How to Find a Great Mentor (Part 1)

August 20th, 2019

The day you say, “I wish I had someone to talk to about my life,” is the day you’re ready for a mentor. This two-part blog is all about helping you find one. First, we’ll focus on the kind of person you should be looking for. Then, next month, we’ll talk about the practical nuts and bolts of how to ask someone to be your mentor, how a mentoring relationship is structured, and what’s necessary to keep a mentoring relationship fresh and effective. By the way, we’re not talking here about mentors in general. We’re talking about mentors for youth pastors. We’re talking about mentors for someone like you. 

For starters, we need to be clear about what a mentor is, and how they function in the context of a youth pastor’s world. The best mentors borrow a little bit from several different disciplines. A mentor might offer you some counsel, even though they’re not counselors. A mentor might give you some pointers on doing your job better, even though they’re not coaches. A mentor might help you grow closer to Jesus, even though they’re not spiritual directors. So, with that in mind, we’ll define a mentor as someone who is further along in life and faith than you are, who is willing to walk along beside you for a season.

Their value lies chiefly in their ability to see the big picture, to work with your whole life rather than focusing on specific parts of it. If they sense you need a “specialist” (a counselor or a financial advisor for example) they’ll let you know. But in the meantime, they’ll function as a generalist, thinking about how all the various parts of your life, including your ministry, connect together. Here are some tips on what you should be looking for.

First of all, you want to find someone you enjoy being with. God occasionally brings someone into your life whom you don’t enjoy in order to help you grow. Your mentor should not be one of those people. The chemistry between you and your mentor should be strongly positive. Bill Willits, one of the senior leaders of North Point Ministries, (the organization I work for) came up with a great test to gage the chemistry of a relationship. I call it the “Willits Screen Test.” It’s very simple. When someone’s name or picture comes up on your phone, are you enthused about talking/texting with them? That’s a sign the chemistry between you is good. If you’re not enthused about interacting with them, then the chemistry between you isn’t so good. 

By the way, bad chemistry isn’t necessarily a moral issue. It just means you don’t click with someone. Nobody clicks with everybody. You just want to make sure you click with your mentor.

The next thing you should look for in a mentor is safety. A mentor needs to be a safe haven in your life, a person who can create a judgment-free zone around a conversation. This doesn’t mean they’ll never call you out. It just means they know how to correct without condemning. They lead with grace. They are strongly for you, even when you’ve done something stupid. 

The other essential characteristic of a safe mentor is that they know how to practice confidentiality. We’ve all had the distasteful experience of discovering that what we said to someone in confidence was repeated to a third party. You need to be sure a prospective mentor has absolutely no problem keeping their mouth shut about your business. 

There’s one more point to make about safe mentors. The safety factor usually means your boss is not a good choice. The reason is clear. If you’re worried about job-performance issues (as we all are at times) it will be difficult for you to be completely transparent with your boss. This is especially true if your boss is one of the issues you need help with. 

Finally, you need to look for a mentor with a great track record. I’m not talking about their personal track record. I’m talking about the track record of the people they mentor. You might think the best mentor for you is some guy or gal with a huge student ministry. The thing is, those folks often make lousy mentors. They’re great at student ministry, but they don’t have the time or skill set to be good mentors. So you don’t want them to be your mentor. You want their mentor to be your mentor. Look for the man or woman who has walked beside an excellent youth pastor. These are the people God can use to make a huge difference in your life.

As you think through all this, keep in mind that it’s likely your future mentor is already in your relational network. You just need to start asking God to steer you in their direction. At the same time, start asking other people you trust about this. I believe there’s somebody out there for you because mentoring is one of God’s favorite strategies for developing people. Paul had Barnabas. David had Samuel. C.S. Lewis had George MacDonald. Bill Bright had Henrietta Mears. Billy Graham had Peter Joshua. I can’t wait for you to discover whom God has for you.


John hales from Ventura, California where he grew up surfing and playing guitar. He graduated second in his class from Pepperdine University and then attended Fuller Theological Seminary. His first call was to Community Presbyterian Church, also in Ventura, where he worked with high school students. He subsequently held positions with Young Life, The American Church in London, Kings College – University of London, and Peachtree Presbyterian Church in Atlanta, Georgia. He is currently on staff at North Point Community Church’s Buckhead Campus. He serves there as the Director of Staff Development and the Director of Starting Point.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.