Note: This article is an excerpt from the book Authentic Spiritual Mentoring, written by Larry Kreider.
Instead of deep and nurturing relationships, too often in today's Church a believer is encouraged to participate in church services, Bible studies, parachurch organizations, or evangelistic ministries in order to bolster his or her faith and "grow strong in the Lord." The theory is that more teaching from God's Word plus more ministry participation equals more spiritual maturity. As important as these involvements may be, such a faulty supposition leads to believers inhaling message after message, book after book, CD after CD, seminar after seminar—all in order to fill a void for real relationship.
The result is a Christian who becomes fat spiritually and fails to interpret what he or she is learning so that he or she can pass it on to others. This person doesn't know how to meaningfully and sacrificially impart his or her life to others because he or she has never been properly parented. Without a role model, he or she remains a spiritual infant, needing to be spoon-fed by the pastor or other Christian worker.
But as God's people, we need to grow up. It is very difficult to do it by ourselves, just as natural infants cannot thrive if left on their own. Babies need the care and nurture of parents, just as believers need practical input from loving parents who delight when their children reach their full potential in Christ.
Looking for Role Models
There are countless examples of spiritual mentoring or spiritual parenting in the Scriptures. Jesus modeled spiritual fatherhood to the 12 disciples. Paul discipled young Timothy. Elijah became a spiritual parent to Elisha. Moses trained Joshua to take his place and lead the children of Israel into the Promised Land. In all of these examples, the protégé was being prepared to stand in the place of his mentor to eventually fulfill God's greater purpose. We need this kind of connection and impartation today.
In the book Connecting: The Mentoring Relationships You Need to Succeed in life, the authors begin their book with a surprising statement: "Research on biblical leaders led to a startling conclusion—few leaders finish well." They go on to say that in cases when leaders in the Bible did finish well, "their relationship to another person significantly enhanced their development."
The apostle Paul knew that imparting a spiritual legacy should be his highest aim, and he was determined to finish well with strong relationships. He was a role model and spiritual father to many in the early church. He very clearly spelled out mentoring as his leadership model: "Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ" (1 Corinthians 11:1); "Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice" (Philippians 4:9).
In other words, "Let me mentor you. Let me be your role model."
After a long absence from his spiritual children in the church at Thessalonica, Paul wrote a letter to them out of his concern that they might interpret his physical absence as proof he didn't care about them. He ended his letter by praying not only that God would direct his way back to them (see 1 Thessalonians 3:11), but also that they would love others in the same way that he loved them (see v. 12). He expected them to take up the loving responsibility of being spiritual parents for others.
The New Testament Church was to model a growing and developing family. Every Christian was to become a spiritual parent!
Calling All Spiritual Parents
Apparently, the church at Corinth needed some extra encouragement from Paul to take up the loving responsibility of becoming spiritual parents. Paul challenged the Corinthian church not to overlook this need: "For though you might have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet you do not have many fathers (1 Corinthians 4:15, nkjv).
Paul noticed that the Corinthian church had many teachers in their spiritual lives, but few spiritual mentors. Since the time Paul had brought them to faith in Christ, many instructors had taught God's Word to the Corinthians. They had heard these instructors and faithfully attended church services, but they then became arrogant in their knowledge of the gospel (see v. 18). They were proud of what they knew, but they were immature as believers. They lacked true parents or mentors to give them proper training and nurturing—to help them put their knowledge into life practice.
Paul knew that in order for the church to grow spiritually, each believer must be in vital relationships with others who had gone down this spiritual road before—otherwise they would be content to do what the "instructors" told them to do rather than learning how to hear from God themselves. This was wisdom that could only be learned as they received mentoring from a loving spiritual father.
To jumpstart the process, Paul told the Corinthians that he was sending Timothy to "remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus" (4:17). Paul had trained Timothy, his beloved and trustworthy spiritual son, and now Timothy would come to train them. Paul trusted Timothy to help the wayward Corinthian church because Paul had trained him like a son. Timothy was ready to impart his spiritual fatherhood to the Corinthian church. With Paul and Timothy's example, the Corinthian church would soon be producing their own spiritual sons and daughters. Paul was confident that when believers see spiritual fathering modeled, they are equipped to pass on a legacy to the next generation.
And that idea didn't stop with Paul and Timothy.
God's intention is to produce spiritual parents who are willing to nurture spiritual children and help them grow into spiritual parents. This is a fulfillment of the Lord's promise to "turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers" (Malachi 4:6).
The Lord is restoring harmony among fathers and their children, both natural and spiritual, so that parents can freely impart their inheritance to the next generation. Children need parents who nurture strong character and assure them that they are valuable—that they are gifts from God. As children mature, they in turn must nurture the next generation.
Everyone is called to be a mentor. We are nurtured as children to become parents.
—Larry Kreider; excerpted from Authentic Spiritual Mentoring (Regal, 2008). Used with permission.