Have you ever had, or wanted a spiritual mentor?
When I came to faith at age 31 I knew I needed a spiritual mentor – someone to disciple me. I had attended a good church all my life, went to Christian schools, and had great parents, so I knew a lot about God and the Bible. But up to that point, I’d managed to compartmentalize my life. There was the biblical information I learned in church on Sunday, and the other life I actually lived Monday through Saturday.
I was clueless about how people who were serious about following Jesus went about doing that in real life. What did they talk about on the golf course, when they went to lunch, or on the job? How did they share the good news of Jesus with others in a way that was natural and winsome? How did they treat their wives, make business and personal decisions? How did they pray, when did they pray, and for how long? I had a million questions.
I was going to a Bible study weekly and it was incredibly helpful, but I knew I needed something more – a coach, a teacher – a mentor. It’s like this; when I decided to take up golf, I got a golf pro to teach me. He not only demonstrated how to properly hold a club, hit a ball out of the sand, but how to keep from getting into the sand in the first place – and a hundred other things I needed to enjoy the game. I learned because he played along with me. I watched him and he watched me and gave me the confidence I needed to play the game better. I knew I needed similar lessons about living out the Christian life.
But how do you even go about finding a spiritual mentor?
There were two men I knew in my town who, for different reasons, I admired spiritually. I called them up, met for lunch, told each where I was spiritually, and that I’d like to meet with them regularly to ask questions about everything Christian. I really didn’t know what I didn’t know, so I needed them to guide me.
The first man, Norm, has as the goal of his life to introduce as many people to Jesus as he can, and to walk alongside them until they can introduce others to Jesus. He was an evangelism machine.
The second guy, Gene, was a successful insurance executive who loved life and loved God. He devoted about half his working week to ministry and the rest making a living. Gene was a true Christian businessman.
Those two men helped shape my Christian life and I’ll be forever grateful for their investment in me. I’ve learned a lot about spiritual mentoring since then, having mentored well over fifty men myself. With each one I learned to ask better questions, give better assignments, and have realized that following Jesus is as much caught as taught.
The pattern of human history has always been that each generation passes on to the next the worldview and values of the community, plus the life skills needed to live successfully. Previously, the vast majority of this teaching was done in the field, at the city gates, and around the table – in the natural activities of life, face to face, from father to son and mother to daughter. Grandparents in their roles as the patriarchs of the family also passed on wisdom that only comes from experience.
However, all that has changed. Many children who used to live and work in the same town as their parents have moved and now no longer have the benefit of this tribal, communal wisdom. Mentoring is all about getting back to hands-on teaching and modeling, once done naturally and in community.
Although the term “mentoring” does not appear in the Bible, the concept of one generation teaching the next is both explicit and implicit throughout the Bible. Eli taught Samuel, Elijah instructed Elisha. Parents were commanded by God to teach their children.
“As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” Proverbs 27:17
In the New Testament, Jesus mentored his disciples for three years, then commanded them, “Go…teaching them to observe all I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28) In other words, imitate me as I’ve taught you, and teach others to do the same. Peter says, “Be examples to the flock.” (I Peter 5:4) Paul tells Timothy, “And these things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses, entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.” (II Timothy 2:20)
What is spiritual mentoring?
Spiritual mentoring is the process of passing on from one person to the next their love for God and biblical truth, and the life skills and experiences needed to prepare them to be fully devoted followers of Jesus in every area of their lives.
• Mentoring is a relationship, not a program. While the process may involve some systematic teaching and study, most learning occurs naturally in response to real life experiences.
• Mentoring is a relationship with someone you like, enjoy, believe in, and want to see lead a life of significance, fruitfulness, and contentment.
What does a mentor do?
• Mentors provide feedback. The mentor has a broader base of experiences, ideas, and insights to draw from which might be helpful to the one being mentored.
• They build self-confidence through encouragement. We all need someone who believes in us and will cheer us on, especially if we didn’t have parents like that.
• They encourage the spiritual disciplines of regular Bible study and personal prayer, and share ideas for doing that.
• They are ready to answer spiritual, moral, or ethical questions using Scripture, or are committed to searching out the answer.
• Mentors honestly share their life experiences, tell appropriate stories of mistakes they’ve made or others have made, and reveal how God used those mistakes to shape them.
The information you’ve been reading was excerpted from A Guide for Finding and Being a Spiritual Mentor, which I’ve written. The complete, eight page guide is available on this website on the RESOURCES page as a download for $2.95, or you can order full color copies.
Next Week: Spiritual Mentoring, Part II
Question: If you’ve been in a Christian mentoring relationship, how did you find your mentor/protégé?