Following God can be hard. We’re not promised an easy life just because we’re Christians, so it helps to have someone walking alongside us, to advise and encourage us. And that’s where a great mentor comes in. We chatted to Sam Gill (leader of Everyday Champions, Wellingborough) and his mentor Mark Ritchie (national evangelist and leader of 73rd Trust) to find out what mentoring is really like.
Sam, what made you choose Mark for your mentor?
[Sam] I don’t actually know, I’m still wondering why I chose him! I was leading youth at the time, and he had come down to the church a few times. I just clicked with him. I liked the way that he was obviously in love with Jesus, but also normal, and was able to make it normal. He was able to have fun and banter, but also have serious conversations as well. I thought ‘There’s a man that I can learn from.’ I looked at him – he’s a bit older than me, isn’t he? – and thought, ‘If I’m going to be doing full-time church work, I want to be like that when I’m older.’
Why do you think it’s important to have a mentor?
[Mark] It’s good to have someone who’s just a little bit further down the road than you. I myself have got a mentor, and I’m able to ask that person questions because they’ve already been down that road. It’s great to be able to mine into some of the real quality, and learn from other people’s mistakes and successes. For me, it’s really important to have that wisdom from someone who’s been a little bit further down the road than you.
[Sam] I was going to say exactly the same as that! I want to have people around me who have already done what I’m doing, but also people who are real and vulnerable, and won’t just show you their successes, but will talk about some times when they messed up, and then you can learn from that. I’ve noticed that I’ll either think I’m doing better than I really am, or I think I’m doing worse than I really am. Having people around me who can say ‘you’re not doing that bad’, or ‘you’re not actually doing that great’ is really valuable.
What does a typical mentoring session between you look like? Is there a certain place that you go, or a certain pattern that you follow each time, or is each one completely different?
[Sam] There’s always got to be an abundance of food!
[Mark] Exactly! We’ve always done it around food, because we love food. One time, one of us wanted to share something a bit vulnerable, and we went to this brand new Korean restaurant. We ordered this food – we had no clue what we were ordering – and then suddenly we realised that the chef comes and cooks it at the table whilst you’re sitting there! We suddenly thought ‘Ah. Okay. This is going to be a bit awkward.’ So we kind of talked about nothing, and then went for coffee in a different place and talked about what we really wanted to talk about! Sam and I both love eating different kinds of unusual foods, so we’ve made that a bit of a thing. The structure of it takes different shapes, so sometimes there’s a pressing issue and we start talking about that before anything else. In the past I’ve sent Sam some questions and said ‘I want you to think about these things, and let’s talk about them.’ And we’ve read a book together, and then talked about it.
[Sam] The structure changes, depending on what’s going on at the time. There have been times where I’ve been having a really rough time, and that takes the first bit of time up as we chat through it. There’ll be other times where Mark’s sent a few questions over in advance to get conversation going. So it varies, but I always know that it’s never going to be wasted time. I’ve got into the habit of evaluating where I’m at in life – where stuff’s going well, where stuff’s not going so well – when I go in, so that Mark doesn’t have to try and pull it out of me for hours, which means the structure can be so much more relaxed. I think you’ve got to avoid being awkward and serious, because if you’re not that kind of person, don’t try to be like that just because you’re in a mentor conversation. If you’re not someone who likes to sit in a coffee shop, don’t try and do a mentor meeting in a coffee shop. Like Mark said, go somewhere where you’re both in your relaxed state, and it works well.
Do you find that mentoring is an opportunity to learn from each other, or do you think it’s more of a one way thing?
[Mark] It started as Sam coming and asking me stuff, but the last time that we met up, 100 per cent was me speaking to Sam about something that I’m facing at the moment, and asking Sam for his wisdom on it. But that grows in relationship. I feel like I can learn as much from Sam as Sam does from me. If somebody had an overview of the last mentoring session, they would think that Sam was mentoring me rather than me mentoring him! But I feel really happy with that because I always want to be full of integrity and full of humility. I never want to become a guy who feels like he can’t learn from the younger generation, or learn from people who have different experience. My heart is that we would always learn from each other.
[Sam] I think the humility side of it is massive. Something I’ve picked up from Mark is that he’s always willing to learn. When you’re in a mentor relationship with someone who has done a lot more, seen a lot more, endured a lot more, and they’re approaching you with the humility to learn, it creates a really healthy environment. And then from my side, I learn from what he speaks in, but then I also learn from what I observe in him. There are so many learning opportunities just from your observations of someone as well as from what they speak.
So would you say that a mentor has to be older than you, or does it not really matter? Is it more about experience?
[Mark] I think when you’re younger, it probably has got to be someone who is a little bit older than you, or is at least your peer. Once you get a bit older, I think it becomes less of a thing, because it becomes more about experience. If I met a younger guy, but he had much more experience than me on something very specific, then I would be happy for him to mentor me. But when you’re a young person, I think it is more than likely going to be someone who’s just a little bit older than you.
[Sam] I definitely agree. I’d say go with someone just that bit older. But I think as you get past maybe 24 or 25, that kind of age, it does become about experience. I think it’s wise to have more than one mentor. So obviously Mark is my mentor, but then I also have peer mentors, which isn’t as official, but it’s peer-to-peer mentoring – so the same age as me, maybe a bit younger. I think there’s value in that. And sometimes, someone outside of your world, your realm, even your generation, can add a lot of value to what you’re going through as well.
Do you have a favourite biblical example of a mentor?
[Mark] The one that I love is Jonathan and David. The element that I love about it is that it’s not some dusty old back office with a clock ticking loudly and a whole load of books, and it’s just theory. I feel like Jonathan and David were mentors on the front line, and I feel like that with Sam. It’s like having a mentor right on the front line. It’s like we’re talking about war, we’re talking about battle, we’re trying to see a generation won for God, we’re taking ground for Jesus. Jonathan was there, heart and soul with David. Their hearts were just so for each other, and I love that as well, because I want Sam to succeed. When Sam’s telling me stories of his victories, I’m not thinking ‘he’s getting better opportunities than me’, I’m celebrating the fact that he’s doing as well as he is, and loving the fact that he’s winning. It’s solely and purely a relationship where my best interests are for Sam’s. I think that’s what you get with Jonathan and David as well. They wanted each other to do well, they loved seeing each other have victory, and they loved seeing each other succeed. You want a mentor who’s always got your best interests at heart, not their own agenda.
[Sam] I was going to say that as well! It is a good one. The whole ‘you’re on the front lines’ kind of thing is massive. I guess the flip side of that is Paul and Timothy in the New Testament. I like how at the end of Paul’s life, he’s writing to Timothy, and you can see his heart for him. The mentor relationships I want are where you have that connection that goes beyond your immediate purpose. It’s not about product development. It’s not about ‘get a mentor so they can make you into something’, it’s ‘get a mentor so you can share life with them, so you can learn from them, so you can build each other up’. These guys did a lot together, and at the end of his life, Paul’s writing to Timothy as a father figure. There’ll be times where you have someone for a season, but also look for those guys that you’d be willing to say ‘they’re a spiritual father to me’. Find people that you want to go the distance with.
Why not check out our new podcast series, Mark & Mark: AT FULL VOLUME, hosted by Mark Ritchie and Mark Greenwood, with Sam Gill as one of their guests. Listen anytime via UCB Player