Remember those days when you were first learning to swim, perhaps with your father or mother standing beside the swimming pool, encouraging you to jump in and they would catch you? Perhaps it was learning to ride a two-wheeled bike for the first time and your parent (or maybe a trusted older sibling) was keeping you up, saying “trust me, I’ve got you.” Perhaps the thing to which you can relate is stepping out in a business venture and your partner or backers saying, “trust me, you got this!”
We rely a great deal on trust…and to some extent, if you don’t place your trust in others you end up becoming a curmudgeon and a cynic and you isolate yourselves from relationships. But even though trust is a part of most of our relationships, often we do not spend much time thinking about what trust happens to be.
The dictionary defines trust in terms of your “belief in the reliability” of another — in other words, it points to someone or something that is outside of you upon which you rely. In many ways, the word is almost synonymous with the word, “faith.” Trust is that recognition that if you rely upon another person, they will not let you down.
And so, when the Catechism, in Question 21, asks about true faith, it speaks of having a sincere trust that the Holy Spirit works in me through the Gospel. What is this all about? The Spirit has many roles in the life of the believer — he is counselor (John 16:7), teacher (John 14:26; 1 John 2:27), and giver of gifts (1 Corinthians 12:4-11) amongst other things. But most basically, His role is to conform the life of the believer into the image of the Son.
How does the Spirit do this? The most basic way he does this task is through the Gospel — through the word studied and preached and applied to the life of the Christian. We might even more simply speak of this in the context of the “ordinary means of grace” or in the context of the “keys of the kingdom,” both of which we will talk about more later in this catechism.
And so, an aspect of True faith, or saving faith as some would put it, is the trust that the Spirit is at work in me, conforming me into the image of God’s Son (Romans 8:29) — in other words, that tomorrow I might look more like Jesus than I did today. Trusting also implies that we act upon that trust — striving as empowered by the Holy Spirit toward this goal of honoring Christ, whether through applying the Ten Commandments to my life as a way to grow in my sanctification or in seeking to be obedient to the many other commands we would see Jesus, our Lord, set before us. In other words, genuine trust requires an action on my part — a response to that trust — jumping in the pool, riding the bike, entering that business venture. We act in faith in the confidence that the Spirit is acting in us through the Gospel.
And note one more thing…it is the trust that the Spirit is acting in us through the Gospel — this does not require (or even speak of!) supernatural works (this I would argue, ended at the close of the first century with the close of the Canon). It is through the Gospel — the written revelation of God contained in the Bible. A humble and faithful life, rooted in the Word of God, is a far greater testimony than all the “miracles” that man might like to think he can produce.
“These are the days of the years of Abraham’s life which he lived: one-hundred and seventy-five years. Abraham perished and died with good grey hair, an old man and fulfilled. And he was gathered to his people.”
These are the final words recorded in the narrative of the life of Abraham. What follows relates his burial and the transition in God’s covenant story from Abraham’s life to that of Isaac. Even so, here we have the scriptural epitaph for this man of God. His days were full and long, he died with a full head of grey hair (a sign of maturity), and he was gathered to his people — his spirit joined the spirits of all those other believers who had passed on ahead of him in the presence of their almighty God. Though it is brief (as are all epitaphs), as far as epitaphs go, this is just about as good as it gets.
There is something that we have lost in our modern pursuit of youth, and that is the respect and honor due to those elders in our midst. Too often we see them as slow, not up to date, and a burden, when we ought to see them as a great treasure and repository of wisdom. Those grey hairs were earned and thus things to be held in honor, not hidden under layers of dye or relegated to being “old fashioned.” That grey head of Abraham signifies more than his old age — it signifies the wisdom that those many years brought to his life. His death marked not only the passing on of the covenant responsibility from himself to his son, but the passing away of wisdom and experience from this world — something that must be mourned.
Notice that the passing away of one with great wisdom is a community affair — all recognize their corporate loss as well as the family’s immediate loss. Again, in a culture that glamorizes the vibrancy of youth, often the wisdom of maturity is neglected. Yet, as the word of God brings a close to Abraham’s life, it does so with great dignity and grace and from that we can learn as we honor the passing of those in our own midst.
For about 5 years I have been teaching High School students how important it is to have a mentor and how to go about seeking someone to mentor them. We talk about setting goals, knowing what you would like to achieve, and about looking for a man or woman who has achieved those goals already who might be willing to serve as a mentor. We also talk a great deal about the character of the person sought as a mentor and how that character reflects that person’s commitment to Christ. And we also talk about how to approach such a candidate for mentoring purposes without making that person feel like they are tying themselves into a long-term relationship.
All of this is fine and good. We need mentors at every level—I seek out mentors myself. Of late, though, I have realized that I have concentrated primarily on the ascending relationship of finding mentors and that I have not focused much on looking downward (if you will allow me the analogy)—the looking for someone to mentor. And, to be more specific than that, as a Christian leader, I have been reflecting on the principle of looking for people to mentor for the express purpose of evangelism, not just to replicate the successes you have had in the lives of others.
Usually, as we walk though life, we are all pretty self-centered. Sorry to offend if I have stepped on toes, but all of us can be pretty-self serving if left to our own devices. We want people to mentor us so that we can get ahead in business or in other personal goals. We even want to mentor others so that we can replicate ourselves in them…sometimes even living vicariously through the person we have sought to mentor. We do it as Christians and we even do it in the Christian church. How often we attract people to the church by attracting them to the pastor (his messages, his vision, etc…). I am suggesting that the model needs to be rethought.
The Apostle Paul told the church that they should seek to imitate him, but he did not end there. Paul said that the church should imitate him so that they may imitate Christ as they see Christ in him (1 Corinthians 11:1; 1 Thessalonians 1:6). In addition, both Paul and the writer of Hebrews affirmed that we ought to watch believers who are more mature than we are to learn about Christ from them (Philippians 3:17; 1 Thessalonians 2:14; Hebrews 13:7). The principle is that we attract to ourselves with the purpose of turning to Christ.
So, what model am I proposing? To begin with, I propose a mentoring model that is driven from the top, not from the bottom. Highly motivated people will always seek out mentors above them; those who are Christians and leaders in the community ought to start aggressively looking for those they would like to mentor and then invest time and resources into that person. Take them out to lunch several times, learn their goals and aspirations, and build a relationship with that young man or young woman. Then, use that relationship as an opportunity to evangelize those who you are mentoring.
To take that and apply that to a church context, pastors ought not stop at attracting people to themselves, but should attract people to themselves for the purpose of pointing people not only to Christ but also to those in the congregation who are mature in their faith. Thus the pastor functions as one who creates mentoring opportunities between two others within his congregational context.
To a degree, churches that are building small groups are accomplishing something like this model—groups of people living life together. I am not knocking small groups, they are necessary for building community, but where the small group model can fall short is in two ways. First, small groups typically do not exist to spawn other small groups; the purpose of a small group is to live life-on-life together in a relationship that grows deep over a long period and is not necessarily focused on growing wide. The small group model essentially takes a group of people who are at roughly the same point in their spiritual walk and grows them together. Sometimes small groups will grow and spin off other small groups; this happens best as an organic division (a younger leader is rising up and is ready to “spread his wings”) and not as a programmed split (if you tell people that they will be part of this small group for two years and then split off, the relationships will never grow vulnerable, transparent, or deep).
Mentoring, though has a different goal in its sights. Mentoring’s purpose is to take someone and assist them in reaching a specific goal. There are markers and the relationship is designed to be temporary. My role as a mentor, typically, is to help identify untapped potential in you and to help you grow in your gifts to a certain end; either to accomplish a specific goal I have already achieved or to exceed the plateau that I have reached. Mentoring relationships are deep, but in a very limited respect in that the depth is focused not on life in general, but upon the specific goal and purpose that is in sight.
The second area in which the small group model sometimes falls short is that small groups can become disconnected from other small groups within the church body—especially when the church is larger. There may be unity within groups “x” and “y” respectively, but many times, not unity between those in groups “x” and “y.” Some of this “inter-group” unity can be achieved through group projects or if co-workers, family, or friends are spread between multiple small groups. Also, said connections can be found when people in various small groups serve in the larger church fellowship—fellow Sunday School teachers, on the music team, etc…
Yet, to use the analogy that Paul employs in 1 Corinthians 12, the body is not made up of a bunch of isolated parts or parts that only occasionally come together. In the body, all of the parts exist organically together and in harmony. We are accustomed to reflecting on this passage in terms of individuals, but the analogy also applies to small groups. The reality is that none of us are a hand or a foot or a kidney unto ourselves, but we are individual cells that are part of the hand, foot, or kidney. In a small group model, the groups as a whole are the body parts and need a means by which they can be bonded together. The “coming together” of the church body on Sunday is part of that equation, but body parts do not occasionally come together; they exist together in connection as a whole.
The model that I am suggesting pictures the church body as a giant, interconnected network—a giant constellation per say—where everyone is connected to one or two mentors and one or two people they are mentoring. This is not meant as a replacement for small groups, but an addition to. To continue with the body analogy, the network of mentoring relationships being like the network of nerves or capillaries that transport life-giving blood to every body part and provide an inter-connected network by which the small groups never become isolated from the whole. And that the mentoring process be used for the intentional purpose of evangelism and discipling (Great Commission) as well as be designed to grow intentionally outward into the community around us and not inward. In other words, while typically small groups exist to serve the church, the mentoring network not only connects the church parts internally, but connects the church externally to the community.
If this model is done well, you will even find mentoring relationships between local church bodies. This is not for the purpose of stealing people from one local fellowship to another, but to build up the kingdom. Remember, Christ has one body (now we are applying this to inter-Church relationships), there needs to be an interconnectivity between Bible believing churches that runs deeper than the local pastors’ association. Surely we would all agree that any one of our towns or cities are large enough that no one church is big enough to effectively be salt and light for the whole. Getting on mission means getting out and being that witness in our community, but it also means that those who are not against us are for us (Mark 9:40; Luke 9:50).
In this context, part of the role of the pastor is to know existing members well enough that new people to the church can be introduced not only to small groups, but to members that will reach out to them and provide them with mentoring. Also, it is his job to know the community well enough that he can connect mature Christians in his church to those who could use mentoring (and evangelization) in the community…kind of like a spiritual match-making service (though I detest the analogy).
It should be noted that this model is almost impossible to monitor. In a church that is large enough to support a connectional pastor, perhaps he can facilitate such relationships, but for most of us who pastor either single or small-staff churches, it is not realistically feasible to know who is mentoring whom throughout your church network. At the same time, that is the organic nature of the church. We are not simply a mechanical organization with rules and guidelines that can be easily charted, but we are a living and breathing entity—structured indeed, we are not a blob from outer-space—and just as a medical doctor does not always know everything that is going on within you, but will have a good sense of your overall health, so too the pastor and leadership of the church will have a sense of what is going on, but may not be able to map out the ever changing network of mentoring relationships.
Yet, is this not the relationship we find in the Bible and in the early church (one where having large buildings and facilities was not possible ala Roman law). Barnabas saw what God was doing in Paul and facilitated Paul’s connection with the Apostles in Jerusalem. Paul identified Timothy for the purpose of mentoring him. Timothy was instructed to find others to mentor who would hold fast to the faith handed down from person to person, generation to generation. We are part of that giant mentoring network through history and mentoring happens within our churches in ways that none of us are aware. But where I believe our churches need to go is to the next step where we become intentional about creating the network of mentoring relationships inside and outside of our church body with a specific aim of evangelizing those whom we have sought out to mentor.