When to end your mentoring relationship
When to end a relationship with a mentor?
The end of a mentoring relationship is usually never addressed until after the relationship has ended. A mentoring relationship cannot be approached in the same way you approach a friendship and certainly not in the same way you approach a romantic relationship. I know of a few mentoring relationships that have turned into a lifelong friendship (a good thing) and of some that have turned into adulterous relationships (not a good thing). I suggest that you address the end of the relationship almost immediately - especially for short and middle-term mentoring relationships.
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How long should you commit to a mentoring relationship?
But how do you know how long to commit to? As mentioned previously, you may seek a mentor for different lengths of time and certainly different issues demand a variety of commitment levels. A mentor to help you through a time of crisis is not needed once the crisis is over. If you want to become more consistent in reading your Bible or learning how to pray then a mentor may only be necessary for a matter of months. While pursuing a specific calling into ministry development or complete lifestyle change could take years.
No matter the circumstance regarding the need for a mentor, a time commitment should be agreed upon in the first two meetings. I suggest setting an initial set period of time and then agreeing on the length of one extension. For example, you can agree to meet every Tuesday for 6 months and then if all goes well we can meet for another 6 months. After the second period has expired you move on, no matter what. Take a break and live as God has called you to live. Open the door for your mentor to train someone new or possibly become a mentor to someone else.
Why time restraints matter?
We are seasonal people who are constantly transitioning in and out of the various phases of life. We are also finite people. Research shows that humans have the capacity to have only 5 deep and supportive relationships. Jesus, in fact, only had three. While these relationships are fluid - that is, your five this week may not be your five next week - it is common that the majority of these fives deep relationships have standing reservations. Your spouse, children, and parents will usually be represented in this group. Co-workers can easily fill these spaces as well - remember the work spouse trend a few years back? The fluidity and limitation of these deeply personal relationships should encourage us to install time restraints in our mentoring relationships.
Reserving a table at a posh restaurant can help explain the need for time restraints. You request for a seat during a very specific time frame and for a limited amount of time - the time it takes to eat a meal. When you arrive, the preparations are to your liking and the evening goes smoothly. Now, what if, upon arrival you are asked to share a table with someone else because the restaurant was overbooked? Its a tough sell right? Someone is encroaching on your reservation! You would never expect the restaurant to dishonor your reservation, but you could see how you could be turned away if you were to just show up on the busiest night of the year without a reservation, right?
Reserving your mentor is just like reserving a table at a restaurant. You are asking for temporary residence in one of the five available spots. By setting the theme, time, and parameters of the mentoring relationships you reserve the attention and direction of your mentor. Because you have reserved the time you have the right to hold the mentor accountable to the agreed upon terms. Of course it also means that the mentor can hold you accountable on the agreed upon terms as well. If your dinner reservation was for 6:30pm and you show up at 8:00pm the restaurant has ever right to turn you away or change the arrangement.
Opening the Space
When your scheduled arrangement with your mentor ends it is time to move on - both for you and your mentor. The table needs to be vacated so another person can come and dine. The end of the mentoring relationship does not mean the end of the entire relationship, but the end of the intensely focused mentorship. Cordial friendship is always the possible outcome of mentoring relationship. When the pre-determined length of time has concluded it opens up two spots for new focused relationships: one for the mentor and one for you. Use the newly acquired friend space to find a new mentor or to become a mentor to someone else.