As Christian women, we get our instructions for mentoring from Titus 2:3-5:
3 The aged women likewise, that they be in behaviour as becometh holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things;
4 That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children,
5 To be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed.
Other versions use the word “older” rather than “aged,” which sounds a little kinder to our 21st century ears. One problem with mentoring, though, is that many older women hesitate to obey this command for a couple of reasons. For one, many don’t want to consider themselves in the “older” or “aged” category. And many don’t feel qualified because they feel they are not perfect in any of these areas and feel the need of instruction themselves: that was the common response recently when I was trying to find ladies to serve on a panel discussion about loving our husbands.
As I see it, we’re all older than someone. And if we have walked with the Lord for any length of time at all, we should be able to share something of what He has taught us along the way. No, we won’t be perfect in any area, but in a sense that helps with our mentoring. People need instruction and examples for how to deal with their faults and failures, and a person who admits to them has a little more credibility than someone who comes across as having “arrived.”
However, the character of the one mentoring does need to be the kind that “becomes holiness.” While we’re not sinless, and we need to confess often our faults to the Lord, on the other hand, as a general character and lifestyle, if we haven’t walked with the Lord and learned ourselves in these areas, we don’t have anything to teach anyone else anyway and wouldn’t be heeded if we tried. The rest of verse 4 indicates that a mentor must have a certain amount of self-control both in lifestyle and in speech. The NASB renders “false accusers” as “malicious gossips.” The NKJV says “slanderers.” No lady would want to pour out her heart and ask advice from someone who might then share what she has said with others.
How is mentoring best done? This is something I’ve asked many people through the years. There are several ways:
1. Formal instruction
When we hear the word “teach” we immediately think of classroom-type instruction. I don’t think that was specifically what Paul had in mind: I don’t know that they had classes for women in those days. But we do have classes, seminars, retreats and such in our day and culture that are beneficial. One former church we were members of had two-day conferences for women once every few years and once a year or so would disband their regular adult Sunday School classes to have separate classes for the men and women, and different ladies in the church would teach on these kinds of topics. It was something I looked forward to every year.
2. One-on-one arranged relationships
I have know some churches that had women who were interested in a one-on-one mentoring relationship sign up, and then someone paired up an older woman with a younger woman. The advantages of this kind of set-up would be in greater personal instruction and having someone to ask questions of. The disadvantages I can see would be the awkwardness of asking personal questions of someone you don’t have a personal relationship with and the danger of not really meshing with the person you’re assigned to, but I suppose those thing could be worked out over time.
I have heard of a younger woman who asked an older woman to be her “mentor” — I think they met together to talk and pray, and the younger woman asked the older questions about how she had devotions and such. One friend of mine was advised to choose one lady she was comfortable with and to ask advice of just that one lady. One advantage to that is that you wouldn’t get conflicting advice. That was a hard thing for me particularly as a young mother, when two older ladies who I loved and respected would give the exact opposite advice. I eventually learned to “glean” — to listen kindly and then pick through the advice to find what would most seem to “fit” my family, and leave the rest. But I would have had trouble picking just one woman, though that might have been beneficial to some. I know that often when I was struggling in some area or frustrated and wanting to know what to do, the Lord would put me in contact with some lady who sometimes even by a seemingly chance remark would give me just the bit of wisdom I needed at the moment.
When I was a saved teen in an unsaved home, another family in church invited me over often. Though they never formally instructed me (aside from including me in family devotions), I learned much from being around them and seeing how a Christian family interacted. The wife and mother was a great example to me in every way — in her submission to her husband, in her example as a mom, in her homemaking and meal-preparation skills, yet I don’t think she consciously had me over for the specific purpose of being an example to me.
Times like bridal and baby showers, working in the nursery, setting up or cleaning up for a function, going to ladies’ meetings, fellowships, etc., were great times to mix and talk with other women as I was “growing up” as a lady. Sometimes if a question or problem cropped up, I’d ask some of them, but mostly it was still kind of an observing and absorbing of their spirit and example. Especially when I was approaching marriage, looking forward to having children, and then having them, I watched and “gleaned.” In more recent years my observing has been more along the lines of noticing godly behavior, being convicted, and asking the Lord to change me in those areas.
I have been ministered to, instructed, rebuked, and encouraged many times over the years by reading books written by godly women and, in more recent times, blogs.
I didn’t list family relationships, but that would be the most obvious avenue of an older lady teaching a younger one. Of course. not all ladies have mothers who are alive or who are Christians, and many live away from their parents after they marry. Even with a godly, accessible mother nearby, most of us could still use example and instruction from other godly women.
In Elisabeth’s Elliot’s book Keep a Quiet Heart, one very helpful chapter is titled “A Call to Older Women.” Here is one paragraph from it:
I think of the vast number of older women today. The Statistical Abstract of the United States for 1980 says that 19.5 percent of the population was between ages 45-65, but by 2000 it will be 22.9 percent. Assuming that half of those people are women, what a pool of energy and power for God they might be. We live longer now than we did forty years ago (the same volume says that the over-sixty-fives will increase from 11.3 percent to 13 percent). There is more mobility, more money around, more leisure, more health and strength–resources which, if put at God’s disposal, might bless younger women. But there are also many more ways to spend those resources, so we find it very easy to occupy ourselves selfishly. Where are the women, single or married, willing to hear God’s call to spiritual motherhood, taking spiritual daughters under their wings to school them as Mom Cunningham did me? She had no training the world would recognize. She had no thought of such. She simply loved God and was willing to be broken bread and poured-out wine for His sake. Retirement never crossed her mind.
So how does one going about being a mentor or “spiritual mother” to other ladies? Pray first and seek how the Lord would have you go about it. After that, the biggest thing is just to be sensitive and available. Perhaps a new mom could use some help around the house or a few hours to herself while someone capable watches the children; perhaps you could write notes of encouragement to others or have a couple of ladies over for lunch. Even just going and talking to a younger lady at a fellowship or meeting instead of finding a friend is a start. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a formal arrangement with one particular lady, though some prefer that. As I mentioned earlier, often through the years just in the course of ordinary church life, the Lord would send someone with a “word in due season” that was just what I needed at the time.
One thing older women have to watch out for, however, is crossing over the line into being busybodies. I knew of one older lady who told one young mother of seven that she was having too many children and another young wife who was planning to wait to have children til her husband was through seminary that she needed to get started on her family. It is no wonder that she caused hurt feelings rather than helping or ministering to anyone.
Though older women need to be aware of this Scriptural admonition and to seek God’s wisdom in going about obeying it, the other side of the coin is that younger women need to be willing to be taught, and part of that involves just spending time with each other. A lot of times we tend to gravitate to our own age groups, which is natural, but it’s good to get out of our comfort zone and get to know ladies of all ages. I have learned a lot from other ladies just by being around them and watching and listening to them, but sometimes I’ve felt led to ask specific questions. If you’re a younger lady who would like some “spiritual mothering,” ask the Lord to guide someone to you and take time to get to know some of the older ladies in your church. I feel sure that you’ll find someone whom you can look up to and learn from, but if not (and even if you do and would like to supplement your learning), reading good books is another way to gain from the wisdom of those who have gone before.