Mentoring Helps

A Mentor Is, Is Not

Throughout the many conversations I’ve had with men about mentoring, I’ll sometimes get this confused look.  “Me? Mentor?”  At the root of the Gospel is the desire to see others free from the bondage of sin through the finished work of Christ on the cross. It’s coming alongside others with the Good News. The Gospel is not just an event in history. It is Christ living His life through you. (Galatians 2:20).  Mentoring is ultimately about Gospel living in community.

What Mentoring is Not

To give clarity, on what mentoring is and is not, here are three essentials mentoring is not.

Mentoring is not Enabling

To enable is to feed the problem. If the young man I mentor has an alcohol addiction, for me to offer him a drink is to perpetuate his weakness. If he has a spending problem, unable to manage his finances, to offer him a bailout is not helping him learn healthy stewardship.

One time, a young man I mentored ran into car problems. He had to tow his car to the shop. The cost? $100. In his call to me, he poured on the victim story, asking me to pay the $100.  I truly felt for the guy. I could afford to pay the towing bill but knew if I did, he wouldn’t learn how to manage his own money.  We figured out another way to get the car to the shop at no cost, only to discover the repair bill would be $1600.  His next call to me was to ask if I’d pay the $1600 bill. Man, did he ever turn on the heart-cries!  Everything in me wanted to help him out. Even if I did, he’d never pay me back.  So, once again, I said “no”, and helped him think of other ways to solve this problem. He ended up selling the car as-is and worked out other transportation.

Enabling perpetuates bad choices. Enabling is not mentoring.

Mentoring is not Rescuing

A cousin to enabling is to rescue the young man you are mentoring. We’ve all heard of parents who rescue their kids repeatedly, only to see their sons and daughters grow up as spineless young adults. They don’t put in the effort to get things done. They expect a bailout. They feel entitled. 

There are a few times rescuing is the right thing to do, but most of the time, it’s a bad idea.  A good mentor discerns when rescue is the right thing to do and when it, like enabling, perpetuates the problem.   

Several years ago, my son (then 14) and his best friend and his dad, had a four day, 110-kilometer canoe trip in Algonquin Provincial Park. On day 2 we encountered a bad storm on a remote lake in the park. Tall 70-foot pine trees were snapping off and falling into the lake around us. We saw a place to head to shore, but there was no way to get there without the risk of capsizing the canoes.  About 500 feet offshore was a tiny island; perhaps the size of a small apartment. We held onto sapling pine trees on that small outcropping while the rain pummeled us. After the cold rain stopped, we bailed water and made it to our campsite, drenched!

After supper, the boys were still hungry and decided to fish. The problem came when Ross got the trouble hook caught in the trees. One strong pull and the hook sank into his head!  Dad’s to the rescue!  Between Justin holding Ross’s hair back and his dad using the newly sharpened pocket knife to perform an open-wound procedure, I was ready with the first-aid kit.  Now, that is a rescue! (I think Ross got that trouble hook framed for Christmas that year.)

Unless it’s an emergency, like on our canoe trip, rescuing is not mentoring.

Mentoring is not Hovering

When our son was about 4, he had a bike with training wheels. He wanted them off. So, being the responsible dad, I removed the training wheels and held on to his seat as he pedaled down our cul de sac, running behind him. I’ll never forget the scene. With his bike helmet on, wearing his tank top, Justin turned around and said “Dad, let go!”  I did and much to my surprise, he pedaled down the street without an accident!

One of the misconceptions about mentoring is you have to know everything the young man is doing. As if he has to report into you with his whereabouts, his comings, and goings.  Mentoring is not a play-by-play of the young man’s life.  If he wants to fill you in on his daily affairs, that is his choice, but it’s frankly not your place to pry. 

On the other hand, godly accountability in the relationship means mutual trust and willingness to openly admit, and have the freedom to ask how things are going. That is not hovering. 

Hovering is control and control is rooted in insecurity. You want the young man you are mentoring to move on into healthy adulthood. You want him to become his own person. That does not mean total isolation, but it does mean an increasing willingness to make decisions and healthily go about life. 

Three Essentials on What Mentoring Is

Mentoring Is Listening

Recently, I had a Facebook message conversation with one of my uncles about my teens and twenties being essentially mentorless. It wasn’t as if I had no men in my life, rather, it was that no one took the time to know me. I mean know me on a deeper, soul level. A healthy mentor will take the time to listen to the young man. To know him; what makes him tick. To be understood. When you take the time to listen, asking meaningful but not judgemental questions, you become a safe person for him to confide in. 

One of the young men I mentored found himself in prison. Four years for a crime he committed when he was 19. Through our State’s Department of Corrections, I was able to be his mentor, visiting him in prison. This allowed me to bring in my Bible and meet with him. Through those in-prison visits, he opened up to me about life, his struggles, and his dreams of release.  I listened. Later, as I wrote my book (Mentoring Warriors), he told me that my willingness to listen is what helped him realize his life mattered.

Mentors listen.

Mentoring is Guidance

Guidance is never about telling the young man what to do. It’s listening and offering advice, whether the young man chooses to take it or not. 

One time, a young guy I mentored wanted a set of wheels so bad he had to buy the first truck he saw.  I listened to why he thought this truck was such a sweet deal. Despite my words of advice, he bought it anyway.  A week or two later, the truck left him on the side of the road. The next time I saw him, he said “Yep, I know, I should have listened to you! I learned my lesson!”

Sometimes, a guy’s brain is not thinking straight. His limbic brain has fallen in love with a girl who he is convinced he should marry. She might be a nice girl, but there are issues in the relationship he thinks love will smooth out over time. A mentor is not there to talk him out of his choices. If he sees bad choices on the horizon, he offers wisdom that is hopefully rooted in Scripture.

One time a young man wanted to get a tattoo. We talked through the pros and cons. We looked at Scripture and the various implications of getting one. In the end, he delayed his decision. I didn’t tell him what to do but offered biblically-rooted guidance.

Mentors guide.

Mentoring offers Hope

One Friday, as I left the office, I received a text from a young man I mentor. “Can you keep a secret?”  “Depends on what the secret is.” I texted back. “I have a gun.”  Realizing he was suicidal, I quickly got him on the phone and through a series of closely instructed events, got him to give the gun to a person he was meeting. That entire ordeal was about a young man who had lost hope.  He was desperately crying out for help!  Thank the Lord, he got the help he needed, and in that, he gained hope.  

Since the virus that started in China, isolation has sent the suicidal rate, especially among warrior-aged men through the roof!  Even young guys who love Jesus are losing sight of the hope they have in the Lord. I recall struggling with hopelessness when I was in high school.  It’s an awful place to be.

I’m not saying that every young man you mentor is suicidal. I am saying that every young man you mentor is looking for hope. Hope is not fleeting. It’s not found ultimately in a girl, or a job, or the car he drives, or in any such sort of things. Hope is found in him having a saving and on-going relationship with Jesus.  In mentoring the young man, are you pointing him repeatedly to the cross?  Are you offering him hope?

One of the ways I offer hope to young men I mentor is as I get to know them, I see how God has wired them. Their personality, skills, strengths are all part of their emerging manhood.  Frequently, their struggles center on two unanswered questions: Delight and Validation. Does anyone delight in them?  And, do they have what it takes to be a man?

Mentors offer hope.

Mentoring is not Enabling, Rescuing, or Hovering.

Mentoring is Listening, Guidance, and Hope

Warrior On!

David Riffel is the Founder and Executive Director of Having gone through his warrior years (18-30) essentially without a mentor, God has placed in him a heart for warriors, to come alongside them in various ways as they figure out life. David’s newly released book, Mentoring Warriors: Coming Alongside Young Men 18-30, outlines principles for mentoring and gives advice for warriors in six key areas of life: self-management, life skills, education/career, relationships, faith, and identity.

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