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.