Who Is A Mentor?
According to the definition from Oxford Languages, a mentor is “an experienced and trusted adviser.” A mentor nurtures and grooms the people under them, offering them ‘personalized services,’ if you will. In Christendom, these services include, but are not limited to, praying for them, explaining some difficult concepts to them, advising them, giving them tasks to complete. Some of these programs are properly structured, others are not. Also, some are more formal than others.
Some Christians, however, argue that Christians should not use the word, ‘mentor’ or ‘role model’ to describe a person in that role. They consider such words as being secular (worldly) and propose ‘spiritual’ words like discipler (which, by the way, does not exist in the English language), teacher, father-in-the-Lord (one whose ministry or teaching brought you to Christ), etc. In this post, I am not so much as concerned with the word form as with the contextual meaning. They all generally refer to the same basic principle of showing someone the ropes in a more personal way. The keyword here is personal, indicating that you must have some kind of personal relationship with this person.
Further, some Christians think it absolutely crucial to a Christian’s growth to have a Christian mentor all through their journey on earth, but especially in their early years as a Christian. Others de-emphasize such ‘need.’ In my own opinion, however, I believe that there is a place for mentors or personal teachers and leaders or role models in Christianity. For instance, as a pastor or children minister, I think it is essential that you have someone who has been in the ministry long before you showing you some pitfalls to avoid. There’s no need to learn from your own mistakes when you can learn from another’s.
How Can I Get One?
As a Christian in general, I do not believe that you should choose your own mentor by yourself. It should be entirely the work of the Spirit. I believe the Holy Spirit mostly leads them to you and rarely leads you to them. This is evident from the Scriptures – when the Holy Spirit led Ananias to pray for and baptize Paul in Acts 9:10-19, when the angel of God instructed Philip to go to the Ethiopian eunuch to explain to him what he (the eunuch) was reading and to baptize him in Acts 8:26-38, when Paul found Timothy (2 Timothy 1:6), when Paul initially rejected to have Mark as his disciple (Acts 15:37-38) but later ask to have him (2 Timothy 4:11), Barnabas chose Mark as his disciple (Acts 15:39), Paul chose Silas (Acts 15:40) – and the Scripture is full of so many other examples of mentors choosing their own mentees (Samuel chose Saul and later David, both at God’s command) and not the other way round.
Further, the biggest example we have is our Lord Jesus Christ who chose His twelve disciples Himself – Luke 6:12-16. None of them came to say, “Hey Lord, please choose me.” Also, notice that He only did that after praying all night – Luke 6:12. This tells us that it was God who sent Him to the twelve. In fact, to the one person we read about who asked Jesus to mentor him, Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens to live in, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place even to lay his head,” – Luke 9:57-58. In other words, you can become one of my disciples, but I may not be able to offer you personalized services like I would the twelve; the house is full for that particular offer. Yet, to another man, Jesus basically said, “I’d like to mentor you,” – Luke 9:59a, paraphrased. This proves that the mentor is the one who seeks out the mentee.
Don’t get me wrong, there are examples in the Bible where mentees asked their mentors for mentorship (like in the case of Ruth and Naomi in Ruth 1:16), however, those were special cases and rarely happened. But what do we see these days? We see people moving entirely in the flesh out of the desire to be among those who would claim to have mentors. They go seeking out mentors whose style of teaching or lifestyle they agree with or want to have. Some of them end up having multiple mentors since there are many people that can comfortably fit into that category. Now, I’m not saying you can’t have ‘countless teachers in Christ’ – 1 Corinthians 4:15. But what I mean by a mentor in the context of this post is one who offers you personalized help, more like a therapist would. It is not advisable to have several therapists or teachers of the same subject. That could just end up making you discombobulated and worse than you were at the beginning.
Let me let you in on a secret. I don’t have a mentor (yet), not because I have not desired it. In fact, for years, I had prayed to God to lead me to my mentor. Again, do you see what is wrong with that prayer? My focus was on having a mentor more than it was on the benefits of having one. Each time I prayed, God would ask me whether He was not enough for me. I brought several arguments to try to convince Him about why I needed one, but He would tell me, “If and when you do need a mentor, I will send you one. But for now, depend entirely on my Spirit within you.” Of a truth, He has sent several of His ministers to me to help me along my spiritual journey. Some of them stayed longer than the others, but not of them stayed on permanently as a mentor because that was beyond the jurisdiction of their assignment to me. So, they gave me the word from God and moved on. Sometimes, I tried to follow them. On five different occasions from my teenage years in high school to my adult years in the university, I met five different men and women of God and told them I wanted them to become my mentors. After each time, I got a rebuke from God, telling me He had not sent me to those people and so I should not return to them. And to prove that He did not ordain them for that role in my life, those ministers never called back to ask me why I hadn’t returned to them.
Your True Mentor
You see, a mentor is actually the one who does more of the work. She/he pursues you steadfastly and is extremely patient with you. They may hurt within and sometimes cry when you disobey them, but they keep coming back to you and praying for you in their private time. So you see that the only person that can be this consistent with you is the person who has been sent to you by God and therefore engraced by Him, not the ones you ‘throw’ yourself at. The mentor is the one who pursues the mentee most times, especially during their formative years as baby Christians. Listen to how the Apostle Paul describes it,
Oh, my dear children! I feel as if I’m going through labour pains for you again, and they will continue until Christ is fully developed in your lives.Galatians 4:19, NLT
I have first-hand knowledge about how Paul must have felt because I have a few people whom God has sent me to mentor. I know how much work it involves and I know I have to give an account to God in the end about how I handled them. Those people did not find me, I found them, and sometimes, in unplanned and remarkable ways (the kind you see in movies), proving that it was entirely God who sent me to them. I did not and do not reject the ones who come to me by themselves, but I find that I am struggling with actually doing the work of mentoring people when they come to me without being led by God.
Another way to know that God has truly sent someone to mentor you is that, when they rebuke you (believe me, there’s a place for rebukes in mentorship), you don’t stop following them. This is because God gives several graces both to the mentor and the mentee. There’s the grace of love with absolute purity (1 Timothy 5:2), patience, forgiveness, understanding, peace, etc. So, you have to be patient with God, focus on Him and let Him, not you, decide if and/or when you should have a mentor.
The last point I want to make on this matter is that God expects us to live a balanced life between consulting Him directly and consulting other people. If you misapply this principle, you could end up going too far to the one side and falling into the pit of pride, or going too far to the other and falling into the mud of idolatry. You could fall into the sin of pride if you thought that God would always speak to you (about yourself) and that He couldn’t speak to you through other people or means. On the other hand, you could fall into the sin of idolizing people (mentors, pastors, Christian friends, etc.) if you always relied on them to be able to know God’s plans and directions for your life. The correct way to apply this principle is to be totally led by the Spirit of God. When you are completely surrendered to God, you will be led by His Spirit and will always be able to discern whether to further seek advice from other people or not, and whether to take a particular piece of advice or not. Remember, it is the same Spirit that works in every true Christian (1 Corinthian 12:6, 11). “For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God [true Christians],” – Romans 8:14, brackets mine.
In conclusion, remember that a mentor is only there to help you learn to hear from God by yourself and to tackle some challenges as a Christian. They have the Spirit and so do you. They are led by the Spirit and so should you. The one constant denominator is the Spirit of God. Therefore, one’s dependence on a mentor should wane as they grow spiritually and become increasingly dependent on the Holy Spirit of God.
God bless you.
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I was around 5 when, I am strongly convinced, I first heard the distinct voice of God. But, not until I was 11 (2002) did I have a personal encounter with Him. I was in my room that night, about to pray before bed, when I saw a revelation of how filthy my heart was. I didn't argue with God that I was too young to have such amount of filth ('cause I believed I was a 'good boy,' by human standards, at least). I simply cried uncontrollably in brokenness of heart - "The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit. You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God" (Psalm 51:17) - and He didn't.
Still crying uncontrollably, I left my room and went to the living room, where my parents were watching the nightly news on TV. After I managed to tell them about the revelation I saw, my sweet mum took me to her room and led me to Christ. I got saved that night. And 6 years later, I discovered my purpose and assignment on earth, which is raising up men and women to be godly, and teaching them the simplicity of Christianity. More than a decade later, I am still fulfilling that purpose to His glory. Hallelujah!