In the final letter that we have from the apostle Paul, written in a lonely prison cell in Rome while he was expecting death for the sake of the gospel, he reminded his closest friend Timothy of the utter necessity of passing on the faith to “faithful men” (2 Tim. 2:2). It bears noting that what Paul envisaged in these words was not simply doctrinal instruction in the essentials of Christianity. Of course, Paul expected the training of future leaders to involve the handing on of doctrine. But, as is clear from a later statement by Paul in this letter, such transmission of the faith also involved the development of lifelong convictions and goals and the nurture of character — making the leader a person of love, patience, and steadfastness (3:10). Timothy knew exactly what Paul was talking about, for this was the very way the apostle had mentored Timothy.
Timothy had joined Paul’s apostolic band early on in what is termed Paul’s second missionary journey, that is, around 48 or 49 AD (Acts 16:1–3). As he traveled with Paul he saw firsthand what Paul later called his doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, love, perseverance, persecutions, and afflictions (2 Tim. 3:10–11). Timothy grew to know and embrace Paul’s theology and doctrinal convictions. He learned that at the heart of all genuinely Christian theology is God: the Father, His Son, and the Holy Spirit. He came to be grounded in the fact that the gospel is centered on the death and resurrection of Christ, the only way that men and women can come into a true and eternally beneficent relationship with this God, the creator of all that exists.
But Timothy also came to follow the way Paul lived, how he made decisions and determined the best use of his time. He learned Paul’s purpose for living, namely, the glorification of God and of His Son, Christ Jesus. Timothy absorbed Paul’s love for the church and compassion for those who were held in the darkness of sin. And he saw the way that Paul responded with patience and perseverance to difficulties and the fact that the apostle did not waver in his commitment to Christ despite persecution and affliction. In short, as Paul and Timothy spent this large amount of time together, Timothy’s soul began to mirror that of Paul, and his mind became increasingly attuned to the wavelengths of the apostle’s thinking (Phil. 2:19–22). This is mentoring.
Here is a pattern of pastoral training that must again shape the way that teaching takes place in our seminaries. The necessity of training the mind naturally requires academic excellence. But as seminary professors, our task is not finished when we walk out of the classroom. We need to get to know our students — their joys and heartaches, their hopes, aspirations, and concerns. They need to get to know us — our goals in life, our passions, and even our weaknesses. And this can only be done, if we, like Paul with Timothy, walk with them and they with us. This sort of theological education demands a transparency of soul and a knitting together of hearts, as well as the kindling of flame in the mind. In a very real sense, this sort of theological education and mentoring is patterned on the incarnation.
The great challenge, of course, in this way of incarnational mentoring is that it takes time. For many professors, time seems to be such a scarce commodity. I vividly recall some thirty years ago when I was doing doctoral studies at the University of Toronto, being told by Dr. Richard Longenecker, then my New Testament professor and in some ways a mentor to me, that if I thought I was busy in the doctoral program, just wait until I was teaching. I didn’t believe him, but he was right. Most seminary professors are busy men: teaching in seminary and in the church, as well as seeking to maintain an academic career and be fathers and husbands, sons, and friends. Where will we ever find the time to mentor as Paul did?
Three years before Basil Manly Jr., one of the four founding faculty of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, committed himself to the task of being a seminary professor in 1859, he stated that the “cause of theological education is one dearer to me than almost any other and I esteem no sacrifice too great for its promotion.” The sacrifices that especially he, James Petigru Boyce, and John Broadus were called upon to make for this seminary are well-known. Most seminary professors today are not called to walk such a road of sacrifice as those men were, but I am convinced that something of the spirit that animated Manly’s words must grip us.
Today, more than in the past, we are aware of the very real danger of our ministries crowding out other areas of vital importance — our devotion to wife and children, for example. Thus, while we cannot echo Manly’s sentiments without some qualification, we can nevertheless affirm the key point he was seeking to make. Leadership in the church is so important that we should be prepared to go to great lengths to see future leaders of the church trained. And that training, if it is to be biblical, must involve mentoring à la Paul! This will, of necessity, take time. But, from the point of view of eternity, it will be time well spent.