This is the first part of a three part series on mentoring.
We all have some idea of what a mentor is; some of us maycurrently have a mentor or are eventaking on the role ofa mentor. However, despite the familiarity of the concept and the value many of us attribute to it, real mentoring is something that is seriously lacking today, especially within the context of ministry and the Church. Having a mentor while in seminary and in preparation for ministry is crucial. Why? Well, consider the words of Ezekiel 3:18-19:
Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. If I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, in order to save his life, that wicked person shall die for his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. But if you warn the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness, or from his wicked way, he shall die for his iniquity, but you will have delivered your soul.
A friend of mine suggested to me that all seminary students should memorize this passage of Scripture and keep it in a prominent place in our mind as we prepare for and eventually embark on the journey of ministry. These are strong words because our calling is a high calling. We are charged with making known the Gospel of Jesus Christ and are entrusted with the care and oversight of His people. Knowing that, it would take a great deal of audacity to think that we could take up this calling without learning from those who have gone before us. Needless to say, adding “M.Div.” behind your name is not sufficient preparation for ministry.
But as I said at the outset, mentoring, though a popular idea, is not practiced nearly as much as it should be. Part of this is due to the frantic pace of life we all have.Our phones are constantly ringing, wehave abarrageof emails throughout the week, we have meetings to attend anddeadlines to meet—itwould be veryhard to find the time to sit down for an hour or so every week and take up that sort of relationship. We struggle to find time with our friends or our spouses as it is, so how could we set aside even more time for a mentoring relationship? There is plenty of good reason to find the time for it.
Throughout the Bible we see mentoring relationships in place, godly leaders preparing future generations of leaders to take their place. And the pinnacle of mentoring relationships, of course, is the relationship Jesus had with his disciples. It was not unusual for that time, either. Rabbis regularly took apprentices under their wings who followed them around and drew from their wisdom. The disciples did exactly the same thing with Jesus.
Many of us are not at a point where we could drop everything we are doing and follow someone like Tim Keller around for a few years (and I’m not so sure he would appreciate that either), but the point is that we need to make time to learn the contours of ministry from those who have been on the journey for some time. Jesus had prepared his disciples for a considerable period of time in a very intimate, relational setting before he finally commissioned them and sent them out. It is an example we ought to give a lot of credence to.
Even in more recent history we see some of most prominent leaders of the church engaged in mentoring. John Calvin was intimately involved in training and guiding men who wanted to plant churches in France. Charles Spurgeon mentored many students and once they were in a pastorate of their own, he continued to keep in contact with them strengthening them and even rebuking them as needed. That is a serious level of investment in someone’s life.
The point here is that one of the most effective ways to destroy your ministry is to be proud. To think that you can engage in ministry on your own strength, relying on your own knowledge and wisdom is an incredibly proud assertion. The journey of ministry is not walked alone. We need the guidance and wisdom from those who are more seasoned in the calling.
Next time we will look more closely at the specific role a mentor can play in helping us prepare for ministry.