Please welcome Natasha Sistrunk Robinson as my guest this week. Although we have yet to meet in person, I’ve come to appreciate Natasha as a sister in ministry and member of the Redbud Writers Guild. While I continue working toward my book manuscript deadline for Christ is For Us, I’m celebrating Natasha’s new book, Mentor for Life: Finding Purpose Through Intentional Discipleship (Zondervan, 2016).
Welcome, Natasha, and thank you for the leadership experience and skills that are part of your ministry. I love the way you share them with the wider church through your website and now in your new book.
One of the things I appreciate about your approach is how you define mentoring and set it in the context of community. Why is that so important?
Natasha: In the book, I refer to mentoring as “intentional discipleship.” How we as Christians use the influence God has given us to shape the life of another person is unbelievably important. I believe mentoring in the church should be approached from a communal, relational context. When you think of mentoring, you probably automatically picture a one-on-one scenario. While there is definitely value in one-on-one mentoring relationships, I’ve seen both in my own life and in my studies through the Bible that God may connect you with many mentors who will all play a part in shaping your life.
As I reflect on my own experience, it does seem overly narrow to think of mentoring solely as those one-on-one relationships. What does the Bible say about the kind of group mentoring that is your focus?
What we know from the Bible is that it is an Eastern book. This means culturally and contextually, the Bible is often referring to what is happening within community, family, people groups, and what is best for the whole. It’s not an individualistic thing at all.
My model for mentoring as intentional discipleship is inspired by Jesus’ relationship with His twelve disciples. When we see Jesus interacting with and teaching His disciples, He’s doing this with them as a group. Even the more intimate relationship He had with The Three (Peter, James, and John) was still with a small group! Not to say that Jesus didn’t have one-on-one relationships with each of His disciples! The Bible just doesn’t seem to highlight that importance. It instead focuses on what Jesus wants the disciples to learn as a group, for the purpose of shaping and changing the nations who cry out to God.
So mentoring isn’t only about individuals, about me and my need. Both mentors and mentees can focus on Christ.
Natasha: Mentorship is oftentimes all about “me,” when it should really be all about Christ. He is the mentor both for those who offer mentoring and those being mentored. For mentors, this means being open and willing to serve when called upon. For mentees, this meaning being open to change and willing to learn from a mentor. Both mentors and mentees need a humble and mutually submissive posture, and both need an attentive ear and teachable spirit. Shift away from focusing on yourself and your needs, and see how God wants to teach you and use you to influence the lives of others.
That kind of shift sounds good for both mentors and mentees. Why is mentoring good for the church?
Natasha: I think the church will be challenged by Mentor for Life, specifically because it is not a how to book. It is a book that calls us back to the priority of our primary calling to make disciples who follow Jesus with their entire being by laying down their lives for the sake of the gospel and this great kingdom mission God has set before us.
I think the church has relevant concerns and challenges in today’s culture, but we are not without hope in this world. I believe in the vision of the Lausanne Movement: “The whole church taking the whole gospel to the whole world.” We can do that whether we are going out as missionaries to other parts of the world, or whether we are faithful and credible witnesses to the various people groups God has already put in front of us.
Any devout believer wants to make disciples of Jesus, yet in our daily lives we become distracted, and what this book does is it resets our priorities and challenges us to allow everyone to overflow out of Jesus’ prayer for God’s kingdom to come on earth as it is in Heaven. Mentor for Life challenges and equips the church to focus on the gospel and Jesus’ simple call to “follow me” and we do that by making disciples through relationships in an intimate small group of intentional learning.
What is the best way for someone to seek out a mentor?
Natasha: How can someone find a mentor: ask! Just make sure that when you ask, you’re specific and make your motivations and intentions clear. This gives the space for conversation. For example, my mother passed away during my sophomore year of college. When I entered into a mentorship with an older woman at my church, one of her early questions to me was, “Are you trying to fill a ‘mommy void’ with this relationship?” That was certainly a valid question. I thought about it and confidently replied, “No.” No one would ever be able to replace my mother. I had a wonderful relationship with her and I have no regrets.
The reason I had sought out this woman at my church was because she was a prayer warrior. So after she asked me why I wanted her as my mentor, I told her it was because I wanted her to teach me how to pray. This taught me the importance of being specific in your “ask” of a mentor and to not be afraid to ask and make your expectations known. Putting all your expectations of a mentorship out in the open also gives you the opportunity to check your motives as a mentee. I still have a mentoring relationship with this woman today and I value it greatly.
How can we prepare ourselves to mentor others?
Natasha: With regards to preparing to become a mentor, most of the time you are just not ready. I do not want to discount the importance of training. I am an advocate for training and equipping leaders so they can serve the body of Christ and others well. That’s why I have written this book. That’s why I offer free downloadable information on my website. That’s why I have written a mentoring leadership training manual and accompanying videos. That’s also why I offer leadership consulting and mentoring coaching.
However, I feel like this feeling of “not being ready” is what a lot of people use as an excuse to not commit to mentoring. I am saying very clearly that is NOT a sufficient excuse. “On the job” training is a big part of being an excellent mentor. There’s only so much you can prepare for. In mentoring, there’s always more to learn. There’s no “arriving” when it comes to being qualified to mentor. Prepare what and where you can by praying, being in the Word, listening and learning from others, and taking advantage of the tools that are available to you, but don’t wait on fully accomplishing those things before saying “yes” to being a mentor.
Natasha Sistrunk Robinson is the author of Mentor for Life: Finding Purpose through Intentional Discipleship and the visionary founder of the nonprofit, Leadership LINKS, Inc. For more about mentoring and her book, check out the video below, or connect via her official website.
Writing/Reflection Prompt: How have you benefited from mentors in your life? In what ways are you engaged in mentoring others?
For more writing-related and faith-focused articles,