I can remember the day I discovered I wasn’t a rock star.
As a young intern at our church, I received the assignment to preach on Genesis 10; ‘the generations of the sons of Noah, Shem, Ham, and Japheth.’
Although every word of Scripture is breathed out by God, I suspect this passage has not sparked many revivals.
I had no clue about the world of Genesis 10, and even less about the world of my audience–men struggling with addiction–that day. But I didn’t know what I didn’t know, and didn’t think to ask an older, seasoned pastor for help. As I began to preach, my inexperience became clear to everyone. Especially me.
A Hidden Crisis
As a younger leader, I had no idea how desperately I needed older men to mentor and disciple me. Apparently, I am not alone. One older, highly-credentialed pastor mentions that he spends much of his time listening to younger leaders (millennials, Gen-Xers) freely share their opinions while rarely asking for his.
Quick to speak and slow to listen? Guilty as charged. It’s a mark of my generation and an undetected crisis in the church today.
God intends for older leaders to invest in younger ones so that they–and the church–can thrive. But that means we, as younger leaders, need to seek and receive that gift.
Let’s take a closer look at why mentoring is so important; why it’s not happening enough; and what we can do about it.
Who’s To Blame?
Before I call younger leaders out, let me say that it’s not entirely our fault. Mentoring should be a two-way street, and I think older leaders may be partly to blame.
Seasoned leaders are busy leaders. They have a lot on their plates, and mentoring falls off of their radar. While preaching and leading are scrutinized and measured by others (who could fire them!), the less sexy and expedient work of mentoring is typically not part of their job description.
Furthermore, as older leaders become more accomplished and revered, younger leaders may lift them up on a pedestal. While the gospel puts us all on a level playing field, older leaders might unintentionally create–or at least allow–an aura of unapproachability that encourages mentees to keep away.
Mentoring: God’s Design
If you’re a younger leader like me, you ‘know’ mentoring is important, but you’re probably not receiving it very often. It’s kinda like ‘flossing’–we all know it’s important but…well, I digress.
We need to hear it again, from God’s word, which is living, active (Hebrews 4:12) and able to help us pursue the mentoring we desperately need.
Classic mentoring relationships
Classic relationships like Moses and Joshua, Elijah and Elisha, and Paul and Timothy come to mind. In each case, the younger leader eagerly learned from his older mentor.
In 2 Timothy 2:1-2, for example, Paul counsels Timothy to ‘be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, 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.’ Although each younger leader brought his own unique gifts to the table, he received a tremendous head start by learning from a master. It’s also clear that Paul wanted Timothy to be on the lookout for men he could mentor.
In this passage, the responsibility falls on us all.
Older mentors, our models
In Titus 2, Paul tells Timothy that older men and women should serve as examples for younger ones (especially v.4). Implicit in the qualities Paul urges them to model is the assumption that younger saints tend to lack–and need to develop–these qualities. Pursuing, and then patterning their lives after older saints, is one of the best ways to accomplish that.
Proverbs 2: A Master Class On Mentoring
Proverbs 2 is a master class on the staggering benefits we receive when we learn from older saints.
In this passage, a father tells his son to ‘receive [his] words, and treasure up [his] commandments’–and, all that will happen if he does. This is mentoring, and it’s not limited to biological fathers and sons. Let’s listen in and see what we can learn.
Learning from older saints allows us to…
- ‘understand the fear of the Lord’ (v.5), to have a healthy respect and trust in our God.
- ‘find the knowledge of God’ (v.5), to know what he is truly like.
- develop integrity and receive God’s protection (v.7).
- understand what’s just and fair (v.9).
- receive deliverance from evil and those who practice it (vv. 12-13).
- steer clear of ungodly women who will put us on a path of death (16-19).
The knowledge and experience of older saints are guardrails that keep us on the straight-and-narrow where we avoid death and find real life. ‘So you will walk in the way of the good, and keep to the paths of the righteous. For the upright will inhabit the land, and those with integrity will remain in it’ (vv. 20-21).
Are you convinced you need mentors in your life?
Why Don’t We Pursue Mentoring More?
Why, if we know how desperately we need mentoring, are we not pursuing it more?
Let’s round up some of the usual suspects.
Pride tells our inner toddler ‘I can do it by myself.’ It leads us to deceive ourselves, thinking we are more developed than we really are (Galatians 6:3).
As a teen, I informed my stepfather that I didn’t need to learn about house projects from him. After all, I reasoned, ‘someday I’ll be rich and hire others to do them for me.’ (No doubt God had a good laugh!) That same pride resurfaced when I figured I could preach Genesis 10 without input from older, wiser leaders.
Our own pride is fueled by others’ over-confidence, too. Long ago, C.S. Lewis spoke of ‘chronological snobbery, the uncritical acceptance of the intellectual climate common to our own age and the assumption that whatever has gone out of date is on that account discredited.’
One of the biggest delusions of youthful leaders is that they are pioneering some new form of Christianity that the world has never seen. It’s nothing more than the next generation’s practice of chronological snobbery.
A seasoned pastor who knows a little history could help us avoid a multitude of intoxicated assumptions.
As Lewis wisely continued, ‘our own age is also “a period,” and certainly has…its own characteristic illusions. They are likeliest to lurk in those widespread assumptions which are so ingrained in the age that no one dares to attack or feels it necessary to defend them.’
We live in a culture that prizes youth and the latest trends.
Could it be that we younger leaders have unwittingly assumed that older, seasoned ones have exceeded their expiration date, and functionally discredited them?
Pride isn’t the only reason mentoring is on the endangered species list. Our lives are ‘crazy busy’ pursuing marriage, spouses, schoolwork, kids, advancing in our careers, time online, hobbies and…you get the idea. We don’t have any margin to learn from older leaders.
More honestly, we’ve decided that ‘making the best use of the time’ (Ephesians 5:16) doesn’t include older saints. Unlike schoolwork or highly-visible activities like preaching, mentoring doesn’t get measured. No one will likely ask us, ‘Who are your mentors?’, or, ‘Who are you learning from?’
No doubt there are other factors, but pride, busyness, and a failure to prioritize mentoring head the list. Thankfully God, who justified us freely by his grace (Romans 3:24), continues to joyfully forgive us still.
4 Ways Young Leaders Can Find Seasoned Mentors
Some of you reading this may already have a bullpen of mentors. (Yes, you should have more than one.) But more likely, many of you do not.
Where can we begin?
1. See our need and ask God for help
Before we consider specific tips, we need to start with our hearts. We may need to repent for not valuing God’s clear design that we learn from older, wiser saints. And we should pray that God gives us grace to value that in our hearts, not merely in our heads.
2. Take the initiative
Guess how many times I’ve been approached by a potential mentor? Three times, actually. But they were all in my first two years of college after I had just become a Christian. In the twenty-five years since, it hasn’t happened again.
Although it would be nice for older mentors to proactively seek out mentoring relationships, it probably won’t happen. Consider how awkward it might be to approach another person assuming, “Hey, there’s a lot I can teach you.”
Spare them the indignity. Grow in the security the gospel brings and prayerfully ask a few mentors to invest in you.
3. Keep trying
Worthy mentors are busy satisfying God’s vision for their lives. It may take several connections, emails or texts to get on their radar. Persist, pray for God to open the door, but move on if the answer appears to be ‘no’.
4. Give your mentors feedback
The whole point of mentoring is for older leaders to share their knowledge and experience so that younger leaders grow, succeed and glorify God. Mentors want to know that their investment is yielding fruit, so do what they suggest. Then tell them what you did, and how it made a difference. If you do that, you will quickly become someone worth a mentor’s time.
God’s word makes it plain that younger leaders should seek mentoring from older ones. Although it’s not happening nearly enough, we can change that with God’s help and a little concerted effort.
Just imagine the difference it could make in our generation if we pursued and applied the wisdom of the last ones.
For reflection and application:
- Who are your mentors?
- Are there older saints in your church who could pass along a few lessons from a life lived faithfully for Christ?
Meet with one older pastor within the next month for coffee to discuss his successes and failures. After you meet, think about what have you learned – and what could be applied – from them. (I need to do this myself!)