Mentoring someone into faith or deeper into faith is your responsibility. Unless you’re the pastor, it’s not the pastor’s responsibility. Unless you’re a Sunday school teacher, it’s not the Sunday school’s responsibility. Unless you’re a small group leader, it’s not small group’s responsibility.
It’s your responsibility … you know, that whole “Go ye and make disciples” is in your personal hands.
To help you out, here are three simple ways to mentor others in their faith … even if they haven’t invited you to be their personal mentor.
Ask a Faith-Stretching Question
A faith-stretching question isn’t about theology, it’s about practice. It’s about doing discipleship … and for most church members, doing discipleship is a pretty big stretch. In this case, you’re just asking a question about their spiritual disciplines that invites them to reflect and to adjust their behavior. Here are some questions I’ve used in the past:
- What did you read in the Bible yesterday that your found interesting?
- What act of faith did you do at work that left a positive impression?
- How did you share your faith with an unbeliever last week?
- What is God doing in your life that’s challenging you to live differently?
- Who have you encouraged in their faith this week?
The point of the questions aren’t to humiliate or shame, so if you ask and the response is “I haven’t,” then it’s not your job to make commentary (especially non-verbal commentary!). Pretty much everyone neglects their faith practices, the goal of the questions is to nudge your apprentice to stretch their faith practices just a bit.
Ask a Probing Question
A probing question invites your apprentice to open up their lives just a bit. Depending on the depth of your relationship, these questions might bring a superficial response, but it could also open the floodgates of personal pain and need. Here are a couple of questions to get you started:
- How’s your walk with Jesus these days?
- What’s been trying to get in the way between you and your prayer life? (or between you and God, etc.)
- How can I be praying for you?
Personally, I like to ask the last question regularly, even to those you don’t know or don’t know well. It’s a great way to open the door to a more formal apprenticeship. (I regularly comment to wait staff, “We’re about to pray over our meal. Is there anything you’d like us to pray about for you?” It’s amazing how often this question provides an opportunity for a deeper faith conversation.)
Offer an Encouraging Word
There’s a leadership axiom that what gets rewarded gets repeated. In most of our lives, criticism is the rule and encouragement the exception. And yet, a word of encouragement is one of the most powerful “rewards” we can give. Just as criticism is universally demotivating and discouraging, encouragement is inspiring and motivating.
Note there is often a not-so-subtle difference between praise and encouragement. Praise is often generalized and though it may make us “feel good” for a moment, it doesn’t have the motivational impact that encouragement has. “Good job!” and “Way to go!” and “Congratulations!” fall into the near impact-less praise category. Encouragement is more difficult to offer because it’s generally necessary to think through what you want to communicate. Here are some examples of encouraging words:
- I overheard your conversation … your words were grace filled and seemed to be well received.
- I saw you escorting people from their cars to the church doors with an umbrella to keep them dry in this raise. I’m sure your ministry to them helped them worship more deeply.
- I appreciate the way you always pray before meals and invite others to pray with you.
Mentoring people into deeper faith takes more than Bible study and small group participation. By asking faith-stretching questions, probing questions, and offering encouraging words we can help people engage and embed more regular discipleship practices.
I appreciate the emphasis on mentoring practice—as opposed to belief. Since I am a clergy person, I also thank you for talking to me AND the laity. Thank you.