By Chuck Lawless
Think about people who have invited you to walk through a season of life with them. They invested themselves in your life. They gave up their time and gave of themselves. They each helped you in many ways—maybe somebody taught you how to share your testimony, fix a car, be a better spouse, or be a better businessperson. Somebody else may have shared life with you, modeling Christian living along the way. While not all invested the same level of time and energy, they all made a difference in your world, and that’s why you remember them.
What’s mentoring anyway? A Simple definition
Here’s my favorite definition of mentoring: “a God-given relationship in which one growing Christian encourages and equips another believer to reach his/her potential as a disciple of Christ.”1 We’ll unpack this definition as we move through this session.
Mentoring is about relationships.
The Bible is filled with stories of discipling relationships. Moses and Aaron. Moses and Joshua. Eli and Samuel. Naomi and Ruth. Jesus and the disciples. Paul and Timothy. Paul and Titus. Barnabas and John Mark. That’s not surprising, since our God is a God of relationships. He created human beings to be in relationship with Himself and each other (Genesis 2:8-25). When He chose to provide salvation, He did it personally by coming to earth, dying as the sacrifice in our place, and breaking the power of death (Romans 5:12), casting a shadow that would change us forever. Now, God has given us the church—that is, Christian people—to relate to us, teach us, and guide us.
Mentoring builds on divine intersections.
I am amazed at how God orchestrates “divine intersections,” those crossroads in which we meet the people He has waiting to mentor us. Brother Jack Tichenor was one divine intersection for me. In many ways, Brother Jack was the mentor who guided me in most of the major decisions I made as a young pastor, though he never officially served as my pastor. Many days I sat with him in his den (or in his garage watching his electric trains go by), and we talked about ministry. He was such a natural mentor that more than 40 young men under his teaching entered the ministry during his 60 years of preaching. I learned more from Brother Jack by watching him relate to others than I did by listening to him talk to me. Our relationship was not a formal mentoring relationship; we had no scheduled meetings or set agendas. Brother Jack probably didn’t even think about the fact that I was watching and learning. But I thank God for the divine intersection that allowed our paths to cross.
Mentoring requires a growing Christian.
In a mentoring relationship, one person leads and another follows. Somebody must be in front, even if just slightly. Only when we’re growing can we guide others toward growth. Paul was a leading apostle in the early New Testament church and the writer of multiple New Testament letters. He served as a mentor to Timothy, one of the younger early church leaders. Paul could teach Timothy because he kept growing in his own relationship with Jesus (Philippians 3:12-14). When we have a “Paul,” whose own growing faith is our example, we can then train our own “Timothy.” Our Paul challenges us to grow, and in turn we urge our Timothy to grow also. In this way, mentoring becomes a generational effort as the person I mentor gleans from not only my influence but also the influence of my mentor (and my mentor’s mentor and so on).
Mentoring is a balance of encouraging and equipping.
Following Christ is difficult. A very real enemy fights against us (Ephesians 6:11-12). Trials happen. Disappointments come. Friends sometimes reject our message or betray us. Trusting God is difficult when life seems unfair or the future is unclear. Without encouragement, giving up is a real temptation. This is where mentors can help. Good mentors encourage us when we’re stressed and equip us when we need it.
We need more than encouragement though. In the midst of life’s struggles, we also need help doing what God calls us to do. We know we need to study the Bible, but we don’t always know where to begin. Pastors tell us prayer matters, but we don’t always understand how to pray. Telling others about Jesus is essential, but not always modeled. We don’t need someone to tell us what to do as much as how to do it. We need equipping. Beyond encouraging, mentoring is about teaching Christian disciplines and life skills. Encouragement without equipping might lead to restored hope, but seldom does it produce life transformation—the goal of mentoring.
Mentoring is about transformation.
The goal of Christian mentoring is that the disciple becomes more like Jesus and then leads others to do the same. It’s hard to find a loftier goal. Mentoring matters in an eternal way. Paul urged his disciples to follow his example and thereby follow Jesus (see 1 Corinthians 11:1). He expected the people he mentored to mature in Christ, and he modeled Christianity in front of them and alongside them as they aimed for spiritual growth. Those who were mentored by Paul were becoming more and more like Jesus in the process. This is the key to mentoring.
The risks you take as you’re mentored might result in the amazing gift of an invaluable friendship. God might give you a mentor and friend whose faith challenges you to greater faithfulness. The risks you take as you mentor others may result in disciples whose faith is potent and whose progress is obvious. You may grow spiritually like never before, and you might watch God use the people you’ve discipled in ways you’d never dreamed. You might get a father, son, mother, or daughter in the faith.
I’ll take that risk any day.
1. Chuck Lawless, Making Disciples through Mentoring: Lessons from Paul and Timothy (Forest, Virginia, and Elkton, Maryland: Church Growth Institute, 2002), 14.