3 People You’d Never Want to Mentor–and Why Jesus Did . . .

When you hear the word “mentoring,” what do you picture? Maybe you picture a wise, savvy, seasoned leader pouring himself into a young, bright-eyed, potential-laden young person. Hungry to learn, he hangs on every word of this ministry sage, eager to immediately apply every lesson. It’s a beautiful picture–one of passing on lessons learned from one generation to the next.

youth ministry, student ministry, small groups, disciple-making, discipleship, Christian, teaching

(Photo by Andreas Øverland at Creative Commons)

Or, maybe you picture a mentoring group. Six or eight young leaders meet weekly with a veteran youth worker. Together, they study books, share stories, and learn from her years of wisdom. Their lives are forever marked by her presence and heart.

If you mention ‘mentoring’ at a youth ministry conference, you hear lots of guttural affirmations (“Mmm,” “Ahh,” and other such responses). It’s almost like we can all sense how important mentoring is, but we can’t find the words to actually describe it. And somehow, although we know it is vitally important, it never seems to go quite the way we imagined.

Maybe the wise, savvy, veteran leader doesn’t feel like he has time or resources to mentor someone younger. Or, maybe she doesn’t know how. And, often, the potential-laden young person is too arrogant or self-assured to bother with the advice of someone older. And then, there’s the questions of how and what: How do I mentor someone, and what do they need to know?

Turns out mentoring is a lot easier in our imagination than in real life.

I wonder if Jesus ever felt any of those things. I mean, can you imagine what it was like to mentor Peter, James, and John? There were so, so many reasons that it shouldn’t have worked. For starters, they weren’t exactly, well . . . bright. Acts 4 tells us that they were ‘ordinary, unschooled men.’ Their primary skill set was saying the wrong thing. It’s James and John who ask permission to call down fire from heaven on a Samaritan Village (Lk 9). Peter tells Jesus that he’s wrong to want to go to the cross (Mt 16). And of course, each of them promise to never deny Jesus, and then abandon Him at the crucifixion. And, their problems don’t end there. Arrogance? Check. Power plays? Yep. Failure? By the truck load. Failure to learn? It took Jesus–God’s son–three years to make any progress with them. They weren’t exactly ideal candidates for the company award for ‘promising young leader.’

And, it cost Jesus so much to mentor them. In fact, it’s almost tempting to wonder if it was truly time well spent. When Jesus preached, thousands responded. When He did miracles, He radically changed people’s lives forever. When He cast out demons, He freed people’s hearts from unimaginable bondage. But mentoring Peter, James, and John? It must have looked pretty foolish in the moment. Can you imagine?! Here Jesus is, the savior of the universe, the greatest teacher in history, God’s gift to the world (literally!), and He’s spending this ridiculous amount of time with some stinky, rough, uneducated fishermen.

It’s clear He spent a lot of time with them. Nearly every story in the gospels features Peter, James, or John as a primary character. It’s Peter who walks on water. It’s James and John who ask for a place of honor in the kingdom. In fact, only Peter, James, and John get to witness Jesus in His glory, at the transfiguration. And only Peter, James, and John, go to the garden of Gethsemane to keep Jesus company while He sweats drops of blood. This was an intimate, deep, time-intensive relationship. They experienced the highest of highs and the lowest of lows with Jesus. It cost Him more than any other relationship on earth.

And it was worth it.

It probably didn’t look like much of a strategy at the time. Spending ridiculous amounts of time with ordinary fishermen didn’t seem like much of a strategy to set up a kingdom. But–with a lot of help from the Holy Spirit–it paid off, big time.

It’s Peter who preaches the first message in the early church, and 3,000 people respond.

It’s James who sets the example for the early church as one of her first martyrs.

It’s John who lives late into the first century, guiding the young church as her Elder.

It’s Peter who leads the early church with courage and strength, and then embraces his opportunity to follow in Christ’s death.

It’s John who gives us the fourth gospel–and a view into Christ’s heart.

Without Peter, James, and John, everything is different.

Mentoring costs. It costs time. It costs saying ‘yes’ to other opportunities. It demands vulnerability and messiness and intentionality. It’s slow, hidden, exhausting work. It feels small and insignificant.

And it’s worth it.

How have you seen mentoring pay-off? And what are the biggest obstacles to a good mentoring relationship?

Tomorrow: The “how-to’s” of mentoring . . .

  • Catalin Dieaconu

    The pastors, or leaders, think that the “mentoring” is coming or happening trough preaching, teaching, retreats, confferences, biblie schools etc. The Christ-Mentoring its Life-to-Life! Thanks for the article, Rob!

    • Catalin, you’re so right! I tried to touch on that a bit in today’s article, which I just posted. Thanks for contributing to the conversation!

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