love you and I believe in you.”
Those simple words, uttered in a slow, Southern drawl from my administrative bishop at the time, meant more to me than he probably could have fathomed. Those sincere words of care and encouragement were like wind that filled the sails of my heart and carried me through some of the trials and opposition I was destined to face.
At age 26 and in the early stages of church planting, I could have counted on one hand the number of people who believed in my calling and vision to establish a new community of Christ-followers. While my bishop did not offer any stellar ideas about church-planting trends or strategies for church growth, he provided something infinitely more valuable: a godly example of a caring leader. He was a believer in Jesus Christ who had stood the test of time; a model of a faithful husband and father who challenged and inspired me to follow his lead. He was not trying to be a hero, but he was willing to be a mentor.
While the apostle Paul stands out as one of the great mentors in Scripture by demonstrating Biblical mentoring in his personal investment, words of instruction, and inspiration to his protégé Timothy, he is certainly not alone in the list of Biblical figures who were standout mentors.
Moses empowered Joshua to do what he could not accomplish in his lifetime. Eli taught Samuel how to hear and discern the voice of God. Abraham’s legacy of faith was passed down from generation to generation and continues to this day. Elijah modeled a life of radical faith to his successor Elisha. Yet, as much as Elisha needed and benefited from Elijah, Elijah also benefited from Elisha’s service as well as the continuation of his ministry and legacy. Mentoring is never a one-way street.
While mentoring was commonplace in Bible times, it unfortunately seems to be more of the exception than the rule in contemporary Christianity. Man-made terms such as the silent generation, baby boomers, generations X and Y, and millennials often emphasize the generational divide instead of fostering God-honoring unity, respect, and love that is needed for mentoring to flourish today.
Peter’s message on the Day of Pentecost spoke of God pouring out His Spirit on both the old and the young (Acts 2:17). Two thousand years later, this is still true: God wants to pour out His Spirit on every generation.
If each generation needs the other, what can we do to foster an atmosphere of mentoring in our churches today? While there is not a one-size-fits-all template for mentoring, there are principles that work in every setting. Three elements of mentoring that every Christian mentor and every church can employ are care, demonstration, and stories.
There is something wonderfully distinct and natural about the sincere love of parents to their children. However, we know in our fallen world, parental love is not always what it should be—even in some church families. In order to mentor the next generation, we must be motivated by sincere love and genuine care. Malachi prophesied about a day of generational reconciliation:
He [the Lord] will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers (Malachi 4:6 ESV).
This prophetic word describes a heart change that is needed in order to bring restoration to divided generations. This type of care will, at times, require a sacrifice. It might be a sacrifice of a preference of music style or ministry methods. It might require giving others who are less experienced opportunities to use and grow in their gifts, but that is what mentors do. They sacrifice and invest; they equip and risk; they care.
The mantra “Do as I say and not as I do” is bad methodology for almost anything, but especially in mentoring. A protégé will often learn more by what they see than what they hear. If we want younger generations to believe, we must be believable. Like the Lord himself, emerging Christians have little tolerance for hypocrisy. In Matthew 7:3-5, Jesus warned:
“Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (ESV).
One of the great challenges of mentoring is that it requires us to not only look at another person; it also requires us to look in the mirror. The good news is that perfection is never a prerequisite for being a mentor, only honesty. Some of the greatest lessons I have learned from my own mentors are when they were transparent enough to share their failures as well as their successes.
Everyone has a story, and those stories can have a greater impact than many of us realize. There is no better place for a testimony or a miraculous story to land than in the receptive ears of an emerging generation craving the things of God. The words of Psalm 78:1-4 should inspire today’s mentors:
Give ear, O my people, to my teaching; incline your ears to the words of my mouth! I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings from of old, things that we have heard and known, that our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done (ESV).
In the movie Star Wars: The Force Awakens, a new generation of characters emerge who lacked extraordinary experiences but are intrigued by the stories and legends from previous generations. They look at a future that seems bleak and a culture that lacks purpose and leaves them wondering if there was anything worth putting their hope in. The person who ultimately brings them hope is a mentor from a previous generation. With a gleam in his eye, Hans Solo (Harrison Ford) utters these unforgettable words: “Crazy thing is . . . it’s true. All of it. The Force, the Jedi, it’s all true.”
Those words, of course, are nothing more than a line from a popular fictional story. However, there is a real emerging generation of Christians, many disillusioned by a church that has prosperity and programs but too often lacks something real, spiritual, and life-changing.
Perhaps the greatest voice that could speak into this generation is not someone new who is yet to arise on the scene, but a voice from the past—someone who has been there, experienced something for themselves—a believer with a story to tell. Maybe it is a mentor who can look in the eyes of a hungry, younger generation and sincerely proclaim, “The Holy Spirit, Pentecost, the gifts of the Spirit—it is all real. All of it.”
Maybe God is calling someone to tell their story to the next generation. Maybe that someone is you.