Ralph raised his hand in the middle of my presentation on mentors and challenged, “where is the word mentor used in the Bible.” Admittedly, the word mentor does not appear in the Bible. As we noted last week, it actually comes from Greek mythology, and has been popularized in our time by Erik Erikson. And cultural anthropologists tell us that almost every society has had “elders” of some kind. Whether they be tribal chieftains, village head-men, clan leaders or family patriarchs – most every social unit across history and around the globe has clearly recognized adult role-models or Wisdom Figures.
These are generally older, more experienced, stronger members of the group to whom the younger look for identity. However, until recently this role is conspicuously absent from modern American culture, at least in formal social structures. Nevertheless, informally, sometimes even subconsciously, we long for mentors. We seem to do better when they are in our lives. Plus this warning: when we don’t find positive mentors, by default negative ones usually find us!
So spiritual mentors are extremely important in our spiritual development. And Biblical. No, Ralph, the word mentor is not in the Bible. But the concept is written all over the New Testament in the ministry of Jesus and of the apostles – as well as in instructions for the rest of us. Mentoring in the church is unique, however, because here the mentor models more than style or vision. Rather this is spiritual leadership – even life-style and faith formation.
With this kind of leadership, Jesus stood aggressive, competitive and controlling human leadership on its head. He said, ” Who ever would be great among you must be your servant” Mt. 2:25-28. And, “The son of man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mk. 10:45.
God has written the mentor concept into human nature and that is why the concept is written into the Bible.
Jesus made his leadership style clear! He led out so that we can follow. He said, “If anyone will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me.” (Mt. 16:24-26 NIV) When he cut our marching orders he said, “Go…teach…. baptize….(then) teach them to observe all I have commanded you.” In other words, “go lead people to Christ and help shape Christ-like life-styles.”
Paul the apostle also, spelled out mentoring as his leadership model very simply. “Follow my example as I follow the example of Christ. (I Cor. 11:1). “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me — put it into practice. (Phil. 4:9) In other words, “let me mentor you. Let me be your role model.”
He reminds new Christians at Thessalonica to “follow our example.”(I Thes. 3:6) And Paul said, “we have made ourselves a model for you to follow.” (v.9) Example! Teach! Model! These are all facets of mentoring which is an indispensable tool in developing fully devoted followers of Jesus and in transmitting the faith from one generation to the next.
Not only Jesus and the apostles, but elders as well do their work by mentoring. Peter charges flatly, “be examples to the flock.” (I Pet. 5:4). And Paul explains to the elders at Ephesus, “You know how I lived the whole time I was with you”(Acts 20:17) and “In everything I did I showed you that by this kind of work we must help the weak..” (v.35). In other words, Paul is telling the elders, “I showed you, now you show them.” Bluntly: If a Christian leader is not mentoring someone, to that degree he or she is not living up to his or her calling.
However, whether or not the leaders of my church are mentoring me, I am called to be a mentor and to find mentors. You too. Again, let me challenge you to develop your GGTW list (Guys and Gals to watch). Be intentional. Move in beside someone and build your life into theirs. And be intentional about finding mentors. Pull in beside spiritually exciting and mature persons that you admire and ask them to help you find a mentor. Who knows, that person may actually become to mentor you need.
An excellent book that might help you get started is: Mentoring: How to Invest Your Life In Others, by Time Elmore, published by Equip, 1998.
Originally published in 2000.