Mentoring: Responsibility To vs. Responsibility For

“I am not a teacher, but an awakener.”
–Robert Frost, American poet

Walking with people in their spiritual journeys is a way of life for me now. Each week, I typically meet with two or three men individually to chat about Christ-likeness and to keep each other accountable to the ways and values of Jesus. I believe that mentoring others—especially those who are younger in the faith—is one of the best ways to “go and make disciples” (see Matt. 28:19). I know a ton of people who would flourish in life if somebody simply came alongside them and walked with them even for just a short period of time.

Mentoring will definitely take time if you want to do it well. I wrote about this sometime last year (see post here). But mentoring also takes energy—especially emotional energy—as you walk with people through their ups and downs. We can easily become so invested in another person’s life that we begin to worry about them all the time—maybe even lose some sleep over their circumstances. If we’re not careful, we might even attempt to carry burdens we were not meant to carry. Many things should be left into the hands of a mentee with high hopes that they will take charge of their own lives and spiritual development.

I was a reading a book recently called The Art of Neighboring by Dave Runyon and Jay Pathak. They had a whole chapter on keeping healthy boundaries. I found a good portion of their discussion to be really helpful for mentoring. There’s a difference between “being responsible to” and “being responsible for.” As a mentor, I have certain responsibilities to my mentees. I have a responsibility to…

Encourage them
Pray for them
Serve them
Love them
Check up on them

As a mentor, I am responsible to my mentees for certain things. However, I am not responsible for them. I am not responsible for their spiritual growth and personal development. Nor am I responsible for their willingness to consider my counsel—Biblical or otherwise. Nor am I responsible for their decision to work on any of the action points that we agree upon. Nor am I responsible for the choices that they make in life. These responsibilities belong to my mentees.

I once had coffee with someone who was going through a really tough situation. At the end of our discussion, I recommended to him to see a professional Christian counselor who could really help. When I went home, I searched for a Christian counselor in the area and sent all the relevant information to him. That was my responsibility. I was responsible to help this man in ways that I could. But that was as much as I could do. On the flip side, he was responsible for making contact with the counselor and setting up an appointment. Whether or not he did so was no longer my particular responsibility.

Learning to keep healthy boundaries will be crucial for our own emotional wellbeing. Sometimes, the situations we encounter can be quite overwhelming. And if we’re not careful, we might place ourselves in a position where we’ll end personally distraught simply because we took on more than we should have.