Andrew Hughes | Category: The Church Community
Over the years, I have enjoyed asking people older than I am what piece of advice/insight they wish they had been given at my age. Over the years, I have gotten a lot of very helpful advice; and every once in a while, a real dud piece of wisdom-- as in the time a guy said “Don’t get enamored with having lots of stuff” to which I was expecting the next line to be something about trust in God and not being materialistic. Instead, he followed that with, “It just takes time- you have to start with nothing,” going on to show me all his accumulated “stuff of life” in his garage.
Besides a few times like that, people have usually had rich words of input. This past week was another time. As I sat over lunch with a local pastor, 20+ years older than me, he reminded me of something important about discipleship that he wished he had been more cognizant of at my age of 32. He said to make sure you always surround yourself with at least 3 types of people to disciple you: 1) someone younger than you that you are mentoring (although there are certainly times a mentor can be younger), 2) someone who is a peer/in the same scenario of life that can relate well immediately, 3) someone older than you to mentor you through their life experience.
This is not only just good practical advice but I believe there is real Biblical precedence for it.
You can see a strong sense of mentoring in the life of Paul and Timothy. Paul refers to Timothy as his “true child” (1 Timothy 1:2) and “beloved child” (2 Timothy 1:2). There is certainly a tone of baton-passing throughout the letters to Timothy- “This charge, I entrust to you, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience” (1 Timothy 1:18-19). “Let no one despise your youth” (1 Timothy 4:12). Paul had clearly commanded the respect of Timothy enough that Timothy was willing to be circumcised per Paul’s concern for Jewish ministry. Paul even tells us what mentoring should look like – “Treat younger men like brothers” (1 Timothy 5:1). The purpose is that the mentee will themselves be a mentor one day- “and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2). Most specifically being a mentor is simply about Jesus, not us- “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). It's not so much about being followed as much as following Christ together.
As Paul writes his letter to the Colossians from prison, I love the way he ends it in 4:7-11. He talks about Tychichus, a “beloved brother and faithful minister and fellow servant” as well as Onesimus a “faithful and beloved brother” whom Paul has sent to give an update to the church in Colossae. He even mentions Aristarchus, who is in prison with him and his friends Mark and Justus who “are the only men of the circumcision among my fellow workers for the kingdom of God.” He specifically says they have been a comfort to him.
At the end of Philippians, also written from prison, Paul expresses his love for the church of Philippi. In fact he says “no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only” (Philippians 4:15).
On the converse side, we see Paul confronting his peer, Peter, over conduct that was out of line with the gospel itself (Galatians 2/Acts 15).
Lest we think Paul was beyond being mentored, don’t forget that immediately upon conversion, he was taken into the home of Ananias of Damascus, which seemed like risky business at first, considering Paul’s past (Acts 9:10-19). We also see that Paul spent a number of days there with the disciples in Damascus (Acts 9:19b). Then upon going to Jerusalem, Barnabas specifically stands up for him, presenting him to the apostles and declaring God’s dramatic change in the life of Paul (Acts 9:26-27). Relationally speaking, in 1 Timothy 5, Paul tells Timothy to look to older men as fathers and older women as mothers. The older should be looking to lead but the younger should be looking for chances to follow.
As I reflect on these 3 levels of discipleship, I see gaps in my life. Chances are that you also find yourself overloaded in one particular category or more drawn to one aspect over another. But our lives need to be filled with all of them. This might seem overwhelming, but don’t think of them all as large groups of people. Instead, aim to fill each slot with at least one individual. Let’s make sure we are involved in all 3 levels of discipleship- leading, following, and partnering together with others.
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