Sunday, January 6, 2013

This Year, Stop Leading!

By Lesa Engelthaler

As we exited the church building one friend said, “I am done with women’s ministry.” Another one replied, “And I will never attend a book club again.” To say the least, the meeting had not gone well.

For the past decade I had facilitated a successful women’s mentoring ministry for our church. As the church grew, however, my team and I struggled to accommodate the demand. Deeming one woman worthy to impart wisdom over another to the next generation made us uncomfortable. We felt there must be a less top-down model.

The initiative we proposed at the “meeting-from-the-dark-side” that evening was to be the new grand idea. We were mistaken. As I slid my weary soul into the driver’s seat of my Camry, I couldn’t have agreed more with my friends. We decided to shut down the mentoring program.

Two long years later I was given David Benner’s Sacred Companions. “Freeing” does not begin to describe how I felt about Benner’s thoughts. I lent the book to what was left of our program team. They loved it. Wary of anything with “mentoring” in the title, we advertised a gathering for women interested in deeper friendships.

For me, the huge difference between Benner and other philosophies of mentoring were found in two of Benner’s statements:

1.    “Spiritual friends help us most when they make clear that their job is to point the way, not to lead the way. And the Way to which they should point is Jesus.” This had bothered me for years—I can hardly lead myself, much less someone else.

2.    “An equally important temptation for those seeking to offer spiritual friendship is to assume that one’s own route is best for others.” I had done this very thing—advised a young woman that the (I think I said only) way to be with the Almighty was in the morning. . . in a house. . . in a chair. . . with her Bible and prayer journal. Benner argues that to dictate a specific path to God is like giving a map of one’s own creation. He calls it idolatry.

Taking my cue from Benner, I’ve begun to ask two questions which launch deeper conversations: How has God been present for you in recent weeks? When did God seem to be absent?

One woman who participated in our first gathering (and declared she could never ask “those kinds of questions”) stopped me in church a few Sundays ago. She had invited a neighbor to meet with her this coming year. I’m getting together with three gals starting this month.

Care to join us? Ask a coworker or gather a few friends for a cup of coffee and open with Benner’s questions. No predetermined roadmap required. Just point them, and yourself, to Jesus.

2013 might be our best mentoring year ever.

Lesa Engelthaler lives in Dallas, Texas, where she works for Victory Search Group as an executive recruiter for nonprofits. She serves on the board of Synergy Women’s Network and is a member of the Redbud Writers Guild. Follow her on Twitter at @lengelthaler or friend her on Facebook. Lesa also highly recommends Benner’s The Gift of Being Yourself.  


  1. Everything I learned this past year in my degree program Organizational Management in Spiritual Leadership at Colorado Christian University this past year affirms this approach. However, I find myself facing an empty space when it comes to my relationships with other women. I am competent in small group arrangements - I seem to desperately fail in one on one relationships. I don't invite anyone... I have offended women too many times, ones I thought I could share my mind and heart with. I think I am seen as a hero type but fall hard off the pedestal. I recently met a woman while our kids played at McDonald's - she said "Let's be friends". But subsequent attempts at meetings failed until she stopped responding all together. I feel I can't have my heart broken again. I'll do nothing until God points a way.

  2. Amen Lesa! The beautiful imagery of shoulder to shoulder ministry puts a dagger to the heart of our propensity to create and present a false self. This template for authenticity also frees us to go much deeper relationally; both on a personal and spiritual level. It’s how the body of Christ was designed to function and worth the effort it takes to reconfigure how women gather and grow.