Encouraging someone is really the art of choosing the appropriate role to play in their life at any given point. And mastering a handful of distinct roles will help you become an encouraging mentor.
So what are the roles of a mentor? Let’s discuss five. These are not linear or exclusive; aside from the first one—foundational to a relationship of trust—you might play them in any order or perform several at once.
This is usually where you start as a mentor, just walking alongside the mentee and letting the details of his or her story unfold over time as trust develops between you. Don’t give quick answers or load the mentee down with assignments. Rather, gather information and build relational equity—the right to speak into someone’s life—so solutions can emerge within the natural flow of the relationship.
Example: “I feel honored that you would trust me enough to share this area of your life with me. I’m eager to see how we can work through this together.”
Many people need a mentor because they have gotten locked into a particularly negative way of looking at their own situations. When mentees have settled into such an unhealthy narrative about their lives, they need mentors who can gently and graciously “translate” the stories with biblical perspective—new thoughts that lead to healthier feelings and behaviors.
Example: “I can see why you are troubled by this, but have you stopped and wondered what God may be up to? Maybe God is working in ways you cannot see.”
In this role, you as mentor humbly recount key parts of your own journey, the triumphs and the mistakes, that relate to the mentee. While never identical to the mentee’s situation, your similar past experience can help you show compassion and earn you the credibility needed to apply God’s Word to life issues.
Example: “May I tell you about a time when I went through something similar—and how I got through it?”
There are times when mentees struggle simply because they’ve never learned a particular skill or had good habits modeled for them. No particular sin pattern is apparent; they just need basic training in life skills. For example, they may never have had anyone train them in healthy husband and wife roles. They know their relationship isn’t working or isn’t fulfilling, but they don’t know why.
When the time is right, the mentor shares insight about practical behaviors and life skills necessary for “smoother sailing” in a particular area of life.
Example: “One very practical thing someone showed me once was how to draft a personal budget. Would you like me to show you?”
Your role can quickly shift to change agent if you discover that sin issues are underlying the practical needs you’ve been addressing as a coach. In fact, people often seek to focus on practical things as a way of avoiding the ugly heart problems beneath. They’ll want to change their circumstances, focusing on what’s happening to them or around them, instead of allowing God to change what’s inside or coming out of them.
“What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?” (James 4:1).
The mentor can graciously but deliberately shift the focus of conversation toward more critical, underlying heart issues. For example, a wife may seek a mentor’s help in how to handle conflict with her husband over money. But inside her heart could be insecurity, fear, or a desire to control. Or a parent may seek advice over a troubled teen, but churning inside the parent’s heart is a struggle with unresolved anger or guilt.
Having a change-agent mentor encourages the mentee toward self-examination and repentance so that he can identify and reject sinful or unproductive patterns and accept the power of the gospel for lasting change.
These five roles of a mentor… Confidante, Translator, Experienced One, Coach, and Change Agent… are your way of encouraging mentees. Remember each of these roles as you attempt to become an encouraging mentor.