5 Questions About…Mentoring

Do you have friends who you look forward to spending time with because they are just. so. much. FUN?  Heather is one of those people in my life.  I know whenever we get together the ideas will be exploding like confetti and laughter will punctuate our conversation.   She is the discipleship pastor at the National Community Church in D.C. – one of the most vibrant and innovative faith communities I know.  Heather has also written two books, Community is Messy (about small group ministry) and Amazed and Confused (about Habbakuk).  You should check them out!

HZ.20131.  One of the things I admire about you is the way you build into others around you.  How did that come to be a value in your ministry?

I don’t think there was one catalytic moment; it was just a slow process of recognizing the way that God was working in my life and taking note of where I was feeling most fulfilled, seeing the most fruit, and having the most fun. I was captivated by 2 Timothy 2:2, realizing that the only investments we can make that truly last are the investments we make in other people.  Growing people grow people. I’d rather grow people than manage programs.

2.  Can you tell about an experience you have had with someone who built into you and what you learned from it?

I spent two short but very critical years at a church in Nashville, Tennessee. While I was there, I attended some classes and trainings by one of the staff pastors, Dave. When I moved back to Washington, DC, but Dave continued to pastor me. He left encouraging voice mails, sent texts, and would make a point to meet up with my husband Ryan and me whenever he was in the area. Dave was willing to invest in me beyond his position and outside of the normal expectations.  He asked good questions and gave brutally honest answers to my questions. Dave is still a significant mentoring voice in my life, teaching me about character, the ways of God, and the importance of investing into others.

3. When you disciple or mentor someone how organic or how structured does it look?  What are your goal/priorities?

Ultimately, I think the best way to mentor someone is to invite them into your life as you live it, so I try to keep things as organic as possible.  I usually come armed with a set of questions: 

  • What is going on in your life that you are most excited about?
  • What is going on in your life that you are most concerned about?
  • What is filling you up? What is draining you?
  • Tell me one way you want to grow in your leadership.
  • Tell me one way you want to grow in your character.

From there, I typically let the conversation go wherever it will and just keep asking more questions. I don’t set many goals; rather, I challenge the person seeking the mentoring to establish those goals. 

On two occasions, Paul told the Corinthian church, “Imitate me as I imitate Christ.” It’s one thing for people to hear me talk about humility, patience, and integrity from the climate controlled comfort of my local coffeehouse or office. It’s another for them to see how those play out in my actual life when the flight is delayed, I read the critical email, or come off the platform at a conference. 

4. Another thing I appreciate about you is your creativity.  Can you tell about something you’ve done with someone you’re building into that has been particularly fun and fruitful?

Fun is one of my core values.  I have a developing theology of fun and a few guidelines that I follow. One, I never travel alone. If I’m going on a speaking trip, I’m going to take someone along for the ride. It gives them an opportunity to learn from other churches, gives them an opportunity to watch my life, and it affords us plenty of time in planes and in cars for those organic discipleship conversations to come up.


Two, I try to plan fun into those trips. Some of my favorite discipleship conversations have occurred at DisneyWorld, on Broadway, at Wrigley Field, and on rollercoasters at the Mall of America. Three, I try to leverage my relationships, resources, and opportunities for others. A few years ago, I had a speaking opportunity in Chicago. I gathered three girls to go with me and set up meetings for all of us with several people who mentor me. I wanted them to bump into the people who had invested in me.

5.  What advice would you give to those who would like to be mentored? 

The first is to start mentoring others. When I started pouring my life into others, God began drawing people towards me. The second is to find ways to add value to the person you want to get to know. Instead of asking for time on their calendar, find creative ways to engage in and support the work they are already doing. Add value to their life as you seek to gain value from them! I wrote a blog post a couple years ago with some additional thoughts on how to be mentored (http://www.heatherzempel.com/2009/09/how-to-be-mentored/).

You may also want to check out my page on “How to Get a Mentor”



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