Q&A with #Mentor4Life author, Natasha Sistrunk Robinson

Do you know my friend Natasha? If not, you should. Find out more about our story of friendship and mentoring here

And now, with a great drum roll, and a burst of applause, I'm introducing her new book Mentor for Life: Finding Purpose Through Intentional Discipleship

With depth, insight, and leadership skills and experiences fired in the engine of real-life ministry, work and relationships, Natasha offers a valuable gift to the church: her book on what it takes to successfully implement a discipleship ministry in your local congregation. Her thoughts are especially poignant to me because I've watched them develop through years of skype calls and heartfelt conversations. Through Natasha, I have grown in my desire and thirst to see everyone grow to love Jesus more, and to do it intentionally.

Visit Natasha's web site here and read her full bio. Audio and video from Natasha available here. And don't miss her Seminary Dropout interview here. (More on why Seminary Dropout is my favorite podcast later.) Finally, you can begin following Natasha's leadership and mentoring insights on twitter today.

Enjoy this Q&A with one of my best friends in life. And find her book here

What inspired you to write your new book, "Mentor for Life: Finding Purpose through Intentional Discipleship?"

Natasha: Writing “Mentor for Life” was a process. It wasn’t something I set out to do. In the end, it was a result of me being obedient and responding to what God put in front of me. When I was living in Maryland, I was leading a women’s small group ministry with five other leaders. Then God moved my family from Maryland to North Carolina. Our realtor in North Carolina happened to be the women’s ministry director at the church we eventually became members. She asked me to consider starting a mentoring ministry for the women at the church.

I just chuckled, because my heart was already prepared and longing for an opportunity just like this. I felt like God had been doing amazing things in Maryland and that was only the beginning of what He wanted me to continue doing in North Carolina. I prayed about this new opportunity, confirmed a ministry partner, we prayerfully got a team together, and began the ministry (featuring some of the learning and practical experiences I have outlined in the “Mentor for Life” book).

I participated in that ministry for approximately four years and somewhere around the second year, the editor of Christianity Today’s Gifted for Leadership, an online magazine for women called to ministry, asked me to write about the ministry work that I was doing, because she felt like it was needed in the church. The article turned into a five-part series on mentoring!

After writing the articles, I began to receive comments, emails, and social media responses from women saying, “I wish there was something like this at my church,” and single women were saying, “I don’t feel like there’s a place for me in this thing called ‘women’s ministry.’” I also heard from women leaders, asking me if I had “something” that they could do with their women’s groups in their churches, or if I had a curriculum to offer.

The editor said to me, “Natasha, I think you’re onto something here. I think you have enough to write a book.” So this was the natural progression of doing ministry work, which led to sharing about the ministry work, which led to questions about the ministry work, which led to the book project. I never set out to write a book! It was not on my bucket list of things to do. I really view “Mentor for Life” as my offering to the church, because I believe that the church needs it, mainly because people have told me they believe it is a necessary resource for the church, and because the church leaders, pastors, and seminary professors who have already read it have affirmed the same.

How do you think the church will benefit from the message of your book?

Natasha: I think the church will be challenged by Mentor for Life, specifically because it is not a how to book. It is a book that calls us back to the priority of our primary calling to make disciples who follow Jesus with their entire being by laying down their lives for the sake of the gospel and this great kingdom mission God has set before us. I think the church has relevant concerns and challenges in today’s culture, but we are not without hope in this world. I believe in the vision of the Lausanne Movement: “The whole church taking the whole gospel to the whole world.” We can do that whether we are going out as missionaries to other parts of the world, or whether we are faithful and credible witnesses to the various people groups God has already put in front of us. Any devout believer wants to make disciples of Jesus, yet in our daily lives we become distracted, and what this book does is it resets our priorities and challenges us to allow everyone to overflow out of Jesus’ prayer for God’s kingdom to come on earth as it is in Heaven. Mentor for Life challenges and equips the church to focus on the gospel and Jesus’ simple call to “follow me” and we do that by making disciples through relationships in an intimate small group of intentional learning.

Why is mentorship in the church important?

Natasha: In the book, I refer to mentoring as “intentional discipleship.” How we as Christians use the influence God has given us to shape the life of another person is unbelievably important. I believe mentoring in the church should be approached from a communal, relational context. When you think of mentoring, you probably automatically picture a one-on-one scenario. While there is definitely value in one-on-one mentoring relationships, I’ve seen both in my own life and in my studies through the Bible that God may connect you with many mentors who will all play a part in shaping your life.

What we know from the Bible is that it is an Eastern book. This means culturally and contextually, the Bible is often referring to what is happening within community, family, people groups, and what is best for the whole. It’s not an individualistic thing at all. My model for mentoring as intentional discipleship is inspired by Jesus’ relationship with His twelve disciples. When we see Jesus interacting with and teaching His disciples, He’s doing this with them as a group. Even the more intimate relationship He had with The Three (Peter, James, and John) was still with a small group! Not to say that Jesus didn’t have one-on-one relationships with each of His disciples! The Bible just doesn’t seem to highlight that importance. It instead focuses on what Jesus wants the disciples to learn as a group, for the purpose of shaping and changes the nations who cry out to God.

Think back to the creation story and the birth of Adam. The only thing God says isn’t good (before sin) is the fact that Adam is alone. What I think is critical to see is that God was present with Adam in the garden, and the garden was originally a sinless environment. In that good and perfect (or sinless) environment, God still sees Adam’s aloneness as a bad thing. Adam being paired with someone compatible is something God valued, and he still values today for His children. We need to understand that God was very intentional in saying that it’s not good for Christians to be alone and isolated in this world.

There are many issues I believe need to be addressed in the church, but one of the bigger ones is the “80/20 rule,” which is the idea that 20% of people in the church are doing 80% of the work. Pastors and those that have been identified as leaders in the church are often dealing with burnout. This is mainly due to the church not adequately training or equipping other leaders. It is because of this phenomena that I believe mentorship and discipleship in the church is everyone’s responsibility.

The mentoring framework I share in “Mentor for Life” is three-tiered: knowing and loving God, understanding and affirming our identity in Christ, and loving our neighbors. If we are raising up, through mentorship, people in the church with an understanding of their purpose and identity in light of who God is, we will find ourselves with more leaders. When you have more leaders, you have more sharing of the work that needs to be done. According to the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 12, when the body of Christ works together, the work of the kingdom of God goes forth. This is why it’s so important for those in the church to understand their purpose in life and their place in the body.

So why wouldn’t you mentor in the church? Seeing the results of not prioritizing discipleship well should alert us to the fact that the church is not fully empowered and not fulfilling the complete work that God has called us to. 

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On #ReclaimingEve: “I recommend this resource for every daughter of Eve!”
— Nancy Beach, leadership coach, speaker; author, Gifted to Lead: The Art of Leading as a Woman in the Church

Reclaiming Eve Small Group DVD sample here. Includes print Bible study piece; great for fall studies! Order here.