In her book on mentoring, Melissa B. Kruger recalls a memory of playing in the yard while her Dad did some yardwork. She watched as he began doing something she’d never seen him do before. In her words, “There was a young tree that was bent over, suffering from the damaging effects of a recent storm. He took a rope and tethered the young tree to a much older tree—one that was sturdy and strong, standing straight. When I asked him why he was tying the two trees together, he explained that the older tree could offer support and strength to prevent the younger tree from growing askew. The older tree had withstood years of winds and storms. Just by standing beside the younger tree, it offered stability.”
Her story is a great picture of mentoring. In it, we can observe a few things. First, the older tree doesn’t make the younger tree grow. It doesn’t provide it with nutrients or sunshine. Second, it’s not responsible for the younger tree. It is just standing alongside the younger tree, offering its strength and support as they both grow under the light of the sun.
The same is true of spiritual mentoring. It’s really just the intentional practice of a more seasoned Christian coming alongside a younger Christian to offer support and guidance along the way. Such mentoring is very common in work settings. For instance, a new electrician might become apprenticed to an older electrician to learn ins and outs of the trade. We have a context for that – we just need to translate it into the spiritual world.
The word mentoring isn’t in the Bible perse. But the concept is all over the both the Old and New Testaments. Moses mentored Joshua. Elijah mentored Elisha. Jesus mentored the 12. Paul mentored Timothy. It is not defined by physical age but by spiritual maturity. In mentoring we simply have a more mature Christian offering support and guidance to a younger Christian.
What is its purpose? To help the younger person grow in becoming more like Jesus so that he/she glorifies God and participates in His ministry to a hurting world. The Bible assumes that we all start off spiritually as infants who drink milk. Of course, the expectation is that we’ll grow over time and be eating spiritual meat (see I Corinthians 3, Hebrews 5). And as we grow, we should mature – spiritually, emotionally, and relationally. But it just doesn’t just stop there. In the process, the maturing Christian is also equipped for the work of ministry (Ephesians 4) and mentors others! The mentee is not a cul-de-sac but a through street – taking what they have learned and then turning around to offer their maturity to someone a little younger in faith.
Mentoring can take place in many contexts: in small group settings, on your own (as you learn from older Christians through their books or podcasts), by participating in the life of your church and hearing from Biblically solid pastors and teachers, and through intentional one-on-one conversations. You are probably healthiest as a disciple when you are getting a little bit of each of these over time. For instance, a diet of ONLY books and podcasts might miss the mark because it lacks the context of relationship that is so needed as we mature.
One-on-one or small group mentoring is often most helpful in specific seasons or times of transition. For example, when a person turns her life over to Jesus and enters a fresh, new relationship with Him, a mentor can help get her established in her faith. It can also be helpful when someone feels adrift in their walk with God or feels stuck in their spiritual formation.
Spiritual mentoring, with the goal of equipping the saints for the work of ministry, is greatly needed in the church today! Young believers are tossed to and fro, struggling to understand truth in a culture that doesn’t necessarily respect Biblical truth. The strong roots of older believers are needed to support younger believers so that they might grow strong in faith, be aware of the storms of life, not be carried away by false doctrine or immature selfishness, and learn to serve faithfully to the Glory of God.
Written by Shannon McKee