It would be impossible to measure the impact that William Still had on a generation of ministers throughout the latter part of the twentieth century. Although Still is now in glory with Christ, his ministry continues to influence ministers on both sides of the Atlantic in the twenty-first century. I have no doubt that it will continue to do so for decades—even for centuries—to come. His fifty-two-year ministry in Gilcomston South Church in Glasgow, Scotland, had a worldwide impact on expository preaching and pastoral ministry. This was due—at least in part—to the fact that Still poured himself into the lives of many young men preparing for ministry. Some of the most gifted and beloved ministers throughout the world spent time learning from Still at Gilcomston South. From all accounts, William Still was the quintessential ministerial mentor.
As a young seminarian, I frequently heard Sinclair Ferguson speak about the impact that Still had on his own life and preparation for ministry. As he expressed affectionate gratitude for the ways in which his mentor poured into him, welling up in my own heart was a longing to have that same blessed experience. However, there seemed to be two obstacles. The first was a fear of rejection. I was too reticent to ask men I admired if they would mentor me because I knew they might decline. The second was the perception of uninterest. The ministers I most admired seemed to be too engaged in their own ministries to mentor young men preparing for ministry. However right or wrong that fear was—and however true or untrue my perception was—of this much I am sure: I wasn’t asking and they weren’t pursuing. In many discussions I have had with other ministers over the years, this is a commonly shared experience.
We desperately need older, godly, and wise men and women who will sacrificially open their homes, hearts, minds, and lives up to younger men and women.
Growing up, my father used to pray that the Lord would “make us wise beyond our years.” One of the means by which the Lord answers such a prayer is by bringing wise and experienced individuals into our lives to mentor us. We desperately need the wisdom of those who have been used to advance the kingdom and who have braved the storm before us. As Isaac Newton well expressed it, “If I have seen further, it is only by standing on the shoulders of giants.” If that is true with regard to what we gain from reading the writings of those who have gone before us, it is equally so when we receive the friendship and guidance of those who pour themselves into us.
Mentoring has a foundation in Scripture. Whether in the Law, the Wisdom Literature, the Prophets, the Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, or the New Testament Epistles, biblical examples of mentoring abound. For instance, Moses mentored Joshua, David mentored Solomon (consider the ten father-to-son talks throughout the Proverbs), Elijah mentored Elisha, Jesus mentored the disciples, Peter mentored John Mark, and the Apostle Paul poured his life out—not only in service to the church, but also in mentoring his spiritual son, Timothy.
Church history is also full of records of the significant role that mentoring has played in the church. The Apostle John mentored the early church pastor and theologian Polycarp, who in turn mentored Irenaeus of Lyon. Ambrose of Milan mentored Augustine of Hippo. As Augustine confessed:
That man of God received me like a father, and looked with a benevolent and episcopal kindliness on my change of abode. And I began to love him . . . as a man friendly to myself. And I studiously hearkened to him preaching to the people. . . . I hung on his words intently.
Behind Martin Luther stood Johann von Staupitz. John Calvin sat at the feet of William Farel. The list goes on and on.
We desperately need older, godly, and wise men and women who will sacrificially open their homes, hearts, minds, and lives up to younger men and women. We need men and women who will teach us what they have learned through the years and who will set an example for us to follow. But, perhaps even more than that, we need loving older men and women who will walk with us as friends through the challenges we face day in and day out in life and ministry. Please, mentor us.