Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Turning down a request for mentorship in three [not-so-easy] steps

This question came to me today on my Facebook page from Kimberly Jones and I asked her permission to share it here on the blog and answer it as part of the mentorship series.  It's not the first time I've received this question. I believe it's a common one that many leaders struggle with and my prayer is that this will help others as well.
Question: How do I tell someone I cannot mentor them because they disrespect me and undermine me? This person wants me to mentor them, but if I am going to be treated like this, I simply cannot. How do I back off from them and communicate to them in a courteous way the reason for this? ~ Kimberly
Answer: Kimberly, let me say first of all that personal mentoring becomes even more of a complicated matter for those of us who serve in vocational church ministry. I am not sure whether the person who has come to you clearly unqualified for mentorship at this point [by virtue of their disrespect and undermining] is a member of the church where you currently serve on staff, but if they are, that affects things. I address this issue specifically because when it comes to this, people often don't play fair.

As spiritual leaders we must take the high road. Nothing is more important than integrity. This includes holding our tongue on things we really want to say when it's wise to do so. When the person in question tells others their version of what you said, you don't get to tell your side of it. You don't get to talk about them in a negative fashion. You have to operate in integrity and love. Playing dirty is not an option for a true spiritual leader. 
Normally when it comes to anything especially in leadership,  I've always believed over-communicating is better than under-communicating. However, I've learned from past experience that the wisest way to handle the problem with those who do not qualify (at this time) for mentorship may not be a direct rebuke. 
I have learned that seldom do people quietly accept your correction or your decision and go on about their business. If they are disrespecting and undermining you already have indication they are not teachable at this time. I have come to believe that maybe the best way is a non-confrontational approach that will hopefully avoid drama and casualties with other people that they will try to pull into the situation. Unfortunately what happens is that some who are not strong in their faith will be sucked into their drama and it causes fallout with people who don't possess the maturity level to understand your course of action. 
My advice would be to set the relationship with the one requesting at the level at which you're comfortable and let it be. You don't owe them an explanation. And, by their actions they don't appear open to receive it anyway. Too many times we think we owe everyone an explanation and the simple fact is, we don't. 
It's wise to avoid trying to answer fools. Proverbs 26:4 says, "When arguing with fools, don't answer their foolish arguments, or you will become as foolish as they are." I would definitely categorize disrespect and undermining as foolish behavior. Can you explain or reason with a fool? 

At one time I not only mentored lots of individuals, but also had formalized classes and programs.  People's lives were changed. Some went back to school and graduated, others launched new careers, some followed dreams they thought had long died and yet others went to the next level in ministry.  Some learned basic life skills!  Mentorship for me at that time was done in an organized fashion and even included applications for mentorship, signed contracts and agreements, daily assignments, homework assignments, journaling, mandatory retreats away for deeper level (extended) teaching times, and lots more. I helped many people in this highly focused fashion for about seven years straight and put my whole heart and soul into it.  It gave me a high to see lives changed the way they were.  Nothing feels greater than to see your mentees soar!
Then I came to a place where I needed to make a change. A sabbatical and restructuring was needed for many reasons, including the issue you describe in your question.
There are times I've confronted people because of issues you mention and lovingly yet honestly told them the reasons why I was going to direct my energies elsewhere. When in a group setting, I sometimes had to remove people from the group. Concluding the mentoring relationship was done with care and in love but any time you tell people something is ending, most times they get upset. 


So with that in mind, what I recommend is that you do not share all the reasons with them.   If they're going to continue to undermine you, let it be with a story they have to completely make up versus something they can take that you said and twist. Silence is rarely misquoted. 

Correction for disrespect and undermining is certainly deserved. You are sick and tired of their bad behavior and want to give them a piece of your mind.

Although deserved, is it wise? 

What do you believe it will accomplish other than getting it off your chest? Think about the fact that if they were ready to hear your reasons, they would already be changing their behavior.
During this time of restructuring my own guidelines for personal mentoring,  I have been  talking with many pastors, pastors' wives, staff members and church leaders and asking how they do things. I love to learn from other leaders! The findings are interesting. I haven't found even ONE leader with a formalized approach. 
None of them have written expectations or agreements.
None of them have a process or any type of agenda that they follow. 
None of them announce or explain why they mentor one person or don't mentor another. Whether they mentor someone or not is a personal decision led by the Holy Spirit. They don't feel they owe anybody an explanation including that person. 
I've talked to leaders of churches of 50 or less, and as many as 3,000. 
It seems most of the leaders I've interviewed simply look around the church and see the people who are already committed to move in the right direction. This coupled with the discernment of the spirit determines who they take under their wing, or keep there. If people lack pursuit or show disrespect, they pull back. With those who are unfaithful, disrespectful or undermining, most leaders seem to believe the person already knows why the pull back occurs. 

I would suggest you allow time for a period of qualification. Earlier in the mentoring series here on the blog I talked about the importance of qualifying for mentorship. Your mentee needs to understand that they must qualify and what that entails. During a time of consideration, watch them closely.  As Lisa Alexander already said, at some point you do have to ask yourself where you're casting your pearls. If they are respectful and already faithful, then consider taking them on as a mentee.  If not, don't. And then don't beat yourself up over the decision. Your time and investment is worth something and it's important that you sow your seed into good soil.

If they keep asking you about getting started and you know they aren't ready, explain to them about what qualification means. Not to give a shameless plug or anything, but you might want to point them to a certain blog series on qualifying for mentorship. ;)
One caveat: it also greatly depends on where a person is in their spiritual journey. I have taken people I have never met before under my wing who have e-mailed me or even walked in off the street. My favorite thing to do is work with those who don''t know Christ yet. I've mentored many people who I have just met for the first time who request my help, when I feel led of the Holy Spirit to do so.  The need for discernment cannot be overemphasized. For what it's worth I've never had a problem out of an pre-Christian or a brand new one in this regard. Issues seem to occur with people who have been Christians a while.

I began with the promise of telling you how to handle this in three steps. They are:
  1. Decide what YOU want to do during a period of qualification.
  2. Do it.
  3. Don't feel obligated to explain everything.
I said it was not-so-easy because it isn't. 

 

No comments: