2 Timothy 2:1-3 You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. 2 And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others. 3 Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus.
Titus 2:3-5 3 Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. 4 Then they can train the younger women to…” (NIV)
There’s a difference between seeking a shortcut and choosing to do the most effective thing. Being effective is being maximally efficient while avoiding the detrimental consequences of taking shortcuts that hurt you in the long run. Christianity has very few shortcuts, because Christianity is loving. However, there are more and less effective ways to grow and seek the benefits of following Christ.
At High Point, our church’s ministry model is: connect, grow, serve. This refers to the organizational environments we create to help people come to faith. As important as we believe this is, though, we recognize that the ministry model of the church isn’t a recipe for the most effective way to grow in Christ. The most effective way to grow in almost anything is to be mentored one-on-one by someone more skilled, knowledgeable and experienced than yourself.
Why is this true?
It’s true for several reasons. First, the attention you are getting is customized for your exact needs. In a sermon, I have to spray the truth out there for everyone without reference to your particularities of experience, gender, family of origin, occupational calling, stage of life, and so on. Second, it is a more holistic form of training. A mentor can offer discipline, teaching, and encouragement in appropriate amounts. Third, since a mentor usually will only mentor a couple of people, they are often more available than pastors. Fourth, they remember more about you and are more focused than someone who is trying to teach or lead a large number of people. Fifth, mentoring offers a level of hospitality. Mentors can invite you in and show you how they live their lives, not just tell you how to live yours.
The fact is that most people learn better when they are shown something rather than just told. Because of this, mentoring almost always works better than any other form of spiritual nurturing. It is no substitute for worship, but it can be substituted for or help create just about everything else.
So why don’t we do it?
There are a number of reasons. For mentoring to work well, it has to be a cross-generational endeavor. Our technological culture that worships youth tends to split apart the generations. I know some college ministries try to have senior students mentor freshmen, which is better than nothing. However, really effective mentoring pairs people in different life stages who are not equals in the area where one is mentoring the other. I normally tell people to seek someone two life stages ahead of them. What tends to happen instead is that younger people tend to think the older generations are past usefulness, and older generations tend to become annoyed with and curmudgeonly toward the younger. This produces a divide that destroys the possibility of mentoring.
Action must be taken by both parties. The younger generations need to focus on letting go of the cultural blinders that separate them from their wise elders. The elder generations have to take care to defend against the particular cynicism that comes with age and the sense of annoyance that goes with it. The older must intentionally turn their hearts to the younger, and they must be the first movers and leaders. If they are not, they demonstrate that they do not have the wisdom and discipline to be mentors.
Secondly, a mentoring relationship should be explicitly a relationship of superior-inferior. That language tends to be offensive, but there is a reason why it has been used for thousands of years. Many relationships work much better when someone is in charge. The two people are equal as humans, but they are not equal in the thing being done. Culturally we tend to find this idea immediately offensive. However, I think it tends to be an expression of pride. There is a cultural idolatry surrounding the validity of our own ideas. The positive effect of this value is that it helps us think “outside of the box” and not be stunted in our growth by the constricted structures of a conservative society. However, it also tends to create exceedingly foolish people who have to learn most things for themselves and are unable to build on the cumulative wisdom of their community.
First, decide that you want to dignify someone else by saying that they are “discipling you” (showing you how to be a better disciple of Christ) or that they are your mentor. Second, get into a growth mindset, whatever your age. You can’t be a mentor unless you have grown and are growing. You also can’t be mentored until you want to grow and listen. Third, start paying attention to whom you think you might click with and who might click with you. People overvalue having the right “chemistry.” Your mentor or mentee doesn’t need to be your clone. I’ve had mentors that had very different personalities than me. But finding someone you can talk to, with whom you speak the same language, can be really helpful.
Fourth, ask. Have a “define the relationship” talk. It could go something like this: “I’m hoping to get married and have a family someday, and when I look at your kids and watch you interact with your wife, I really respect what you guys have going. You think you could teach me about that?” Or, “I noticed you said in small group that you just started reading the Bible for yourself. I know the Bible can be a pretty intimidating book when you first start out. I’ve been reading and studying it now for about 25 years. I certainly don’t know everything, but if you want to get together once a week for about three months, I think I could really help you get to cruising altitude in reading and really getting something out of the Bible.”
If you ask someone who is a high capacity person to be your mentor, be prepared to make a trade. In fact, offer a trade. I would not ask someone to mentor me without asking what I could do for them to compensate them for the time they’re spending on. I’ll offer to pay for lunch if they meet me. I’ll ask if I can do some kind of labor for them. I will help them do some kind of task that requires two people while they talk to me about the thing I need to learn about.
For myself, with four young children and all of the responsibilities of pastoring, it would be very hard for me to mentor someone who wasn’t helping me in some way. This is especially true for fathers and mothers with children, some of the best mentors for young adults in their late teens and 20s (two life stages apart). If you are in your 20s, you should offer to help and try to make mentoring you as convenient as possible for the other person. You may not think so, but their life is a lot more complicated than yours.
If you are an older mentor mentoring someone in the family life stage, it may be useful to do the opposite. An older mentor might be able to help the person in the family stage make time in their own lives to receive mentoring. Go fold laundry with them. Watch one of their kids’ soccer games and talk on the bleachers. Be creative.
Do not underestimate the importance and benefit of being a mentor and being mentored. One-on-one training in which you are taught and shown provides the fastest advancement. Having a relationship provides discipline, personal encouragement and instruction that cannot be replicated in another way. Do not deprive yourself of this provision God has made in the body of Christ.
The greatest thing that could happen at High Point Church to advance her strength and power spiritually would be for 50 new mentoring relationships to spring up. The spiritual renewal this would cause would be astounding. Marriages would be improved, children better parented. People would grow in their knowledge of Scripture, their understanding of the gospel. We would learn more about hospitality and service. We would take care of each other’s needs spontaneously rather than through organized ministries.
Let’s start a mentoring movement.