How has mentorship impacted your life?
Natasha: Mentoring has had in invaluable impact on my life. I grew up in a small town in South Carolina, in a community of people that understood the African proverb, “It takes a whole village to raise a child.” I always had mentors in my formative years in the form of coaches, teachers, community servants, and pastors. Everyone was collectively speaking into my life. The lessons I learned from these mentors taught me discipline and helped me confirm my identity, which later guided me to the United States Naval Academy.
The Naval Academy’s mission is to make leaders who are committed to making a career in the naval service. The institution cares about the moral, mental, and physical development of their midshipmen (students), and mentoring is naturally built into the leadership structure of the school. From the time you walk on campus, you’re being mentored by several and being groomed as you advance so you are able to mentor others. My time at the academy was very important to my professional development and the honing of my leadership skills.
With regards to my spiritual life, I was raised in a church but really didn’t start walking with the Lord in a personal relationship until I was in college. At that time, I was discipled and mentored by a woman who shaped me. I had many spiritual influencers at that time who built me up and helped me become who I am today.
Mentoring has become a passion of mine, because of the impact it’s had on my life, but also because of the transformation I’ve seen in other people. I believe mentoring is my service to God and to His church.
What inspired you to write your upcoming book, “Mentor for Life: Finding Purpose through Intentional Discipleship?”
Natasha: Writing “Mentor for Life” was a process. It wasn’t something I set out to do. In the end, it was a result of me being obedient and responding to what God put in front of me. When I was living in Maryland, I was leading a women’s small group ministry with five other leaders. Then God moved my family from Maryland to North Carolina. Our realtor in North Carolina happened to be the women’s ministry director at the church we eventually became members. She asked me to consider starting a mentoring ministry for the women at the church.
I just chuckled, because my heart was already prepared and longing for an opportunity just like this. I felt like God had been doing amazing things in Maryland and that was only the beginning of what He wanted me to continue doing in North Carolina. I prayed about this new opportunity, confirmed a ministry partner, we prayerfully got a team together, and began the ministry (featuring some of the learning and practical experiences I have outlined in the “Mentor for Life” book).
I participated in that ministry for approximately four years and somewhere around the second year, the editor of Christianity Today’s Gifted for Leadership, an online magazine for women called to ministry, asked me to write about the ministry work that I was doing, because she felt like it was needed in the church. The article turned into a five-part series on mentoring!
After writing the articles, I began to receive comments, emails, and social media responses from women saying, “I wish there was something like this at my church,” and single women were saying, “I don’t feel like there’s a place for me in this thing called ‘women’s ministry.’” I also heard from women leaders, asking me if I had “something” that they could do with their women’s groups in their churches, or if I had a curriculum to offer.
The editor said to me, “Natasha, I think you’re onto something here. I think you have enough to write a book.” So this was the natural progression of doing ministry work, which led to sharing about the ministry work, which led to questions about the ministry work, which led to the book project. I never set out to write a book! It was not on my bucket list of things to do. I really view “Mentor for Life” as my offering to the church, because I believe that the church needs it, mainly because people have told me they believe it is a necessary resource for the church, and because the church leaders, pastors, and seminary professors who have already read it have affirmed the same.
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 I entered into a mentorship with an older woman at my church, one of her early questions to me 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.
For mentors and mentees, it is imperative that both parties be open and honest up front about expectations and boundaries. Laying everything out at the beginning will help keep your time together focused, and will also provide accountability for both parties. Many times, the expectation of the mentee can lean towards being completely unrealistic. When that expectation is ultimately not met, the mentee ends up checking out of the relationship. Having affirmations can clarity expectations, build trust, and cause the mentoring relationship to flourish.
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.
Natasha Sistrunk Robinson is the author of Mentor for Life: Finding Purpose through Intentional Discipleship and the visionary founder of the nonprofit, Leadership LINKS, Inc. She is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary Charlotte (cum laude, M.A. Christian Leadership) 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 http://www.NatashaSRobinson.com, blog http://www.asistasjourney.com, Twitter @asistasjourney, or http://www.facebook.com/NatashaSistrunkRobinson.
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.”