The word “mentor” is defined as “a wise and trusted counselor or teacher.” Although “mentoring” doesn’t appear in the Bible, Scripture does give us numerous examples of mentoring. Moses was mentored by his father-in-law Jethro, first as son-in-law and then as a leader (Exodus 18). The mentoring relationship between Eli and Samuel prepared Samuel for the tasks and responsibilities that were his after Eli’s death (1 Samuel 1–4). Jesus mentored His disciples (Luke 9), and both Barnabas and Paul excelled in mentoring (Acts 9–15).
Jesus made His style of mentoring clear: He led so that we can follow. He said, “If anyone will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). Because He is our leader and we are to follow Him, Christian mentoring is a process dependent upon submission to Christ. Neither the mentor nor the candidate controls the relationship. As such, the process is best characterized by mutual sharing, trust, and enrichment as the life and work of both participants is changed. The mentor serves as a model and a trusted listener. The mentor relies on the Holy Spirit to provide insight, change lives, and teach through the modeling process.
The Apostle Paul spelled out mentoring as his leadership model very simply. “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 4:9a). In essence, he is saying, “Let me mentor you. Let me be your role model.” He reminds the new Christians at Thessalonica to “follow our example” (2 Thessalonians 3:7). Example. Teach. Model. These are all facets of mentoring which are indispensable in developing fully devoted followers of Jesus and in transmitting the faith from one generation to the next. It goes without saying that if mentors expect others to follow their example, they must be wholeheartedly committed to following Christ. Any hint of hypocrisy—“do what I say, not what I do”—will be detrimental to both the mentor and his charge.
Not only Jesus and the apostles, but elders in the local church also do their work by mentoring. Peter commands, “Be examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:3), and Paul explains to the elders at Ephesus, “You know how I lived the whole time I was with you” (Acts 20:17). In other words, Paul is telling the elders, “I showed you, now you show them.” In all truth, if a Christian leader is not mentoring someone, to that degree he or she is not living up to his or her calling.
Of course, God has filled the body of Christ with many potential mentors besides those who are named as elders or shepherds. The official church leaders cannot personally meet all the mentoring needs of everyone. While it may not be possible for shepherds to personally, intentionally, hands-on mentor each sheep that needs mentoring, they are to help these needy sheep find godly mentors. To provide for the mentoring needs of their local community of faith, the leaders must be intentional, continually expanding the circle of mentors by “equipping others” to mentor.