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Discipleship 101: Modern Objections to Mentoring

Last Updated: November 3, 2020

Luke Gilkerson

Luke Gilkerson has a BA in Philosophy and Religious Studies and an MA in Religion. He is the author of Coming Clean: Overcoming Lust Through Biblical Accountability and The Talk: 7 Lessons to Introduce Your Child to Biblical Sexuality. Luke and his wife Trisha blog at IntoxicatedOnLife.com

In yesterday’s post we asked why more Christians don’t seek out mentorship in their walk of faith? Why don’t more elderly Christians seek younger Christians to take under their wings? Why don’t many elder men and women get close enough to others in the church so they model godly living (1 Peter 5:1-3)? Why don’t many older Christians follow the model Jesus gave us, to walk closely with those who need mentorship?

Overall, I see at least three major objections to modern-day mentorship. They are . . .

Objection #1: “But they shouldn’t follow me. They should follow Christ.”

At times we avoid mentoring and being mentored because we want the focus of our lives to be Christ, not a human teacher. It is true Jesus spoke out against the so-called “rabbis” of his day, men who did not practice what they preached. He told his disciples they were never to take the titles of rabbi or instructor, “for you have one teacher . . .  you have one instructor, the Christ” (Matthew 23:8-11). We are to avoid honorary titles that invoke a sense of self-righteousness or supreme authority.

And yet Paul could say to the church at Corinth: “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). As a Jewish man, raised in a rabbi-talmud (master-disciple) context, he understood the value of mentoring, modeling, and mimicking. Notice how this simple statement demolished our false attitudes about discipleship:

  • Our teachers are meant to be windows through which we see Christ. Paul knew he wasn’t the ultimate model of virtue: Christ alone is our sinless example. Paul’s command was to imitate him insofar as he is an imitator of Christ. We are first disciples of Jesus, and only secondarily disciples of our human teachers.
  • We are meant, nonetheless, to imitate our human teachers. Paul encouraged his churches to follow his example (1 Thessalonians 1:6; 2:14). Read more of Paul’s thoughts on this, “For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. I urge you, then, be imitators of me. That is why I sent you Timothy, my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach them everywhere in every church” (1 Corinthians 4:15-17). Paul discipled those in Corinth. After he left, the church fell into division and immorality. So to correct this he not only sent them his letter of correction, but he sent another trusted disciple, Timothy, a man he trusted to model his way of life. Paul knew Christian growth was more than knowing the Word of God: it’s seeing that Word become flesh.

Objection #2: “But we go to church and read our Bibles. We don’t need mentorship.”

Some want to reduce discipleship to Sunday morning sermons, Sunday school classes, Bible reading, good books, and the occasional conference. Jesus certainly had times of formal teaching (Matthew 5-7; 13:36-43), but much of what the disciples learned was by watching Jesus. His group of twelve was set apart, not just for more teaching, but “so that they might be with him” (Mark 3:12).

Consider the statement in the book of Hebrews: “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:7-8). It is not merely about the word we hear preached, but our lives of faith. Mature teachers are meant to not only open the word to us, but to open their lives to us so we might see how they live. The unchanging Christ will transform our way of life just as sure as he transformed theirs.

Objection #3: “I don’t want to get that close to someone.”

Knowing and being known: these are two deep longings of the human heart, and (ironically) also the cause of some of our deepest fears. Potential mentors dislike the idea of opening their lives to others, their victories and failures, their triumphs and struggles. Potential mentees dislike the idea of a mentor somehow exposing an area of weakness or need for growth. Surface relationships not only take less time, they don’t run the risk of letting someone in.

On more than one occasion the disciples of Jesus had an urge to pull back from Him, to engage in their own private debates hoping the Master didn’t hear just how faithless and selfish they were (Matthew 16:5-12; Mark 9:30-37; Luke 22:24-27). This is a fear of being truly known. Each time Jesus came in as the Faithful Rabbi, not letting any stone of self-centeredness to remain unturned.

When Peter saw the miraculous catch of fish from his own boat, he fell down on his knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” He didn’t want Jesus to find out just how sinful he really was. But Jesus did not let that deter Him. He told Peter, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” And that day Peter and his fishing partners left the boats and nets and followed Him.