Talking Mentorship in the Church with Natasha Sistrunk Robinson
Natasha Sistrunk Robinson is the author of Mentor for Life: Finding Purpose through Intentional Discipleship and founder of the nonprofit, Leadership LINKS, Inc. She is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary Charlotte and the U.S. Naval Academy. A former Marine Corps officer, Natasha serves as a Bible teacher, writer, anti-human trafficking advocate, and champion for education. She has over 15 years of leadership and mentoring experience in the military, government, church, seminary, and nonprofit sectors. She is a sought after leadership consultant, mentoring coach, and speaker. Connect via her official website www.NatashaSRobinson.com, blog www.asistasjourney.com, Twitter @asistasjourney, or www.facebook.com/NatashaSistrunkRobinson.
Why did you want to write the book, Mentor for Life?
Natasha: The process for Mentor for Life came about quite organically. I was leading a mentoring ministry in my local congregation and it was the type of ministry I wanted to be a part of my whole adult life. I was growing my faith, meeting new people, having interesting conversations, and reading thoughtful kingdom-focused books. The ministry was important to me so I would frequently talk about it and I wrote about it on my blog and in some of the leadership articles I wrote for Christianity Today. When I would share what we were doing and how I was watching God change people’s lives through mentoring as intentional discipleship, I started hearing people say, I want to be a part of something like that or I wish there was a ministry like that are my church. I would get messages on my Facebook page, notes in the comments section, or emails from my blog asking for a resource or my curriculum. When I saw this was a need in the church and people were sincerely asking for help, that’s when I sat down to write this book.
How do you think the church will benefit from the message of your book?
Natasha: Mentor for Life calls us back to our primary calling to make disciples who follow Jesus with their entire being, laying down their lives for the sake of the gospel and this great kingdom mission God has set before us. 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. Mentor for Life aims to reset our priorities.
Why is mentorship in the church important?
Natasha: In the book, I refer to mentoring as “intentional discipleship.” Using the influence God gives 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 the Bible that God may connect you with many mentors who will all play a part in shaping your life.
Jesus interacts with and teaches His disciples in groups. 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.
Think back to the creation story and the birth of Adam. The only thing God says isn’t good (before sin) is the fact that Adam is alone. What I think is critical to see is that God was present with Adam in the garden, and the garden was originally a sinless environment. In that good and perfect (or sinless) environment, God still sees Adam’s aloneness as a bad thing. Adam being paired with someone compatible is something God valued, and he still values today for His children. Likewise, God is very intentional in saying that it’s not good for Christians to be alone and isolated in this world.
How can someone seek out a mentor at church? How can you prepare yourself to be a mentor at church?
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 older woman at my church began to mentor me, one of her early questions 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.
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.
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.
Special Bonus: Those who complete an early order of “Mentor for Life” can go to Natasha’s official website and enter their confirmation at http://www.natashasrobinson.com/books/ to receive a six lesson leadership training resource and accompanying videos to equip their team to “Mentor for Life.”