Today, it seems young Christians are frequently left to their own devices after baptism. They may be encouraged to attend a particular small group or to participate in a certain ministry capacity but often the one-on-one discipling relationship they had prior to their baptism is lost once the wet robes from the baptismal are taken off. My intention in this blog post is not to rail upon those baptizers, but rather to look into a discipleship function that is sorely lacking in many of today’s churches and encourage all of us to be more mindful about taking part in reintroducing it.
What is discipleship?
This discipleship concept would be best described as a mentoring relationship. A mentor isn’t something explicitly described in the Bible but we can see the relationships taking place within parts of the narrative. To mention a few examples: Samuel took up the responsibility of being a mentor to Saul, Elijah trained Elisha for years, and Jesus Christ became a mentor for His disciples. The mentoring relationship I would like to focus on is between the Apostle Paul and his faithful protégé, Timothy. It has been commonly said in the pulpit that every Christian should strive to have a Paul (a mentor), a Barnabas (an encourager), and a Timothy (a student).
Paul and Timothy excel in showing us what a mentoring relationship can and should look like. This is best seen in the two letters that Paul wrote to Timothy (1st and 2nd Timothy). It is from these sources that we will primarily attempt to formulate the picture of what a successful mentoring relationship should look like.
But before this can be undertaken the following question must be answered:
Should all Christians have mentors?
A Christian mentoring relationship, properly utilized, can be nothing but advantageous for the faith and ministry of both the mentor and the student. I have had a few different mentors in my time at Central Christian College of the Bible here in Moberly, Missouri. Each one has helped me grow in my faith and reach new limits in my ministry. It has been useful to have personal instruction from my mentors in places they noticed I could use some growth. In addition, my mentors have encouraged me to get out of my comfort zone in my ministries and try new things. But the best part of having a mentor is not having an instructor of sound doctrine or having someone to encourage my growth. It has been having someone I can watch live out what has been taught.
Even most young Bible readers are very familiar with the book of Proverbs. Proverbs is littered with sound and practical instruction from the wise King Solomon himself. Many Christians will commit themselves to reading a chapter out of Proverbs each day to find how the teachings can come alive within themselves as they carry it out. But could you imagine just how beneficial it would be to also have someone deeply invested in your life while putting flesh to the framework of sound teaching?
While a mentoring relationship isn’t specifically prescribed in the New Testament or really even explicitly mentioned, it is something that is described thoroughly, especially in the relationship between Paul and Timothy in the Pastoral Epistles.
What does a Christian mentoring relationship look like?
The Apostle Paul is well known as the man who brought the Gospel to the Gentiles during the time of the book of Acts. Throughout his ministry career he made friends as well as enemies, but one of his closest associates was Timothy. Timothy was a young man with a Greek father and a Jewish mother. His father isn’t mentioned beyond this in the New Testament, but we see Paul take up this place as a spiritual father and he even calls Timothy “my true child in the faith” (1 Timothy 1:2). That Paul takes up a parenting role for Timothy is one of the foremost aspects of the Christian mentoring relationship. Paul acted as a spiritual father to Timothy by circumcising, teaching, leading, encouraging, charging, and sending him. Paul became personally invested in Timothy’s faith and his ministry.
It is of no doubt that Timothy was able to grow in his faith because of how influential Paul was in his life. Paul was around to live out the gospel right in front of Timothy’s own eyes. It is one thing to hear or read sound teaching in the class room, typical Sunday sermon, or in personal or communal Bible study. It is another to be able to witness the Word being lived out in the flesh. Timothy was blessed in that he was able to have such a mentor as Paul involved in his life.
Another key factor in this relationship is that Paul helps Timothy form and reshape his character in a way that betters his ministry. It is commonly thought by bible scholars, including Gareth Reese of Central Christian College of the Bible, that Timothy was of a timid disposition. Paul consistently gives Timothy charges throughout his letters to be bold in his ministry, to remain above reproach, and to preach the Word both in and out of season. Paul recognized shortcomings in Timothy’s character and encouraged him to grow out of his weaknesses. While this could be, and should be, applied with young and old ministers specifically, I also believe that every Christian should strive to have some form of mentoring relationship to aid in character development. Timothy, without the encouragement and mentoring from Paul, ran the risk of failing in his ministry and/or shipwrecking his faith.
Not only did Paul help Timothy form his character, but he also helped him grow in his ministry. For a while Timothy followed Paul around on his missionary journeys, but after a time Timothy had grown enough to stay in cities without Paul or even to be sent by Paul to cities to help the churches there. Clearly Paul had great influence on Timothy’s ministry career. Throughout the Pastoral Epistles we can see Paul instructing Timothy in things such as church structure, roles of men and women in the church, and sound doctrine. All of these were ways Timothy was to fulfill his ministry.
One of the final aspects of the Christian mentoring relationship, and the one that I would say is the most pivotal as far as how far-reaching it can be for the Kingdom, is the concept of “each one teach one”. Paul and Timothy traveled together often and we can even see Timothy being a co-author for some of Paul’s books. Clearly, Paul thought that Timothy was capable enough to take part in writing some of Paul’s letters and to play a significant role in his ministry.
(map found here)
This was only possible because of how strong in his faith Timothy had grown through their mentoring relationship. For every Christian that is in currently being mentored, it is their duty to carry on this model and mentor another.
How can a young Christian get a mentor?
There are a few options available for a young Christian to get a mentor in their life. The first is to find an older Christian who is actively involved in their congregation. This could be an elder, a deacon, a preacher, their own father or mother, or just any mature Christian in their congregation. Most older Christians are usually salivating for the opportunity to get involved in a young person’s life the way Paul was involved in Timothy’s life. All it would take is to ask.
Another option is to get involved in a ministry. Often times, being involved in ministries can open doors to meeting older ministers who would be willing to invest. This will usually be a boss or a supervisor. This can also be an excellent way to find someone you yourself can begin mentoring.
Finally, the last option- and the one that I would most encourage- to find a Christian mentor is to invest in a formal Christian education. Most Bible colleges are full of faculty and staff as well as older students who are more than willing to mentor others because they are getting mentored. Students at Bible colleges can be mentored in the classroom and in the dorms. Also, many churches located near Bible colleges are actively involved with the college and will gladly take the opportunity and responsibility to aid students in their ministry training.
Whichever option you decide on, be sure that your mentor is someone who is willing to spend a large amount of intentional time with you. Find someone who is willing to be honest and also who has years of experience in being a mature, disciplined Christian. Finally, be willing to humble yourself to not only hear hard teachings but also to change. Be willing to change into someone who mentors others in the spirit of “each one, teach one”.
This post was contributed by current student Jake St. Clair.