For the past several months at work, I’ve been helping to coordinate a group of exquisitely awesome women in group settings in hopes that we each would find a prayer partner mentor/mentee. (Not manatee. Mentee is the best word I have found, but would love a better one if there is one!) The women involved are aged anywhere from their early 20’s through their 60’s. It has been really incredible to see how God has worked.
MAKING THE CONNECTION
I’ve been asked how to pair people up in mentoring relationships. And truly I don’t think a relationship of this sort can be “made.” It can be helped along and facilitated. But it has to happen naturally or it won’t be effective. (I’m talking about mentoring relationships that are personal in nature; for a career type mentoring relationship, assigned pairs might work if the manager really knows his/her people well.) My feeling is, people who follow Jesus know how to listen for His voice. They know when He’s tugging at their heart to talk to this person… to go to this place… to do this thing. Even if it has been a relatively short time that they’ve been in relationship with God, they heard Him calling to them to begin with. So I really feel that given the freedom and opportunity, most women know when God is drawing them into a friendship with another woman.
To be fair, I have seen assigned personal mentoring work, but it was because the “assigner” had such an intimate knowledge of all the people involved and could really discern who would fit best with whom. But as a general observation, those who naturally feel connected with their mentor or mentee are much more likely to stay engaged and vulnerable over the course of the relationship. And it is also important that this feeling is mutual.
CREATING THE ENVIRONMENT
I like keeping things simple. For our large group times, we haven’t done any decorating or catered any food. Everyone knows to bring their lunch and join us. (We did do a Thanksgiving/Christmas potluck-style lunch, and it was a huge hit.) We start at 11:30 and end at 12:30 (unless individuals want to stay on longer to keep praying or move to another part of the building to talk). We might have some music playing in the background. The environment doesn’t need to be flashy; it just needs to be comfortable.
With our group at work, we have some really spectacular girls involved who are gifted at creating activities that help break the ice. They’ve put together some amazing group activities for us to do that we call– wait for it– ice breakers. Anything from a bingo game to a spin on the speed dating concept. Everything centers around getting women face to face with something to talk about that helps them get to know each other. The questions have ranged from “What department do you work in” to “What is your favorite childhood memory.” The questions are balanced in that they are disarming and comfortable, yet also open the door for much deeper conversation.
One thing that has been great to hear in our feedback is that even those who are more introverted have felt very comfortable with the ice breaker conversation times.
So, we’ve taken these ice breaker activities and done them with our group of ladies. At the end of the ice breaker activity (usually about 20 minutes or so), I then have asked them all to follow the Spirit’s lead and get into a small group to pray. The first gathering we broke into small groups of 3 or 4. The gathering after that, groups of 2 or 3. It brings such joy to my heart to see the “older” women taking such an intentional interest in the “younger” women. It brings tears to my eyes to see how earnestly the “younger” women are seeking out the “older” women. Many times at our gatherings I’ve had the privilege of standing back and watching the pairs praying together, praying over all of them… seeing some lifting their faces to the Father in joy… seeing some wiping away tears… all communing with God together in His presence.
MENTORING PRAYER PARTNERS
So far, of our 30-40 women who have been to a large group time, we’ve had about 8 pairs commit to each other. The logistics of each pair’s mentoring relationship outside our big group gatherings is unique. How each pair prays together, how often they get together, what they do together– all of that is up to that pair of women. Chances are by now they know they’ve got some things in common, and since they’re convinced the Holy Spirit brought them together for this purpose they feel the freedom to let Him continue guiding their friendship. If they want to get together every morning for breakfast and prayer, they will. If coffee once a month and lots of emails and texts in between is what works for their schedules, they go for it. I don’t know of any doing Bible studies together yet, but obviously that would be a possibility if they wanted. And we all continue getting together in our prayer partner lunches for more ice breakers and prayer time together as a group. Those who have already paired up are welcome to continue on their own if they want to, but so far the majority have really enjoyed still getting together in the large group.
I’m excited to see where God takes us all next. I’m excited to hear the stories of answered prayers and of burdens shared (and I really didn’t mean for that to rhyme). We’ll weep together and we’ll rejoice together. We’ll be the church. And eventually, the women who are ‘mentees’ will be in the role of mentor for other women, as they continue to learn from those who have gone ahead of them. And it will continue to multiply. And isn’t that discipleship?
How about you? What have you seen work when it comes to helping people form mentoring relationships? What have you experienced that hasn’t worked?