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Biblical mentoring: its pattern and place

One of the things that I am most thankful to God for as a young Christian leader is the older and wiser men and women that God has placed in my life. More specifically, I am thankful for those three or four sage Christian men who have invested their time in me, and who meet with me regularly. As these men have graciously given me their time and wisdom, I have learnt, grown, and avoided a multitude of errors in ministry.

Yet, as I have spoken with my peers at theological college and those newly in full-time vocational ministry, this kind of mentoring experience seems to be a rarity. Many have never had the opportunity to ‘sponge off’ a Christian leader more mature than them. Why is that?

I’ve observed two broad answers to this question. The first is that young leaders have not sought out someone they respect to mentor them, or have not been bold enough to ask them. Secondly, some experienced leaders have not been open enough or willing to allow mentoring relationships to develop.

And so, to somewhat remedy the neglect of mentoring relationships and to convince both the younger and the older of their value, I want to look at three biblical pictures.

1. Mentoring relationships in the Bible

Within the Scriptures there are many relationships that look and feel like ‘mentoring’ ones. It may surprise you how many of these relationships are concerned with the development of future leaders.

Within the Old Testament, we could look at how Moses prepares Joshua to lead Israel into Canaan (Deut 31:1-8, 34:9). Or how Samuel prepares and guides both Saul (1 Sam 9-15) and David (1 Sam 16, 19:18-23) to be king over Israel. Another clear example is the relationship between Elijah and Elisha, and Elijah’s developing of Elisha (1 Kgs 19:16-21; 2 Kgs 2:1-16, 3:11).

Within the New Testament we could study how Barnabas invests in Paul (Acts 9:26-30, 11:22-30), or how Paul subsequently gives his energies to leading and growing Timothy and Titus (Acts 16:1-3, 2 Cor 7:6-15, 8:17, Phil 2:19-23, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus). We might even look to Jesus and the twelve, or Priscilla and Aquila with Apollos in Acts 18. 

At the descriptive level at least, the Scriptures present for us this concept of mentoring in the development of future leaders.

2. Mentoring and replication

Mentoring also takes seriously Paul’s exhortation to Timothy to entrust to faithful men what he has heard and learnt from Paul, so that in turn they too will be able to teach others (2 Tim 2:2). Here is a picture of long-term replication, as each generation passes on the gospel message to the next. While we can’t say that 2 Timothy 2:2 is talking strictly about mentoring, the mentor/mentoree relationship is one of the best ways to carry out the principle of passing on the gospel message from one to another.

3. Mentoring and modelling

The concept of mentoring can also be seen in passages concerned with modelling. In his letters, Paul often exhorts the believers to put into practice what they have received, learned, heard and seen from him, and to follow his example as he follows Christ (1 Cor 11:1; Phil 4:9; 1 Thess 1:6-8). In 2 Timothy 3:10 we also see how Paul is concerned with modelling all of Christian life to Timothy. Not only did Paul want to pass on the gospel message to Timothy, but he also wanted to pass on a way of life—a life that flows from the gospel message. Like the maxim goes, much of ministry is caught not taught. The mentor/mentoree relationship allows this kind of ‘all of life’ modelling to happen.

While there is much more that can be said about mentoring (including warnings about dependency and ‘rescuing’), I think we can make a good biblical case for its effectiveness.

I want to conclude with two suggestions.

One is for the young, wet-behind-the-ears leader like myself. Let us not be arrogant and think that we know all the answers and have nothing to learn from the generations that have gone before us. Rather, let us find older, wiser Christian men and women whom we respect, and be bold in asking them to give us some of their time.

The second is for the generations of leaders above us younger ones. I know ministry life is busy. I know time is at a premium. However, would you be willing and open to giving younger leaders your time and wisdom? There is much for us to learn, and I for one can speak of the great benefits I’ve received in following those who have trodden the path before me.

This article was originally published on on 25 August 2015.