“A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher” (Luke 6:40).
Becoming like Christ is often caught more than taught. Often our character is shaped more by our mentors than by the books we read or the sermons we hear. In the early church this dynamic was called discipleship, and it is one of the missing jewels of the church today.
Here’s a profound theological thought: When God sent His Son into the world, He came as a first-century Galilean rabbi (Mark 9:5; John 1:38; 20:16). The rabbi-talmud (master-disciple) relationship was a rich, transformative relationship. It was not merely comprised of a lecturer-listener dynamic, nor was it a teacher-student relationship. It certainly involved the transmission of information, but there was something far deeper going on. A disciple doesn’t merely want to know what the teacher knows: he wants to be the rabbi.
This profound historical truth should give us pause when we consider how God wired us to learn and grow. Could it be we all need mature shepherds who not only tell us the way to go, but show us (1 Peter 5:1-3)? Could it be we are meant to have our elders share not only their theology with us, but share with us their very lives (2 Thessalonians 2:8)? Could it be one of the primary means of grace in the church is mentorship?
We Need Each Other
The apostle John gave this stirring address to his church family:
“Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.”
“I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven for his name’s sake.
I am writing to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning.
I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one.
I write to you, children, because you know the Father.
I write to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning.
I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one” (1 John 2:9-14).
We are a church of spiritual fathers, young men, and children, and we are all called to love each other as brothers. These three generations in the church need to stand shoulder to shoulder:
- Spiritual fathers, you know Him who is from the beginning. You have a rich, personal knowledge of Christ. We need your theology, your aged wisdom, and your lifetime of experiences that have helped you to know Christ deeply. We need you to be true elders to us.
- Young men in the faith, the word of God abides in you and you have overcome the evil one. You are the true spiritual warriors among us. We need your strength, your youthful idealism, and your fresh perspectives. We need to hear of your latest victories and challenges.
- Spiritual children, you know the Father. You recently entered God’s family and know the sweetness of calling God your Father. We need your sincere, simple, and pure devotion to Christ among us.
A Vision for Discipleship
In the Talmud we read this blessing from Rabbi Akiva: “Always be covered in the dust of the rabbi and drink in his words as though you are very thirsty.” His prayer was that a disciple would walk so closely with his rabbi that the very dust from the rabbi’s feet would kick back on to him. (I pray that this will be our relationship to Jesus, first and foremost).
But I also pray we make it our aim to have a close, dynamic relationship with the mentors available to us. This is a dream articulated well by Dr. Larry Crabb in his book, The Silence of Adam. I leave you with his words:
I have a dream. Only time will tell if it is truly from God. I think it is.
My dream is really quite simple. As I look thirty years into the future, I see a few groups scattered here and there, across the Christian landscape, where godly character and spiritual wisdom are more honored than degrees and skill, and more valued than achievement and expertise. . . .
In my dream, I see these people doing something that very few are doing today in real life. I see them walking past the office that has a shingle advertising a professional whose training guarantees technical competence but not godly character. I see them returning books to the shelf of the Christian bookstore: the books with jackets that falsely promise now what only heaven will later provide. I see them picking up a flyer promoting the seminar everyone is talking about, looking at it, then putting it down.
I see these people stumbling into the living room of a lonely widow, making their way to the coffee shop to spend a couple hours with the tired widower, knocking on the door of a study where someone waits who is clothed with humility and eager for heaven, someone who is unself-consciously faithful as he warmly points to Christ.
I envision a generation in which mentors are not in such short supply, in which pastors and elders are once again held in high esteem because they pastor and elder, in which Christian leaders are no longer asked to manage ministries the way executives build corporations, but rather are revered as men of godly influence. If I look hard into my dream, I can see an army of wise men and women distributed among God’s people, armed only with gentle discernment and penetrating wisdom, character qualities that have been forged in the fires of suffering . . . . These men are FATHERS, these women are MOTHERS, godly people whose quiet presence is felt and valued.”