How to be a great mentor …

After a distinguished performing career, virtuoso violinist Jascha Heifetz accepted an appointment as professor of music at UCLA. Asked what had prompted his change of career, Heifetz replied, “Violin playing is a perishable art. It must be passed on as a personal skill; otherwise, it is lost.”

We can learn from this great musician. Living the Christian life, and being a leader in the church, is a highly personal experience. We can’t pull it off merely by watching skilled veterans “perform.” We need hands-on instruction.

Our primary instruction is supposed to come in the form of discipleship. An additional means of growing as both a follower of Christ and a leader in the church is through mentoring. There is a real and distinct difference between discipling and mentoring. Discipleship teaches others to learn of and look like Christ, while mentoring is sharing your own education, insights, and experience as examples for the betterment of others.

Unfortunately, there’s a great lack of discipleship going on within the church while there is a broad and growing interest in mentoring. But mentoring can be a great benefit to those who are teachable and are willing to learn. So if you’re going to invest yourself in someone, what is needed to be a great mentor?

Instead of getting into the details and minutia of mentoring, let’s look briefly at four fundamentals you should practice with your student in order to be a great mentor:

1. Love them.
Someone posted a sign in a music store that read, “A jazz musician is someone who puts a $5,000 horn in a $500 car and drives 50 miles for a $5 gig.” Why does the musician do it? It’s not for the money or an ego boost, it’s because he loves music and must share it. The motive for mentoring is similar – love for his student. Any other motivation will negatively influence your teaching and example. Love means you do what is best for the other person; mentoring is pouring the best of you into the life of another person for their best interests, not yours.

2. Listen to them.
On Christmas afternoon, the pastor’s wife dropped into an easy chair as she exclaimed, “Boy! Am I ever tired!” Her husband looked at her and said, “I had to conduct two special services last night, three today, preaching a total of five sermons! Why are you so tired?” The wife immediately responded, “Because I had to listen to all of them!’

It can be tiring listening to someone talk a lot, which is what some mentors think they need to do. That’s probably because they missed the first point, and thus, are a little too full of themselves. You’ll never rightly know how and what to teach your student without first listening to them. Learn their story, find out what makes them tick, and mix your times together with plenty of listening to them. The better you understand your student, the better you will know how you can benefit them.

3. Lift them.
Lift your students in prayer every day. Lift them when they’re sagging from life’s burdens. Lift them when they’re discouraged. And lift them closer to Christ by helping them take the next steps in their becoming more like Him. If you’re unwilling to contribute to the life of your students in a way that lifts them, then leave them alone.

4. Lead them.
So many people just want to be a “leader” and pay little heed to loving others, listening to others, and lifting others. But you really are not in any position to lead others until you love them, listen to them, and are ready to help lift their lives to the next step in living for Christ. But once the first three things are in place, don’t be afraid to lead them. Set the example, demonstrate a bold Christianity, and hold them accountable. Dismantle their excuses and challenge them to become the person God intends for them to be. Establish some expectations for them and give them work to do. Lead!

Being a mentor can be a great way to share with others from the education and experiences you’ve had as a follower of Christ and leader in the church. Just make sure you’ve got these fundamentals for mentoring in place before stepping too deeply into the life of a student.