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When I turned twenty-one, my dad gave me this simple advice: “Find men that you want to be like and then sit at their feet.” As I launched into manhood, he was reminding me that the lessons I needed most wouldn’t be found in a textbook — they’d be written in the heart and life of a godly man. I needed to get close enough to this man that I could observe his character and be shaped by his example. I needed a mentor.
I didn’t realize at the time how important and prescient my dad’s counsel was. But less than a year later, God brought me across the path of C.J. Mahaney, the man who would mentor me, train me in pastoral ministry, and eventually install me as his replacement in the church he founded and led for nearly thirty years.
Looking back, I’ve become even more aware of what a rare gift God gave me in my relationship with C.J. Sadly, my experience is unique. There are many young adults who desire to sit at the feet of mature Christians. But how many older Christians are willing to let them sit there?
C.J. let me into his life even though it involved personal inconvenience. He literally invited me into his home (I lived in his basement for a year); he guided my study, exposed me to great theology, and both encouraged and constructively critiqued my fledgling attempts at leadership and preaching.
So for me the power of a mentor is no abstract concept. I know the difference that personal example, friendship, and on-the-job discipleship makes. Every part of my life — as a follower of Christ, as a husband and father, and now as a pastor — has been shaped by the investment my friend made, and continues to make, in my life.
One of the reasons I love to tell my story is because I hope it will inspire older Christians to take the time to mentor the up-and-coming generation of believers.
Most of us know that mentoring the next generation is a good idea. And of course it’s unarguably biblical. Proverbs 13:20 calls the young to be companions of the wise — the implication being that some wise person will be willing to let the less-wise be their companion. The Psalms speak of one generation commending the mighty acts of God to the next (Ps. 145:4). And of course, the New Testament example of Paul teaching and training Timothy models the importance of mentoring in the spread of the Gospel and the building of the church.
So we can agree that mentoring is good. But do we do it? And if we don’t, is the problem that we’re too busy? Or could it be that we don’t mentor because we lack real conviction? And could our lack of conviction be the result of failing to apply the truth of the Gospel to our view of the next generation?
How does the Gospel relate to this topic? First, it’s the essential motive for Christian mentoring. As Christians, we have a message — one composed of true facts about real events — that is bigger and more important than any one of us. The good news of Jesus and His death and resurrection for sinners is the world’s only hope. It’s the only way of salvation for mankind. The obvious implication is that passing this saving message on to people who will be here after we’re gone is the most important thing we can do during our lifetime. Our legacy, our reputation, our heritage is really unimportant. A building or company or denomination with our name on it will do the world little good. But if we can teach, train, and disciple men and women to trust in, love, and proclaim the message of Christ and him crucified, then we’ve accomplished something worthwhile.
This kind of Gospel-centered view of life leads to proactive mentoring. And this is exactly what is needed today. Members of the older generation need to take it upon themselves to pursue younger Christians to mentor and disciple them in the faith. Let’s be honest. They might not be beating down the door to sit at your feet. They might not look to you with adoring eyes, amazed by your knowledge. You might not be a “cool” old person. Don’t let that stop you. If you’re motivated by the Gospel, it shouldn’t stop you. Remember, it’s not about you. It’s about the Savior. It’s about what He has done. Whether or not you have the added fuel of feeling wanted, needed, and in demand, you can go out and seek to serve.
But what if you can’t relate to the younger generation? Again, this is where the Gospel comes into play. The Gospel strips away the façade of “generation gaps” and reminds us that, regardless of our age, we all have something in common — we’re all sinners in need of the substitutionary sacrifice of Jesus Christ. The Gospel smoothes out the bumps of cross-generational friendships. It reminds us that, regardless of our age, we have a lot in common.
It was God’s grace that led me to realize as a young man that I needed a mentor to advise and train me in ministry. And it was God’s grace that prepared a godly older man to be that mentor. Two decades earlier, in the early days of his ministry, C.J. had made a promise to God. He had always longed for but never truly found a godly, older mentor for himself. And so he told God that if he ever had the chance to be that mentor to a younger man, he wouldn’t pass up the opportunity. He wouldn’t be too busy.
When I came along he didn’t see me as a nuisance. He didn’t see me as a threat. His first concern wasn’t preserving his position. He saw me as a young man in whom he could invest in so that the most important truth — the truth of the Gospel — could be passed on. What a refreshing perspective. Our job isn’t to fend off the next generation. Our calling as lovers of the Gospel is to equip the next generation to surpass us in faithfulness and effectiveness.
Somewhere there’s a young man or woman praying for a mentor. Get ready. You could be God’s answer to that prayer.