When it comes to guidance for mentoring relationships among Christian women, it seems there's only one place to go: Titus 2.
I wonder if the Apostle Paul imagined his instructions on transmitting faith to the next generation would become a checklist for church mentorship in the 21st-century, as women try to teach others "to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God" (Titus 2:4-5).
In recent years, various iterations of these Titus 2-themed "matchmakers" programs and other church curricula have brought Christian women together for the sake of discipleship. Although Titus 2 includes similar coaching themes for the relationship between older men and younger ones, the chapter has become shorthand among evangelicals for "women only." Very few programs apply the relevant passages to brand men's ministry.
These mentorship programs, in some evangelical circles, replace older models of women's ministries, which relied on ladies lunches and women's retreats. In her Her.meneutics post entitled "Why It's Your Job To Break The Women's Ministry Sterotype," Sharon Hodde Miller observed that the "doilies and teacups" events—ones often light on content, heavy on large group socializing—are fading away. These gatherings are, at best, a gateway for the kind of relationships Paul described to Titus… but, thanks be to God, they're certainly not the only point of entry.
Bible studies, book groups, and ministries bring the women of the church together, and in these settings, cross-generational relationships can sometimes grow into meaningful spiritual pairings that nurture and benefit both women. But oftentimes, there are too many factors working against these relationships forming organically. We're compulsively busy. Fewer of us, even in the same congregation, live in the same areas. We don't naturally connect one-on-one with someone of another generation, particularly in churches that focus on age-segregated programming.
Thus, the mentoring relationship described in Titus 2 may be easier read than done. Programs rooted in the passage may view the mentorship relationship as overly formulaic and straightforward. Actually cultivating connection across generations can be much more difficult. But even a forced pairing between an older and younger woman might be better than no mentoring relationship at all. Over the course of a 13-week small group study centered on Titus 2, participants may actually move into relationships that go beyond the standard church lobby hellos.
When such programs are successful, though, it's important to remember that it's nothing more than a vehicle God used to move willing participants toward him and each other. In other cases, a program's roles and rules muddy the path toward building redemptive relationships. Several younger women have told me they've chafed at the prospect of becoming someone else's project at church. They sensed potential mentors came ready to unroll their specific Titus 2 wonderful plan for their lives ("Quit your job now and become a stay-at-home mom") rather than walking alongside them in order to help them better learn to hear and obey God's voice for themselves. While Titus 2:3-5 calls older women to disciple their younger sisters in faith, the relationship was never meant to be a one-way street. Older women were expected to be students, too. As they learned sound doctrine, they were able to work out its implications and applications in the living lab of their daily lives as they interacted with those they were discipling.
When rigidly prescribed roles, forms and curriculum and are superimposed on what is meant to be a relationship that reflects the way faith was designed by God to be transmitted – through his life shared together – discipleship starts looking like a project. Or worse, a product.
I'd been working part-time for a few months at a campus bookstore at a Christian college a few years ago when one of my young coworkers, a student, asked me to mentor her. Our relationship didn't have anything to do with a church as we attended two different congregations. She knew my struggles, flaws, and failings because I'd shared bits of them as we worked alongside one another shelving dusty textbooks, just as she'd shared parts of hers with me. We knew how to laugh together, and we'd prayed together on a couple of occasions. Though I was "the older woman," I was not in a position of authority over her. We were simply coworkers who'd become friends. The friendship took on a more intentional focus after her Titus 2 ask. We both sought to learn what reverent, self-controlled faithfulness looked like in our lives over varied and regular hangout time during the rest of her years at the school, and occasional catch-up conversations nowadays.
This relationship, as well as a half-handful of other meaningful mentoring relationships that developed in much the same way during the time I worked at the school, underscored for me that Titus 2 ministry may need the assist of programming in order to help us find each other across the generations if we're not in regular contact with one another. However, a match made in a church office somewhere of an older woman plus a younger woman will not cultivate a fruit-producing discipleship relationship in either woman. It takes a friendship to do that.