our experiences. Effective discipleship is keeping one ear tuned to others and one ear to the Holy Spirit. Whenever I fear that I am not enough to mentor or disciple someone, I am placing trust in myself to reach them, and not trusting Christ.
When others have mentored you, was it their story that encouraged you, or Jesus in their story that brought you hope?
Photography: JenniMarie Photography
Wow, you remind me a little bit of myself! Thank you so much for sharing this.
What a good reminder for all of us, Katie! Thank you for pointing us back to the true foundation of ministry, the ultimate qualification for sharing His truth with others: His Word.