by Dr. Bill Patterson
Dan’s* eyes moistened as he talked about his conversion. “When I grew up, we were poor. Mom and Dad both worked. It seemed no one had time for children from my neighborhood. However, a leader in our church taught our mission group. Doug Smith* really cared. I could see it in his eyes and I could hear it in his voice. Every month or two he would gather some other adults from the church and take us fishing or roller skating. He took us to the state fair in the fall. We all wanted to be like Mr. Smith. You know what? Every one of us became Christians.”
Do you serve as a mentor? Some Christians like the phrase “role model.” Others prefer “example,” “guide,” or “life coach.” Ultimately it’s not the name that matters, but the deed of serving as an intentional example for others.
While the Lord Jesus serves as our ultimate role model, we also need a human example, a flesh-and-blood person we can see, hear, and emulate. In our time, many young people follow the examples of highly publicized sports stars or musicians, some of whom have ungodly lifestyles, errant belief systems, or questionable morals. Isn’t it important for Christians to serve as positive mentors?
The Apostle Paul as a Mentor
The term mentor is not in the Bible—but the meaning is. A Christian mentor is a person who provides a human pattern for modeling the Christ life. The apostle Paul knew we needed examples we could watch, listen to, and emulate. On at least five occasions he wrote to followers of Christ encouraging them to imitate him (1 Corinthians 11:1; 4:15-17; Philippians 4:9; 1 Thessalonians 1:6; and 2 Thessalonians 3:7, 9). Perhaps the clearest statement came when Paul wrote, “Follow my example as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1).
Paul revealed his deliberate strategy of mentoring others in several ways. For instance, he often encouraged others. He wrote words of instruction, he personally taught others, and he brought others with him as he traveled so they could grow by participating in the work.
Seldom solitary, Paul’s work for the Lord almost always included others. Consider his mission trips. Among those he took with him were Barnabas, Silas, Timothy, and Luke. When you do some act for Christ, consider taking a younger Christian along with you to demonstrate in practical ways how to follow our Lord.
Paul’s letters reflect an intense love for and desire to be with others. He mentioned more than 26 different people by name in the last chapter of Romans, even though, at that time, he had never been to the area since becoming a Christian. How did he know so many in Rome? Had he met them along the way and kept up with them?
Mentors Intentionally Include Others in God’s Work
Paul incorporated others in the work of Christ, often giving them opportunity to lead in service. For instance, think of Philippians 2:25 where Paul sent Epaphroditus to carry on work the imprisoned Paul could not; or of 1 Timothy 1:3-5 where Paul explains that he left young Timothy in Ephesus to teach.
Could you serve as a mentor by allowing a younger or less mature Christian to teach your Sunday school class occasionally? The Howells, a popular couple who taught a growing young adult Sunday school class of 20 people, decided to enlist three teachers. Rather than do all of the teaching themselves, they began to lead a young adult department of those three classes and poured themselves into the teachers. Within three years the class of 20 young adults became three classes of 20 each.
Paul poured his life into others. He referred to their work with him as a “partnership in the gospel” (Philippians 1:5). He didn’t wait for ideal conditions. Even when limited by confinement in jail, he sent for others to whom and through whom he ministered.
He often entrusted other Christians with Christian work. Paul began the church at Colossae through Epaphras (Colossians 1:7). We have no record that Paul ever went to Colossae but he entrusted that work to others. He stretched other believers by granting them more and more responsibility, as they were able to handle it. Paul checked on their work, evaluated it, and helped them along in it.
Paul, like our Lord, viewed service for God as a shared service. He taught others along the way as they traveled from place to place. Because he wrote Christians to encourage and teach them, we have nearly half of the New Testament today.
Mentors Pray for Others
God’s work is spiritual work. Since spiritual work is best advanced with spiritual weapons, the chief of which is prayer, Paul often prayed for other believers (Philippians 1:3; Romans 1:8; 1 Corinthians 1:4; Colossians 1:3; 1 Thessalonians 1:2; 2:13; 2 Thessalonians 1:3; 2 Timothy 1:3). Many of Paul’s letters begin with his assurances that he constantly prayed for them (Ephesians 1:16). Would you and I be stronger followers of the Lord if we had a mature leader whom we admired and loved who prayed for us regularly? Why not ask God for such a leader who will lift you to God and mentor you?
On the other hand, also ask him for some believers not as far along in their maturity as you, people you can mentor. Elijah and Elisha had disciples. John the Baptist had disciples. Jesus had disciples. Paul had John Mark, Silas, and Timothy, among others. You and I can pour our lives into someone else who will further the gospel.
Paul purposefully taught others to teach others. He told Timothy, “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” (2 Timothy 2:2). That verse reflects four generations of believers: Paul, who led Timothy to Christ and mentored him; Timothy; those Timothy would coach; and the people they would teach. Deliberate discipleship that continues through the generations can only be achieved by purposeful mentoring.
I mailed a questionnaire about mentors to 62 evangelical churches. I received 49 replies from leaders in churches ranging in size from less than 100 to more than 800 in morning worship attendance. These leaders came from country, city, and suburban settings.
Of the 49 responses, 43 believed they had a good role model whose life and actions they tried to emulate. Parents, other church leaders, and ministers topped the list of those chosen. One man wrote, “My father is a good Christian man who does what he can for everyone. He gives of his time and money. He is a great man and father and I hope to be like him because he tries to be like Christ.”
Of those who indicated another church leader was their role model, the following response was typical: “steady and faithful in good and hard times . . . a consistent testimony.”
One leader said of his minister, “He . . . has such a powerful, positive influence on my life. His character exemplifies the earthly but godly characteristics which are so needed in our society today.”
The survey showed the leaders who responded see the necessity of being an example and desire to fill that role. Thirty-nine of the 49 leaders believed they serve as a guide to others. Most felt they were role models for their own children. The second most-mentioned group was “a friend,” followed closely by “a parent.”
How Can I Be a Mentor?
Christians need to focus as much on being as on doing, as much on the inner walk with the Lord as on the outer actions we take. Good fruit grows from good trees (Matthew 7:17). As you and I get into the Word of God each day, pray regularly, and grow in intimacy with the Lord Jesus, he will make us into the role models we need to be. Paul said, “Follow me as I follow Christ.” As you grow in following the Lord Jesus, others will notice and begin to emulate your life.
Why not pause right now to ask the Lord to point out to you people you can influence in the faith? Ask him to bring to mind those you can guide for the kingdom of God. Ask him what specific things they need to see in your life and how you can model the Christ life for them. He will show you. The same God who helped the apostle Paul be a model for others will help you as well.
* Names changed
Dr. Bill Patterson is a freelance writer in Henderson, Kentucky.
In responses to a survey sent to 62 churches of various sizes and settings, leaders used the following words or phrases to describe their mentors:
• Strong in the Bible
• Strong work ethic
• Above reproach
• Helps others
• Slow to anger