Mentors establish a kind of relationship DNA. In John Ortberg’s book Everybody’s Normal Till You Get to Know Them, he cites a study on relationships that tracked 7,000 people over nine years. Researchers found that the most isolated people were three times more likely to die than those with strong relational connections. People with unhealthy habits (e.g., smoking, making poor food choices, staying overweight, or consuming alcohol) but strong social ties lived significantly longer than people who had great health habits but were isolated.
In other words, it is better to eat Twinkies with good friends than to eat broccoli alone! The point seems clear: We need strong, intentional relationships. Trying to make it through life without them is detrimental.
In the Book of Ruth, Naomi provides an excellent DNA model for intentionally mentoring other women. Her story provides nine character traits of intentional mentoring:
- Naomi honored authority in her life. She dutifully followed her husband to Moab (Ruth 1:1,2). The Assemblies of God holds an egalitarian position on women in ministry leadership (a belief that since men and women are all one in Christ, there are no gender distinctions when it comes to functional roles in the church), but that view does not validate either females or males who usurp authority and create discord in pursuit of their rights. Therefore, mentors must first model submission to authority.
- Naomi valued relationships. She initially rejected isolation by maintaining important relationships, even while she endured life’s most difficult tests. Her husband and sons died in Moab (Ruth 1:3–7). She kept her daughters-in-law, Orpah and Ruth, close by, and they observed Naomi processing her unspeakable grief. Mentors do well to understand their examples speak in all seasons.
- Naomi trusted her historic roots for support. When the time was right, she prepared to return to Bethlehem (Ruth 1:7). Her roots represented the truth that mentors never outgrow the need for personal reinforcement.
- Naomi was honest with herself and others about her emotions. At the border, she expressed her deepest internal pain and confessed her bitterness to the younger women (Ruth 1:11–13). Healthy mentors strategically reveal layers of transparency. They recognize that mentees readily identify with a mentor’s pain. Naomi’s behavior contradicts conventional wisdom that leaders should never allow followers to get close. Naomi allowed it, and so did Jesus.
- Naomi knew her own limitations. In her discouraged state of mind, she urged the young women to go back, knowing she could not give them a husband (Ruth 1:11,12). At this point, Naomi misunderstood what the mentees most needed. Orpah clearly loved Naomi, but she left the mentor-mentee relationship because Naomi could not give her the husband she thought she needed. However, Ruth wanted what Naomi could provide, which included a true God, a chosen people, and a place in a godly lineage. Mentors should recognize and acknowledge what they can’t do. But they can trust God to accomplish His purposes in spite of their limitations.
- Naomi invested time in Ruth. She accepted the request of her mentee and allowed Ruth to press close and spend time with her (Ruth 1:16–18). Mentoring requires intentionally modifying personal boundaries but maintaining autonomy and personal identity (Ruth 1:19).
- Naomi gave direct counsel to Ruth. She provided specific instructions, telling Ruth to go to the threshing floor and what to do there (Ruth 3:3).
- Naomi enjoyed the reward of her investment. She received a unique blessing as a faithful mentor when she held a grandson, a child born in the lineage of King David and Jesus the Messiah (Ruth 4:13–22; Matthew 1:5,6). Healthy mentors recognize the powerful potential of spiritual multiplication in the relationship.
- Naomi bore fruit through the life of another person. Ruth 4:14,15 says, “The women said to Naomi: ‘Praise be to the Lord, who this day has not left you without a guardian-redeemer. May he become famous throughout Israel! He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age. For your daughter-in-law, who loves you and who is better to you than seven sons, has given him birth.’ ”
Healthy mentors do not claim credit for their mentee’s accomplishments, but they bask in the joy of having contributed to the success of another woman.
KAREN YANCEY, director, Kansas Network Development Department, AG Kansas Ministry Network, Maize, Kansas.