Long ago, a teenager in a far away land chafed under the weight of his aunt and uncle’s expectations. Fearing the young man would turn out like his father, the couple kept him close to home, isolated. His father left home at a young age and lived a life of danger before succumbing to a fate brought about by his own poor choices. The aunt and uncle knew they were holding the boy back, but they were certain his big dreams and impetuous nature would lead him to a similarly early grave if left to his own devices. The young man knew that he was not meant to work on his aunt’s and uncle’s farm, but he saw few other options aside from joining the Rebellion and fighting the Galactic Empire that oppressed their people daily. What young Luke Skywalker needed was a mentor to set him on the right path. What he received was former Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi, and his life was never the same.
Although it is many things—an epic space cowboy opera, the subject of endless cycles of frothy-mouthed, nerdy debates, and quite possibly the greatest movie of all time—Star Wars is a story showing the power of mentors and the need we all have to be guided through life’s challenges. As author Dan Zehr noted, “The role and impact of a mentor is a powerful reminder of how important strong role models are for younger generations. The Star Wars films are a microcosm of this important cultural paradigm that allows us to look more closely at ourselves as we examine the impact we can have on others.”1 That themef should resonate with Christians, because mentorship and discipleship are some of the primary tasks of both the family of origin and the church family.
The role and impact of a mentor is a powerful reminder of how important strong role models are for younger generations
What should Christian mentorship actually look like, however, and what can it really accomplish? Furthermore, if parents are the primary influencers in their children’s lives, how can they find and enlist the help of others to ensure their sons and daughters have every opportunity to grow as followers of Christ? Let’s consider these questions in more depth below.
Examples of Profitable Mentor/Mentee Relationships
When considering what it means to be a mentor, we have plenty of examples from both ancient and contemporary times.
Paul & Timothy
A champion of the early Church, the apostle Paul grew up with every educational privilege available to a Jewish man. He went to school and was trained by the finest religious leaders, including Gamaliel, who was regarded as the greatest legal teacher of the day. After his conversion, Paul’s training continued under the watchful eye of Barnabas and, likely Priscilla and Aquila. After such a legacy of mentorship, it comes as no surprise that Paul went on to mentor others, including Timothy and Titus. Of the two younger men, Paul appeared somewhat closer to Timothy, whom he considered his “true child in the faith” (1 Timothy 1:2, NASB). He went so far as to write his protege two letters, instructing him on matters of church leadership and spiritual growth.
Steve Jobs & Mark Zuckerberg
Mark Zuckerberg started Facebook as a nineteen-year-old Harvard student. Within the next four years, he became a billionaire. Steve Jobs co-founded Apple Computers in his parent’s garage when he was just twenty-one. Nine years later, he was fired from his own company, only to be rehired as the CEO twelve years later. For both men, that kind of rise to prominence and wealth was not without challenges. Zuckerberg credits Steve Jobs with helping him to navigate the challenging early years of entrepreneurship.
Bill Bryan I His Ministers in Residence
The Apostle Paul and Steve Jobs are known around the world, but most people have never heard of Dr. Bill Bryan. Bryan was an early innovator of the Church Growth Movement, which began in the 1970s. As such, he was a champion of Sunday School and discipleship training programs, although his clear passion was for leadership development. Bryan spent his final years in full-time ministry investing in the lives of a dozen or so young men, his “boys” in the Minister in Residence Program at First Baptist Church in Atlanta. He showed the recent seminary graduates how to love and serve others, introduced them to his network of pastors and thought-leaders, and often helped them solve whatever personal and professional problems they brought to him. I was one of those young men, and I will always be grateful for Bill Bryan’s mentorship during some of the most formative years of my life.
What Roles do Godly Mentors Play?
These examples give us a more focused idea of what mentorship is, but what can mentorship accomplish? Let’s look at three of the primary benefits below.
Mentors Offer a Wise, Outside Perspective
You can probably think of a time when you had a difficult decision to make and could not determine the right steps to take. Either a lack of experience or an abundance of options can make determining the correct path difficult. Here is where a mentor can help. Whether it is because they have walked the same path before or because they have an unbiased opinion on matters, mentors often can provide a helpful perspective on a variety of situations. On this idea, John Maxwell writes, “One of the greatest values of mentors is the ability to see ahead what others cannot see and to help them navigate a course to their destination.”2
Whether it is because they have walked the same path before or because they have an unbiased opinion on matters, mentors often can provide a helpful perspective on a variety of situations
Mentors Provide Accountability
Few people enjoy being told what to do, and fewer still appreciate being forced to keep their word when doing so becomes inconvenient. Integrity is a fundamental characteristic of Christian living, however, and mentors help keep us honest, encouraging us to live up to the standards set for us in the Bible. In that regard, a mentor can facilitate life change. Nancy Leigh DeMoss and Randy Alcorn elaborate, “Humbling yourself by letting others into your life and allowing them to help you and hold you accountable will release the sanctifying, transforming grace of God in your life.”3
Mentors Ensure that Discipleship Continues
Christian community is the context in which all discipleship takes place. Without other believers encouraging our growth, we will likely become stagnant. Once we are maturing, the next step of our growth is to help others grow, because discipleship is a work of multiplication. As Mark Dever notes, “Part of growing in maturity is helping others grow in maturity.”4 Without mentors willing to invest in others, the cycle of discipleship breaks down and cannot continue.
How Can Parents Help Ensure That Their Children Benefit from Godly Mentors?
We can be certain that children will be influenced by the people around them. Lynn Anderson observes, “When we don’t find positive mentors, by default, negative ones actually find us!”5 Keep the following two ideas in mind when helping your kids find and learn from godly mentors.
Know Your Children’s Personalities, Needs, and Goals
Although it may seem that you don’t see your children enough or don’t know what makes them tick, the reality is, nobody has the opportunity to know them better than you do. Take the time to ask questions and listen to their answers. Depending on your child’s age, this process may feel like pulling teeth, but as the primary influencer in your child’s life, you should always endeavor to know them better. Once you know who they are, what they struggle with, and what they hope to achieve in life, you can help find the right mentors to assist them along the way.
Focus Your Search within Your Church
When looking for mentors to help our children grow as Christ-followers, we must be careful, but we don’t need to look far. The local church plays an important role in the discipleship of its youngest members. While parents are the primary people charged with the discipleship of their children, the godly men and women who make up a local church body have a responsibility as well. In Titus 2, Paul encourages his protege to ensure that the older men in his congregation teach the younger men how to be temperate and mindful, while the older women teach the younger women how to live honorable lives. This biblical model is still useful today, and we will likely find suitable mentors who already know and love our children.
Parents are the primary people charged with the discipleship of their children, the godly men and women who make up a local church body have a responsibility as well
Mentors make all the difference in the disciple’s journey. Without them, not only will an individual Christian languish, but so will the Church as a whole without the multiplication process of discipleship. Mentors are that important. As pastor Curtis Thomas wrote, “We never grow too old to be mentored or to be a mentor. We can look upon ourselves as middlemen. We should place ourselves under someone wiser and more knowledgeable than ourselves in order to learn from them, then be looking for those to whom we can transmit what we have learned. The torch must be passed continuously from one generation to the next.”6
Dr. Jason Barker (MDiv, DMin) has served as a pastor and educator for twenty years. He is the Dean of Academics at Oak Valley College in Rialto, California, and serves as an adjunct faculty member at four other colleges and seminaries. He, his wife, and their four children live in Southern California.