Toward the end of the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus set forth a single commandment that has captivated the attention of Christians throughout all of history. In this brief article, I would like to address one of the major questions embedded within the Great Commission that each generation has had to wrestle with: How are we, or even, how am I, supposed to make disciples?
While I am not going to pretend to provide one single answer for all faith environments, I would like to persuasively draw from my own experience in order to encourage church leaders into entering in mentor/mentee relationships as a powerful means of discipleship and spiritual leadership development.
Before Asbury Theological Seminary students finish our Masters of Divinity program, we are required to enter into a formal two-semester-long mentoring relationship with a local pastor. In my own personal experience of the mentoring relationship, I have experienced more accelerated growth in spiritual health, maturity, and leadership in the last seven months than I have in the last several years. Looking back over my time, I believe that there are several major factors that have contributed to my growth.
The first major factor that accelerated my discipleship in Christ was the authority I allowed my pastoral mentor to have over me. I imagine that for most of us, even the thought of another person having authority over us will evoke a little resistance. The reality was, prior to our mentoring relationship, I had seen something in my pastoral mentor where I began to trust his prayerful discernment. I fully understand that even the invitation of another person having authority over our own self-governed lives inherently invites hundreds if not thousands of dangers for spiritual abuse, but I was starving for a spiritual authority in my life where I could trust someone who was not self-seeking, overly aggressive, coercive, or promoting any sort of inappropriate ideology.
The second major factor that has allowed my own leadership capacity to take off was my pastoral mentor’s willingness to share in the ministry he had worked so hard to build. For many pastors, handing over the pulpit to younger and less-experienced preachers represents a very real threat to the ministry he or she has been working tirelessly to build up. Admittedly, I am not even close to fully understanding the entire gamut of reasons why pastors do not more readily share their responsibilities with younger men and women in the ministry, but I do know that by my mentor trusting me to work my hardest with the gifts God has given me, and to pray through the challenges that were before me, I am far more capable and confident now than I was on the first day.
The final major factor that has cultivated growth in my own life was my mentor’s willingness to trust the Holy Spirit in me. No matter how old we are or how much experience we have, we are all continually learning to work out our salvation. We are all learning more about Christ, more about ourselves, and more about others. By my mentor’s willingness to trust the Holy Spirit in me, I felt free to act, free to speak, and free to move forward according to the Spirit’s leading.
As I am nearing the end of my seminary program and my formal mentoring relationship, I have become convinced of the high value pastoral mentorship will have in the lifelong ministry God is calling me into. For through my mentor’s willingness to lead, to share, and then to trust me in ministry, I have witnessed the power that a trusting mentoring relationship has in raising up disciples of Christ.