One of the scariest things about making disciples is…
What if something happens I’m not prepared for? And what if that “something” is something I know nothing about?
This seems to be everyone’s worst fear.
And I’ve definitely been there.
The first girl I met with was bipolar, only she didn’t realize it yet…so she was self-medicating with recreational drugs. The next girl collapsed into my arms at our first meeting and sobbed, “Oh Kim, last night I slept with a total stranger!”
“In over my head” moments, to say the least.
Since I had no experience with making disciples, or the particular issues these girls struggled with, all I could do was send up a quick prayer and love the person in front of me.
Which didn’t turn out to be nearly as scary as I expected.
Because God was faithful.
When I needed answers, He provided them, though admittedly, I often wasn’t quite sure what to say until I heard the words come out of my mouth. Other times I sensed His guidance and grace to simply be there with her in the process without saying much at all.
Yet moment by moment and inch by inch, the Holy Spirit doled out generous helpings of godly common sense.
Encourage her to seek medical help…
Teach her about boundaries…
Listen with all your heart…
Just let her talk it out…
Make a joke to lighten the mood…
Hug her and let her cry it out, that’s what she needs…
I’m not saying I did everything perfectly. Sometimes I missed a cue or zigged when I should’ve zagged. But Jesus never did. He always gave me enough clarity and strength to love the person in front of me and stay the course.
Fortunately, not all spiritual mentoring scenarios are nearly as dramatic as the two examples above. Most of the time they follow a much more predictable path, with day-by-day growth and steady progress forward. Yet now and then you too will find yourself in a situation you didn’t quite see coming.
And it’s okay—that’s part of the adventure!
That’s where our precious “I will be with you always” Jesus comes into the process. And He never misses a cue.
A while back I was talking with my husband about this chapter and he suddenly said, “Well isn’t that the goal? To get them in over their head as soon as possible?” I threw back my head and laughed. Because it dawned on me that IS the goal! And no matter how much you fear sinking in the sea of uncertainty, Jesus will always be there to give you a hand and keep you afloat.
Yet experience has also shown me that some “in over your head” experiences aren’t necessary—and can be lessened or even eliminated with a little godly wisdom.
1. Wait until she’s mentor-ready.
While there will always be unknowns in the spiritual mentoring process, there are also some easily recognizable traits present in those whose hearts and lives are what I call mentor-ready. It’s best not to rush into meeting with someone regularly until you see those traits in her and God gives you the green light.
Meanwhile continue to love, encourage, and pray for her on a more informal basis whenever you happen to see each other. I’ve often seen this approach lead to mentor-readiness down the line, while sparing both of you the stress of trying to “make” something happen before she’s truly ready.
2. Know yourself / Know your boundaries.
I’ve found it’s helpful to set a few spiritual mentoring boundaries before the fact.
For example, if teaching isn’t your gift, deciding in advance to use fill-in-the-blank Bible studies can increase your confidence and prevent overwhelm. Or if you already know you have limited time to commit, letting your mentee know that up front prevents unmet expectations for her and over-commitment for you.
Being proactive about a few basic boundaries from the beginning is a great way to avoid overwhelm.
3. Partner with others.
Just as a primary care physician refers patients to a specialist, a wise spiritual mentor knows she doesn’t need to do everything herself.
For example, if you’re not comfortable counseling someone through a deep emotional crisis, don’t worry. There are those in the body of Christ who are trained for that very thing—and love doing it.
Or maybe the woman you’re meeting with has an interest in an area of ministry you’re not familiar with, such as working with inner-city youth or rescuing young women from human trafficking. Connecting her with someone with experience in that area could be just the thing she needs to get started.
Again, you don’t have to do it all.
Ever get thrown in the pool before you could swim?
Yet the next time you get in over your head, something new happens: You remember you didn’t drown the first time!
The same is true with the spiritual mentoring process. In a strange-yet-awful way, that “oh no, I’m gonna drown” feeling goes a long way toward (you guessed it) learning to swim.
Because we have to venture past our known limits if we ever want to exceed them.
You’ll be stretched—and God will provide.
Don’t let fear hold you back from the adventure of a lifetime. Jesus has called you. You can do this. And the Holy Spirit is oh-so-willing to help.
So jump on in, the water’s fine!
FACING YOUR FEARS
- What sort of in over your head moments do you dread the most when it comes to making disciples?
- What specific overwhelm prevention could you put in place to avoid unnecessary overwhelm?
- How can you shift your thinking toward the adventure of making disciples rather than fixating on the risks?
- What next step do you need to take toward Jesus’ outstretched hand?
(even if your toes get a little damp!)