Culture

My heart broke when my mentees left church

Ling Li Wen // May 30, 2019, 7:21 pm

mentees-left-church

Both my mentees left the church within the same month: November 2018. I had been mentoring them for close to a year, respectively. They were also the first and only two mentees that I ever had.

Needless to say, I was devastated – who wouldn’t be? As a mentor, I felt partially responsible for their spiritual walk and even more responsibility for why they left.

The two of them had starkly different personalities and had starkly different reasons for leaving. So when they finally left, one after the other, it felt as though two types of knives were stabbed in two different areas in my body, creating two different types of wounds.

I felt like the worst mentor in the world

However, all I could feel was one dull, throbbing pain in the aftermath. I felt like I had failed God and failed my leaders completely because I had failed to retain them. I wrestled with my mentor and leaders, although they repeatedly assured me that I was not to blame for what had happened.

“If you have done your best, you shouldn’t blame yourself if your mentees leave church.” This was what several of them told me, something which I’ve tried to convince myself of even until now as I write this paragraph.

Did I really try my best?

While my mentees were still in church, I always had doubts about my ability to lead them. I had never felt that I was “skilled” enough, nor was I “good enough” a Christian to lead them towards God. Such doubts were the norm for inexperienced mentors, my leader reassured me, and I should not let my insecurities stop me from doing God’s work.

What does it mean to be a mentor?

The week after it was certain that they had left church for good, these doubts resurfaced and came back to haunt me. It didn’t matter what I was doing or where I was at, as much as I tried to delve straight into the flux of the typically hectic Singaporean life, occupying my thoughts and time with responsibilities and items on to-do lists.

I tried to live like I was okay, but I knew that I really wasn’t. I felt like a failure every day when I woke up, and this thought would cling onto me tirelessly even when I went to bed. Day after day, this cycle would repeat.

Sometimes I felt hollow inside, other times, the weight of this failure would be so overwhelming that I could not focus on whatever I was doing and would end up breaking down and crying. There were days where I woke up feeling emotionally exhausted despite having sufficient sleep; there were also days that a nagging voice saying “you’re a failure” would prevent me from falling asleep.

I had been told by my mentor that we shouldn’t stay in the circle of discouragement for too long, otherwise, we wouldn’t be able to go where God wants us to go. This helped, and despite the inner turmoil, I knew that the storm would turn and things would get better eventually.

Discouragement: The devil’s most effective weapon

Gradually, my mental and emotional state got better and I received much comfort from God, my leaders, as well as my cell group members. I recall reading 1 Chronicles 27 and noticing that the people of that time were put in charge of different items, from donkeys to flocks to being the king’s counsellor. Yet they were all mentioned, no matter how big or small the duty was.

This reinforced what one of my leaders had told me: “Whatever we labour for in God will never go to waste.” So as months passed, I continued with my responsibilities in church, family and school dutifully. 

From time to time, I would be reminded of my incompetence, but I learnt to pray and surrender such thoughts to God. I also learnt to accept that it wasn’t about who stayed or not in the course of ministry, but rather, the impact made on them while they were still under my care.

What am I worth if I’ve failed as a leader?

A couple of weeks before Easter, we were singing Phil Wickham’s “Living Hope” during service, when I felt a particular lyric resonate deeply in my heart: “I am forgiven.”

I realised then that “losing” my mentees had been something I could never forgive myself for. As a Christian for a few years already, I thought that I had tasted of God’s grace and mercy – but I had not grasped this fully. I clearly did not think God was capable of healing me from the wounds I had endured from the incident.

When I think about my mentees now, I still feel a little sad – but I am believing that God has greater plans for them, and more importantly, for me. These scars may never go away, but I am grateful to have tasted of God’s goodness amid the chaos.

His forgiveness is bigger than our failure.

THINK + TALK

  1. Have you ever felt like you failed at something?
  2. How have you dealt with feelings of failure?
  3. How should we deal healthily when similar circumstances happen?
  4. Do you need to receive or release forgiveness over a past relationship?