Imagine a Timothy or Titus without a Paul, a Joshua without a Moses, an Elisha without an Elijah, an Apollos without an Aquilla or Priscilla. Imagine the disciples without Jesus! It’s hard to, isn’t it? And when I try to imagine it, it doesn’t look good. Because each of these peoples was nurtured and guided by older or more experienced believers.
Mentoring is an intentional learning relationship where a more experienced and knowledgeable person helps and guides another who is less knowledgeable or experienced.
Even though the word “mentor” comes from Homer’s Odyssey, the concept of mentoring is one you find all over the Bible. Moses guided Joshua. The teacher in Proverb’s guided the young man. Paul guided a bunch of younger men who eventually took his place. He told Timothy, that the things you have learned from him, he was to entrust to faithful men who would be able to train others also (2 Timothy 2.2). He wrote to Titus encouraging both men and women in Titus’s congregation to mentor younger men and younger women. Specifically, he told them to train them and model a life worthy of being imitated by the up and coming generation.
Friends, this is God’s way of transmitting the gospel, the Christian way of life, spiritual leadership, and all kinds of important wisdom lessons to the emerging generation.
You may call it by other names (like coaching, counseling, discipling, teaching, guiding, choosing an apprentice, or developing emerging leaders), but whatever you call it, it is basically mentoring—it is a developmental partnership where one pours his or her life into another.
Midway through my last pastorate, I changed the way I do leadership. I made mentoring a high priority. I came to the conviction that one of the jobs of a leader is to train the next generation of leaders—to spot them and prepare them for the day when the leadership baton is passed into their hands.
There are lots of reasons why I do this. Most important, I see that this is commended in the Bible. The Christian faith is an imitative faith. Jesus spent time with the next generation of Christian leaders and said “follow me.” Paul, said “follow me as I follow Christ.”
But not only that, I see that this younger generation is longing for senior leaders who will come alongside them, affirm, encourage and nurture them. Someone said, this emerging generation listens with their eyes. They are looking for models.
They are also sometimes called “the fatherless generation.” Many of them are looking for the father they never had. So, in their training they want more than head knowledge. Now, they do want knowledge. But want someone to show them the way. They want a living curriculum!
My vision for mentoring came really by watching John Stott have succession of study assistants whom he poured his life into. I saw how it transformed these young men’s lives. And interestingly, most of these individuals now have significant leadership responsibilities of their own.
I was also challenged by watching young men from our church who were training at the Air Force Academy. I saw that the Air Force was not afraid to train and then put millions of dollars of equipment in their hands at a young age.
By comparison, I realized that, not only were we not mentoring, we were overly delaying leadership transfer.
So here’s what I do. When I started my most recent job as a seminary president, one of the first things I did was choose a group of students to mentor. I try to expose them to leadership opportunities and training. I spend time with them individually. I meet with them as a group. I give them leadership experiences. I actually have a teaching agenda for them, but I try to carefully tailor it to their own particular needs. We talk about spiritual leadership and convictional leadership. We discuss the priorities and disciplines of a leader. We talk about the character and attitude, health habits, and temptations of a leader. We think about the leader and his family and marriage. We talk about calling and shepherding. We look at what it means to be a servant, and a humble but courageous leader. And we consider what it means to be world Christian (i.e., one who is aware of and serving with the global church).
I’m sure other people do this more effectively than I do. But I am resolved to do it until I end my ministry.
And you know what? While I am sure these students benefit from being with me, I greatly benefit from being with them. I learn from them.
So, let me challenge you. If you are young and desire to lead for the glory of God—find a mentor. If you are in leadership, start giving back. Look around you and pray about mentoring others. Find a mentor or be a mentor.
Amidst all the things you can ever to (whether you are a mom or a ministry leader) pouring yourself into the lives of those coming after you is one of the most important.