(Draft) Bible Study - Discipleship—or Mentoring?
In the Great Commission (as it is frequently labeled; Matt. 28:19), Jesus commanded His disciples to “Go… and make disciples.” The objective was not that they attract their own disciples, but that they win new followers of Jesus. Acts tells the story of how the Spirit-filled apostles obeyed that command.
Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
But closely related to the making of disciples is the mentoring of leaders. “Mentoring” has become a buzzword among Western business and professional people. But the concept is as old as Homer’s Odyssey (c. 900–810 b.c.), in which Odysseus entrusts to his friend, Mentor, the education of Telemachus, his son. A mentor, then, is a trusted counselor or guide—typically an older, more experienced person who imparts valuable wisdom to someone younger. Countless figures throughout history have recalled the powerful influence of mentors on their development.
The Old Testament is filled with mentoring relationships: Jethro, a wealthy livestock owner, helped his overworked son-in-law, Moses, learn to delegate authority (Ex. 18:1–27); Deborah, judge over Israel, summoned Barak to military leadership and helped him triumph over Jabin, a Canaanite king, bringing forty years of peace to the land (Judg. 4:4–24); Eli, a priest of the Lord (but a failure as a father), raised young Samuel to succeed him (1 Sam. 1:1–3:21); the prophet Elijah, who oversaw the evil end of Ahab and Jezebel, passed his office on to young Elisha, who received a double portion of his spirit (2 Kin. 2:1–15).
Barnabas, a wealthy landowner in the early church, became an advocate and guide for Saul, the former enemy and persecutor of the movement (Acts 9:26–30). Over time, with Barnabas’s coaching and encouragement, Saul (later called Paul) became the central figure in the early spread of the gospel.
Close observation reveals four key functions of a kingdom-style mentor:
1. Mentors care about those who follow them. Their primary interest is not what they can gain from the relationship, but with what they can give to it. They also realize how much they have to learn from their proteégeés. Ultimately, they fulfill Paul’s admonition to look out not only for their own interests, but also for the interests of others (Phil. 2:4).
2. Mentors convey wisdom and skill. Through modeling and coaching, and eventually by turning over responsibility to their followers, kingdom-style mentors seek to make their disciples more capable than the mentors have been (Matt. 10:25).
3. Mentors correct their followers when they are wrong. An excellent example is Barnabas’s challenge to Paul over taking John Mark along on the second missionary journey (Acts 15:36–39). Later Paul changed his perspective and asked Timothy to bring John Mark to him (2 Tim. 4:11). Kingdom-style mentors do not avoid confrontation.
4. Mentors connect their followers to significant others. As Acts 9 shows, Saul’s entreée into the early church was Barnabas. Kingdom-style mentors introduce their proteégeés to relationships and resources that will further their development and increase their opportunities.