Much ado about mentoring
Many years ago, I was given a rather simple – and yet deep – illustration for the kinds of relationships each of us needs within the body of Christ.
Everyone needs a Paul, a Barnabas, and a Timothy.
This straightforward description has always stuck with me. Whenever I share it with someone else, I usually don’t have to give it much explanation – they immediately understand the details of these relationships:
Paul – someone who leads me toward God, provides a more mature example
Barnabas – someone who comes along side me as an equal, to both encourage and challenge
Timothy – someone who I am pouring my life into and providing a Godly example for
These relationships, especially those between a “Paul” and a “Timothy”, are commonly referred to as either discipleship or mentoring relationships. While the term mentor is not specifically stated in the Bible, the word disciple is – and it generally refers to someone who is a learner, a follower, and an imitator of their instructor. Howard Hendricks best described these special kinds of relationships:
Discipleship, as we know it today, tends to narrow its focus to the spiritual dimension. Ideally, it should touch on every area of life – our personal life and lifestyle, our work, our relationships. But discipleship always looks at these areas by asking the question, how do they relate to Christ? How does following Christ affect my personal life, my work, my relationships, and so on?
Mentoring, at least when practiced by Christians, certainly ought to center everything on Christ. But mentoring is less about instruction than it is about initiation – about bringing young men into maturity. Whereas the word for disciple means learner, the word ‘protégé’ comes from a Latin word meaning “to protect.” The mentor aims to protect his young charge as he crosses the frontier into manhood.
For my own part, I do not make a hard and fast distinction between discipleship and mentoring. There is a great deal of overlap. But I like the concept of mentoring because it focuses on relationships.
The point is we need the mature and experienced to kneel down with those of us in the family who are immature and have limited experience. I feel that is one of the greatest areas where our modern church family has faltered – especially among the men, but women need these kinds of relationships, too. We all need someone to challenge, guide, and protect us as we mature. However, it is also vital that we turn to those around us and become the mentor they so desperately need.
To understand how to do this, we’re going to take a look at various mentor relationship examples that God has provided for us throughout the pages of Scripture. We’ll watch how the mentors interact with their protégés. We’ll observe their successes and their failures. Most of all, we’ll be looking for how God was able to work with both of them because of their relationship.
A good starting point is a statement the apostle Paul gave to the believers in Corinth. Right in the middle of his instruction about the many ways they needed to mature, Paul makes this bold statement:
1 Corinthians 11:1
Imitate me, as I also imitate Christ.
Whether you are the mentor or the protégé, for this special relationship to work we must both desire the same thing – we must desire to imitate Christ.