On Sunday, January 3, the Rev. Tim Taylor talked about mentorship, why it is vital to the church, and why it is good for you personally. You can watch the video of Tim’s talk here, or scroll down for the highlights.
The Three Ages and the Three Stages
In the week following Christmas we hear the story of the wise men, or Magi, bearing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh for the baby Jesus. If you view paintings of this story, you may notice that the three Magi are of different ages: one appears to be old, one middle aged, and one youthful. We might think of ourselves going through these three ages of life: the eager youth, the responsible adult, the wise elder.
In a similar way, there are three distinct stages of mentorship. Early on, we can be an apprentice, receiving guidance and knowledge. Later, we can be a mentor, offering our accumulated wisdom. And in between, we can be a partner, walking alongside and sharing.
In your life, who can you relate to in mentorship? Who are your Magi? In the book of Acts, the three stages of mentorship are reflected in the stories of three of the early church leaders: Timothy, the young disciple eager and willing to go anywhere; Paul, the elder disciple who wrote the letters that laid out the foundations of living a Christian life; and Barnabas, the middle-aged disciple who facilitated the spreading and the strengthening of the early church. In their mentorship roles they helped build the early church.
Mentorship builds up the church. That is why we are called to mentorship roles. If we use biblical references, we can say that we are called to
- Pursue a Paul
- Train a Timothy
- Be a Barnabas
Paul – The Elder
A mentor in faith is someone who embodies Christian values, has a strong understanding of the faith, and is willing to share those values and wisdom with others. A mentor brings a young person along into the faith. Paul, the well-known author of the letters in the New Testament, was a mentor to the young Timothy as can be seen in the letters he wrote to Timothy. Paul’s final charge to Timothy, in 2 Timothy 3:10-15, gives a nice picture of both mentor and apprentice. Paul, nearing his final days, prepares Timothy to go forth, warns of the hardships ahead, but inspires him to persevere comforted by his learning and his knowledge of Christ’s salvation.
Where can you find your Paul? Is there someone in your life who lives a healthy Christian life and who can nurture you? You may find you have several Pauls in your life, some of whom may be accidental Pauls. For example, a child might find a mentor in a family aunt or uncle. The aunt or uncle nurtures the child through both word and deed. Words can explain, they can encourage, and they can help the child to explore. Through deeds the aunt or uncle models a way of life that is attractive, that brings health and happiness.
Not all mentors enter your life as individuals. You may find mentorship in groups such as the monthly Men’s Supper Club and in the organized events like the introductory course Walking the Way at St. John’s.
Other mentors you not even know personally; writers can serve as mentors. For Rev. Tim, the writer Philip Yancey, whose days growing up in a “toxic church” sent him on a long journey seeking a fulfilling understanding of God and of the Christian faith, made a deep impression. Other writers that Tim has found helpful are John Stott, author of Basic Christianity, and James Bryan Smith, author of The Good and Beautiful series of books.
Timothy – The Apprentice
In our youth we may be idealistic and full of enthusiasm, ready to go out and conquer the world. But we don’t get far because our idealism prevents us from understanding the complexities and mysteries that will confront us. What we need is to have a mentor to help us learn about the ways of the world, to be a guide in figuring out a healthy set of values, and to comfort us when we make mistakes.
Paul’s letters to Timothy reflect Paul’s admiration for the young man. Timothy accompanies Paul on his second missionary journey to various towns. Timothy grows in faith and maturity, so much that Paul entrusts him to travel on his own to Ephesus to resolve some problems in their church, while Paul continues on elsewhere.
Over time, someone who was your Timothy can become your Paul. You may nurture a young person to develop a healthy faith and an open mind. Years later, that person may return to you and might say: “Remember when you said such-and-such? I was thinking about it recently and have decided it should be thus-and-thus.” You find your own understanding growing though those who you helped so many years ago.
Who are the Timothys in your life? They could be your children. They could be young adults in your life. They could be young people that you engage with perhaps in church activities or events. They could well be people you don’t directly engage with, but who observe what you do and how you act.
Barnabas – The Encourager
We don’t hear much about Barnabas, but he played a vital role in the formation of the early church. He was able to connect with people, and to recognize the strengths they could bring to Christian ministry. After Paul’s dramatic conversion to faith in Christ, Paul wished to join the disciples but was rebuffed due to mistrust. It was Barnabas that recognized Paul’s faith and persuaded the disciples to accept him.
Barnabas is like the person who walks alongside you in your journey of faith. When you have doubts, a Barnabas is someone who can help you understand why you have those doubts and suggests possibilities for resolving those doubts. When something needs doing, a Barnabas knows who is the best person able and ready to get it done. If you are unsure of your own worthiness, a Barnabas can help you discover your strengths and know your own self worth.
Who are the Barnabases in your own life? Perhaps a spouse or family member who brought you into the Christian fold. Perhaps a pastor who walked with you in your journey, who challenged your ideas about the faith, and who encouraged you in your development. Perhaps a good friend with whom you mutually support each other during personal difficulties.
You might find a Barnabas in the organized groups at St. John’s. Compass groups are good places – these small groups study scripture and other writings, but their members also care for each other. You could also find a Barnabas by kindling a friendship – it could be as easy as picking up the phone and calling or texting someone and suggesting a time to meet and chat over coffee.
Mentors build the Church
What would St. John’s look like if we all engaged in mentorship? It would be something great, because mentors build the church by bringing new people to the faith, and by strengthening their faith and lovingness through the work of the Holy Spirit. As William Temple, the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1942-44 said, “The Church is the only society that exists for the benefit of those who are not its members.”
makes life better.
So be called to:
Pursue a Paul,
Train a Timothy,
Be a Barnabas.