Sunday, October 24, 2004

Mentors and Masters

I Timothy 1:1-2

“…to Timothy my true son in the faith …”

The context of the Pastoral Epistles, it must be remembered, is the relationship between pastors. In particular, the relationships between an older, slightly grumpy, but experienced man named Paul, and the young-guns, a pair of bishops-in-the-making named Timothy and Titus.

Of course, these letters may or may not have actually been written by the historical Paul, but this is largely beside the point. The letters were still composed in the form of a close relationship between an older father-figure to a younger, less experienced pastor. This is an observation that reminds me that church leaders need mentors – and they need to mentor!

As I look back on my road to ministry, to be frank, I didn’t have enough mentors. Perhaps I was reluctant to be mentored. Back in seminary, I suppose I fancied myself an up-and-coming theologian with my own ideas and insights … when what I really needed was to sit at the feet of – and listen closely to – an elder. Someone who could have taught me (more effectively and more quickly) how to be a pastor. I learned a lot of things the hard way – how to confront people who do destructive things, how to run a church meeting, how to visit old ladies, how to pray in public places. Those are the kinds of things a mentor could have taught me.

Of course, when I look back, I do recognize the names and faces of people who did mentor me … Gerald Brooks, Dean Hawk, Bob Kelly, Kent Crawford, Tom Graves, Chuck Cox, Kristie Rosset, Milton Gutierrez, Scott Jones, Bill McElvaney, Joe Pool … There were plenty of mentors.

But I should have been more deliberate in seeking out these wise people. I missed out on too much valuable insight.

All of these memories remind me to become a mentor to others. This very well may become the meat and potatoes of my ministry here in Cameroon. I desperately need to recruit, train and equip pastors and lay leaders for the work here.

This is really a character issue. Doctrine and theology can be taught, transmitted, memorized. Important information can move from one person’s brain to another person’s brain rather impersonally. But mentoring is not information-sharing. Mentoring accomplishes something far more important – the formation of a community of disciples who live together in a new way, modeled on the example and teachings of Jesus Christ. We don’t know how to live like Christians, except by observing the ones who have come before us. It is a modeled behavior, a lived-out and enacted lesson.

We don’t know if Timothy really took the advice; we don’t know if he rolled his eyes when he read Paul’s nagging counsel. He might have simply ignored Paul’s pleading that he was his “son in the faith.”

It’s hard to humble oneself before the advice of an older person, no matter how wise or experienced. I’m sure a piece of Timothy balked when he read that Paul called him a “true son in the faith.” Would he be forever seen as Paul’s lackey, as Paul’s understudy? When would he be able to stand on his own two feet and make his own decisions?

By virtue of the fact that the letter is preserved to this day in the New Testament, I have a feeling that Timothy took the advice humbly.