Dare to Disciple
You never outgrow some things.
Help! I (Still) Need a Mentor
By Sarah Fletcher
“How do we engage the older women?”
The question seemed ironic. Typically, the most perplexing and frequently asked question at WNAC concerns reaching younger women. Yet, these dedicated young Women Active for Christ genuinely sought help and direction. “We’re young mothers; we want to serve the Lord and teach our children to love God. But we really need guidance. We need the wisdom of older women in our church and we’re just not sure how to get it.”
It’s not only young mothers. One 22-year old single commented, “I want to connect with these women in my church, but it’s not like I can just go up and say, ‘Hey, you’re older. I need your advice and wisdom.’”
Several years ago, the church I attended sought to address this problem by initiating a mentoring program. We invited every woman to fill out a questionnaire indicating needs and interests. A sizeable group of young women expressed their excitement, but response from senior saints was almost non-existent. Among the 35-50-aged crowd who turned in their forms, most of them did not desire to be a mentor; they wanted a mentor themselves.
By design, God created us for relationship. We thrive as we interact and learn from others. Yet mentoring and guidance relationships rarely happen without intentional effort. In Titus 1, Paul told Titus that he left him in Crete to “set in order the things that are wanting.” How interesting that this epistle includes instructions for older women to teach younger.
Singles, newlyweds, young mothers, mothers of teenagers, empty nesters, midlife caregivers, and retirees alike desire words of encouragement or even warnings from those who’ve already walked the path that now lies before them. If every woman needs a mentor—a life coach—for every life season, how do we engage these individuals?
The best way to find a mentor is to be one. Ohio WAC president Sarah Sargent is learning this firsthand. The twenty-something single claims her grandmother Ellen Sargent as role model, because, “She gives God the glory for every life-modeling moment. She has also never lost her joy, sense of humor, desire to have fun, or will to live life to it’s fullest.”
Sarah invests that same spirit into her church camp girls and the little kids and youth at her church. “I want to live like Christ because that’s His desire for my life, but I don’t underestimate my influence on young people either. I never want to be the excuse they give their parents for a bad choice they make, because they saw me do it.”
For Joan Ferguson of Tennessee, mentoring involved a cooking class. For three years, she invited junior high girls to her home once a month on Saturday afternoon to prepare a meal together. Each girl would bring her own dishes and necessary ingredients (emailed to them the week before) and leave with a recipe and ready-to-bake or serve meal for their family.
The afternoons also included a snack and devotional. Joan didn’t do it all. She often invited other cooks in her church to come and share their favorite recipes and Scriptures with the group. “It was neat for me, because it gave me a chance to get to know my daughters’ friends. And when I invited different people in to teach the girls, it opened up relationships with other women of different ages.”
Girls benefitted as well. One mother noted, “It’s given my daughter skills and the confidence she needed. Now every time we have company, she asks, “Mom, do you want me to fix my chicken dish?”
Evelyn Smith of California practices lifestyle mentoring. She involves herself with people of all ages—teaching women to cook and can, devoting time for foster children in her church, inviting young people over to her house, and entertaining visiting evangelists and missionaries. “It’s part of who she is,” says her pastor’s wife Joanna Felts. “Hers is not an intentional sitting down, one-on-one mentoring, it’s more lifestyle, a ‘Well, I can teach you how to do this’ approach.”
She’s been doing this for years. She’s taught Sunday school, served as a volunteer at California Christian College, and taken active roles in WNAC. This past April, she hosted a dinner for all women in her church—something she does annually. At 93, she now enlists help, but that’s all part of her mentoring lifestyle.
Occasionally, mentoring just happens. In my own life, two women I consider my greatest role models may not have even realized they were mentoring. They were just living out their faith. God’s Word offers guidance for both younger and older women. From the Book of Ruth, we can glean the following mentoring principles.
Offer acceptance. Naomi the Israelite surely grieved when her sons married Moabite women. Yet, nowhere in the Book of Ruth do we find condemnation or criticism toward these daughters-in-law. When the sons died, these young women still felt a part of Naomi’s family. Today, fear of acceptance keeps both younger and older women from relationships. Women may view themselves as failures, not realizing the lessons others could learn from their past mistakes. Or they may fear asking advice of women whom they view as more holy.
Seek to disciple. Although the Bible does not specifically say Naomi led Ruth to accept the ways of Jehovah, no doubt Naomi influenced her either directly or indirectly (through her son). It was not chance that led Ruth to proclaim that Naomi's God would become her God.
Allow for others’ choices. Naomi let Ruth make her own decisions. She did not demand that her daughters-in-law accompany her back to Israel. She even encouraged them to stay and make a new life for themselves. Yet Ruth chose to follow the ways of her mentor and her mentor's God.
Recognize the value of silence. Naomi tried hard to persuade her daughter in-laws to remain in Moab. She encouraged them, praised them, and urged them. She released them from any obligation to her. However, the Bible says, "When Naomi realized that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped urging her" (Ruth 1: 18). Naomi knew the wisdom of words and the greater wisdom of silence. Women prefer listeners to lecturers.
Offer good advice. When Naomi learned that Ruth had gleaned in the field of Boaz, she advised her, "It will be good for you, my daughter, to go with his girls, because in someone else's field you might be harmed" (Ruth 2:22). Later, Naomi helped Ruth find a way to make her feelings known to Boaz. Naomi gave her a crash course in Jewish etiquette and protocol. Many women today feel they have nothing to say or little to offer someone younger. Yet every woman can offer her experience.
Ruth accepted Naomi’s loving advice and willingly declared, "I will do whatever you say" (Ruth 3:5). We often hear the complaint, “Young women in our church aren’t willing to listen.” Maybe the problem lies in how we offer advice. Honey goes down smoother than vinegar.
After Ruth’s night at the threshing floor, Naomi inquired, "How did it go my daughter?" Naomi not only gave advice, she followed up on it. A one-time opinion may prove helpful, but long-term investments generally provide greater yields.
Live and learn. Naomi rejoiced in the marriage of Boaz and Ruth and the birth of their child. She did not live out her life through Ruth, but she did offer assistance and care to the extent that Naomi’s friends proclaimed, “Naomi has a son.” In the same way, Ruth offered strength to Naomi during a bitter, bleak time in her life. Ruth took the initiative to go glean and provide for the needs of the older woman. God desires us to rejoice and even partner in His blessings to others. We often learn from those we teach. We can find encouragement and refreshment as we see God’s strength and presence displayed in young lives.
No matter our season of life, God desires that we become Titus 2 women, learning His ways and sharing the things He’s taught us, then leaving footprints for others to follow.
About the Writer: Sarah Fletcher serves as editor/designer of WNAC’s Treasure study guide and other WNAC publications. She also manages the WNAC website. She and her husband Keith live in Southern Illinois where he pastors a church. Learn more about the ministry of Women Nationally Active for Christ at www.wnac.org.