A few years ago, after I gave my first training program to a group of six people, I remember the words of one woman. She appreciated my willingness to share whatever I knew. When I replied that that wasn’t a big deal for me, she narrated a prior training experience. She had requested the trainer to show her how to do something and had received the response, “I can’t teach you that because I can’t give away everything that I know!”

While ministerial training is only one component of mentoring, the principle is the same: Good mentors are personally secure in their calling, unselfish in sharing and delight in building up others.

In fact, if I was allowed to tell you only one thing about mentoring, I would write about attitude. While a mentor can wear multiple hats like guide, teacher, leader, trainer, counselor and intercessor, the chief approach required is that of a spiritual parent.

We learn this from Paul’s writings when he addresses those he had mentored—Timothy and Titus—as his true sons in the faith (1 Tim. 1:2; Titus 1:4). Not only Paul, but the attitude of church leadership in general was to deal with believers “as a father deals with his own children” (1 Thes. 2:11).

Parents delight in teaching their children and watching them learn and grow. Even if children outshine their parents, it’s a matter of pride and joy—not insecurity or envy. A mentor with a parent’s attitude would give it all, without holding back. That’s an important dynamic in successful mentoring.

To set expectations right about this article, reading this is not going to make you the best mentor in the universe! However, it will give you pointers that are useful for setting up and seeing through positive mentor-mentee relationships. Here are some habits that are important for successful mentoring:

Nine Essential Practices of Excellent Mentoring

1. Choose Wisely

We sometimes agree to mentor just about anyone who comes to us. Practically, it doesn’t work that way. Mentoring is not a stage ministry, like preaching or leading worship, where the ratio of ministering is one-to-many. Mentoring is more like a counseling ministry where the ratio is on the lines of one-to-one/two and sometimes one-to-few. Remember the practice of Jesus—He taught thousands of people at a time on an almost daily basis; when it came to deeper mentoring, He carefully chose only twelve.

It is sound practice to pray for discernment when agreeing to a mentor-mentee relationship, restricting the number of mentees to a manageable figure. The fewer mentees, the better since you will be able to provide more individual attention to each mentee.

Top tip: Start with one person and see how it goes.

2. Plan

I’m pretty sure you’ve heard this many times before: Failing to plan is planning to fail.

It is no different in mentoring—you need to have a fairly detailed plan on how your mentoring will progress. For example, when mentoring a worship leader, the plan should be comprised of at least three areas:

  1. Spiritual/Personal Qualities
  2. Ministerial Proficiency
  3. Musical/Vocal Competency

A good method with which to start the planning process is a SWOT analysis of the mentee in each of these three spheres. Let’s look at a worship leader mentee example (not in detail, this is just to give a brief introduction):

SWOT: Spiritual/Personal Qualities
Strengths Weaknesses
  • Prays every day
  • Well-versed in Scripture
  • Prays only 20 minutes a day
Opportunities Threats
  • Could lead Bible study meetings for the youth
  • Applied for a job that works Saturdays, availability may be reduced
  • In a relationship with someone who’s not serious about God
SWOT: Ministerial Proficiency
Strengths Weaknesses
  • Knows a wide variety of songs
  • Doesn’t put enough time into planning sessions
  • Not knowledgeable in song transitions
Opportunities Threats
  • Able to connect with kids, could be ideal for kids’ worship sessions also
  • Low self-confidence (in ministry)
SWOT: Musical/Vocal Ability
Strengths Weaknesses
  • Confident acoustic and electric guitarist
  • Sound in music theory
  • Needs to work on singing and playing at the same time
  • Tends to go off-key when hitting high notes
Opportunities Threats
  • Could give music lessons to the kids’ worship team
  • Careless in looking after self, especially throat

Hopefully, this example gives you an idea of how to use a SWOT analysis to identify the areas that need planned in a mentoring program for worship leaders—the same concepts could be applied to other ministries.

Once the SWOT analysis is completed, work with the mentee to firm up a plan to go forward in each identified area. The ideal mentoring approach is to compliment strengths, encourage opportunities, train against weaknesses and challenge on threats.

Top tip: Plan for each person individually—no two persons are the same … ever!

3. Accept Help

It’s tempting to take up the task of fulfilling the mentoring plan on your own by doing everything, all by yourself. Believe me, that is a huge mistake—Superman is found only in comic books. The rest of us—in the real world—need others to help us out!

For example, I could be competent in helping a mentee increase daily personal prayer time, but I may not be as competent in teaching song transition methods. In that case, it’s wise for me to rope in someone who is well-versed in song transitions, rather than trying to do it myself. I could, instead, use the time to help another mentee with something that I excel in.

In fact, refusing to accept help from others, standing your ground with an I-can-do-everything attitude, is a mark of the pride of life.

Top tip: Don’t try to be everybody to your mentee—you are more likely to become nobody!

4. Stop Cloning

Respect the fact that different people can do the same thing in different ways. For example, some worship leaders stand with their instruments and don’t move too much. There are others who shake, rattle and roll a lot! What works for one person works for that person and that’s just the way we were created.

An important goal in mentoring is to help the mentee become the best leader he/she can possibly be—this means a mentee can be totally different in style and method from the mentor—but just as effective.

I am writing this because there is this creepy subconscious tendency in mentors to want their mentees to become just like them—in other words—clones of the mentors. The goal is to help mentees discern and move forward towards their dreams, hopes and aspirations, not yours.

Top tip: Teach guiding principles, not inflexible rules formed to make mentees imitate the mentor.

5. Stop Comparing

There are two golden rules in mentoring:

  1. Never, ever compare one mentee with another.
  2. Never, ever compare one mentee with yourself.

Okay, I confess—I made those up, but I assure you that their applicability is totally valid! To repeat, mentoring is similar to parenting—we don’t compare one child with another or compare our children with ourselves, right? Comparison takes the fun out of mentoring and replaces it with frustration—trust me!

There will be things one will do better than the other and there will be things they will do better than us—that’s absolutely cool. We get to learn from them, too!

Top tip: Encourage individuality and let mentees be themselves.

6. Influence with Passion

The most effective mentors are passionate people; the most ineffective mentors—especially with young people—are instructional people! The best influencer in a mentoring relationship has a zealous passion for the Lord and His Kingdom. Passion keeps our hearts fresh and ready, enabling us to show up without giving up.

Passion also tends to rub off on others like nothing else can; it’s moving, undeniable and contagious! So be joyfully passionate about the Lord and worship Him with intense zeal—not just in the ministry but through living a righteous and faithful life. Passion is the critical edge that brings about productive mentor-mentee relationships.

Top tip: In Christian mentoring, passion is more valuable than professionalism—the Lord will use our fire to set others ablaze for Him.

7. Foster Fellowship

Lone rangers are not much fun. A ministry-only minded individual is not a person people enjoy hanging out with. Invite the people you want to mentor to your home—for reasons other than ministry. Hang out with them; get to know their lives, their struggles and walk with them.

Be a person of prayer who can be counted on in times of need. Pray with and for those you mentor. Minister to them and teach them to pray, apart from training them in ministry. Check on their prayer lives regularly, encouraging them to pray more and more. Stir up a love for the Word of God and guide them to become friends of the Bible.

People trust a caring pastor, a journey partner and a trustworthy friend more than they trust a functional coach. Those you mentor will look up to you more when they know you have a heart for them. Take efforts to build people individually; equip them with what they need. Connect with them on a relational level, not just functionally. Be a shepherd who pastors, not a control-freak who wants everything done your way.

Top tip: Good relationships matter more than ministry.

8. Demonstrate Servanthood

Share your ministry responsibilities with your mentees often; while you are at it, stop ministering alone altogether. Take a backseat every now and then and let them take the “responsibility wheel” to help build their confidence and experience. Share all the best tips and practices that work for you; we are not in the Secret Service, needing to keep things to ourselves. Sow the seeds of your knowledge and experience in them, taking pleasure in watching them grow as a person and as a minister!

Be willing and open to serve your mentees so they will learn to serve others—that’s the Jesus model (John 13:12-15). For example, if your mentees are leading worship, be as helpful as possible; help tune the instruments, mix the sound, look after the onscreen visuals and serve in any other way—on and off the stage.

A huge part of mentoring is just being role models that people can look up to … and a lot less about how talented we are.

Top tip: Be a serving role model to look up to—that is the crying need of the hour, especially for young mentees.

9. Challenge with Love and Patience

Don’t hesitate to challenge your mentees. Fire up conversations, ask difficult questions, discuss Christ often and motivate them to go deeper in their walk with Him. Challenge them to withdraw from compromising on Jesus in anything and don’t let things become too comfortable. Inspire them to cry out to God with confidence and longing, especially during the not-so-good times.

Mutually agree on the parameters within which they will be evaluated—and stick to it on a continual basis. Regular reviews are important in identifying areas of improvement and change. Sometimes mentors are hesitant to challenge mentees because of the fear of losing them; believe me, in the long run, that only harms the mentees! When mentees are challenged in a spirit of love and concern for their souls, they will respond positively.

Also, remember that mentoring is an ongoing process, so you will not be seeing results overnight. Mentoring is also time and effort consuming. Patience needs to be your best friend, especially when challenging mentees!

Top tip: Hang in there with love and patience; mentees will respect you for it in the long run.

Mentoring is more about discipling than ministering. The critical goal is to help the mentees place Christ at the center of their lives. If that is achieved, God will be well and truly pleased! Coaching and training in ministry needs to be applied around this goal more than anything else.

Finally, if you believe you are called to mentor leaders, stop doubting yourself and start believing in your calling. An important truth I’ve realized over the years is that it’s the work of the enemy to fill our minds with doubt, fear, anxiety, and negativity. If God wanted a famous church leader to mentor your team, God would’ve placed that leader in your church. But He didn’t, right? He placed you there, my friend! So it’s up to us to teach and mentor those whom God has placed within our influence. We may not consider ourselves qualified or worthy, but the Lord who called us most certainly is. So let’s trust Him and go forth, and may His work and will be done!