Mentor: A Plea to Older Christians

Dear Christian,

Please help. Please help the younger generation of Christian high schoolers, college students, recent graduates, singles, and young married’s. Please help us learn to walk with Christ, read the Bible, love one another, develop a prayer life, conquer temptation, make wise decisions, and move in the right direction.

We need you. We need the ripeness of your knowledge, the balance of your stability, the strength of your endurance, the perspective of your years, the lessons of your scars, and the joy of your hope. We need you to teach us what you’ve learned, and we don’t just need that teaching from behind a pulpit. We need it across the dining room table, we need it over coffee, we need it on playdates — we need it in all the rhythms and seasons of life. And we’ll never survive without it.

You can’t sit on the sideline. This game is too important. You can’t dodge the draft. This battle is too intense. We need everybody on board, everybody all-in.

I can’t tell you how many young Christians want and need mentors. Every semester I meet with dozens and dozens of students caught in sin, struggling with temptation, looking for direction, and searching for wisdom. I always ask if they’re being mentored by an older Christian. Almost everyone wants to be, but almost no one is.

Here are the typical reasons:

1. Their church relationships are shallow and distant. A handful of students will actually say it this way. Most simply imply it. They’re not closely connected with their church. They’re not approached for meaningful conversations, not invited into homes out of Christian hospitality, not pulled into the lives of their older brothers and sisters for simple fellowship. Yes, this is their fault, too. But it could be changed by a courageous crew of spirited souls in each local church who decide that New Testament koinonia (“fellowship”) just can’t be allowed to look like “shallow” and “distant.” If the older saints would just come marching in — into conversations, into relationships, into meaningful interpersonal ministry — the younger saints would start to look a lot different.

2. They’re transitioning between churches. Often when I encourage students to seek mentors at their churches, they explain that they’re in transition. But there’s no Get-Out-of-Jail-Free card here for the established members of those churches. The reason these students are leaving is not mainly the minister, the music, or the commute. It’s the relationships. Students who have relationships in their local church — students who are connected to the body — aren’t too interested in amputating themselves. But when there’s little pain in leaving, there’s little purpose in staying. If church members will deepen our relationships, students will grow embedded in our churches.

3. They don’t know who or how to ask. I know college students who don’t know how to find a mentor at churches of 300 seminary students and spouses. Sometimes they don’t know who to ask. Sometimes they don’t know how to ask. Either way, they don’t know. We can blame them for their uncertainty . . . or we can recognize that their uncertainty in this area is simply another reflection of their need for mentoring. How have we come to believe that it’s the disciplee who’s supposed to request discipleship? When did we start thinking that we’re only obligated to start mentoring when the younger generation begs and pleads?

4. They’ve asked and people have turned them down. I’ve heard from students who have asked three pastors’ wives to disciple them, and been turned down by all three. Now, I stand firmly at the opposite pole from those who expect the pastor’s wife to be the functional co-pastor. My mother was and my wife is a shepherd’s wife with four children, and I’m under no illusions about the hectic pace and harried life of a young mother. But I’ve talked with numerous students who’ve really tried and tried, and it seems that no one will “take” them. So at the very least, if someone ever asks you to disciple them and you just can’t do it, find someone who can. Don’t rest until you’ve tied this young sapling tight to the guide-pole of an older Christian.

5. They don’t know they need wisdom, guidance, and mentoring. So, what do you need if you don’t know you need a mentor? A mentor. And how are you going to find a mentor if you don’t know you need a mentor? A mentor has to find you. Some students have wondered aloud if it’s really their job to find a mentor, or if the older generation should be seeking them out. My answer? It’s become their job because the older generation is failing. After considering this issue over the years, I’m convinced that the biblical evidence for mentoring describes the older generation proactively training the younger generation. Jethro offered strong advice about organizational leadership to his son-in-law Moses (Exodus 18:13-27). Moses took Joshua the son of Nun under his wing and laid his hands on him (Numbers 11:28; Deuteronomy 34:9). Jesus said “Follow me” to his twelve disciples (Matthew 4:19; 9:9). Paul picked up Timothy in Lystra (Acts 16:1-3). The older women in the Cretan churches were called upon to “teach” the younger women (Titus 2:3-5).

If you’re an older Christian, it’s primarily your responsibility to initiate mentoring relationships with younger Christians. It is not primarily their responsibility to initiate such relationships with you.

I don’t believe in the genre of “rant,” so this is not that. I have enough foibles and failures to warrant a thick filter when expressing my observations and opinions about the wider church. But the lack of relational pursuit and intentional investment and biblical mentoring from the older generation to the younger generation is striking. After working full-time with Christian college students for almost ten years now, I’m pleading with you:

Get involved in the indispensable business of mentoring.

They say that if you want something done, ask a busy person, because busy people get things done. I’d like that to change. I’d like those who are disengaged to get engaged. Do you work long hours? Have a wacky schedule? Have a career, a family, a church, all in the midst of an economic crunch? I understand — I get it.

But you can still mentor a high schooler. You can grab lunch or coffee with a college student once a week. You can have a a few girls over after church on Sunday to talk, or have a guy watch the game with you and get to know him. You can talk marriage with a newlywed husband, invite over a young mother with her kids, or read through a gospel with a graduated single. Just get around people, ask good questions, get into conversations, and build meaningful relationships through which wisdom can flow. Then turn those conversations into committed relationships with frequent interaction marked by spiritual conversation and clear direction.

You can be purposeful and intentional even if your priorities are narrow, your schedule full, and your body, mind, and soul tired. You don’t have to be a professional minister (with the skills), and you don’t need to be retired (with the time). In fact, it’s just as good if you’re neither, because the church needs ever member (not just pastors) involved in the work of the ministry, and it’s those who are fighting in the thick of life who are learning some of the most worthy lessons.

So with all due respect, get off the sidelines and get in the game. There’s work to be done. We’re talking about a war here, and the younger generation needs the veterans to teach us how to fight, how to lead, how to serve, how to grow.

Because we need you,

Respectfully,

The Next Generation


4 thoughts on “Mentor: A Plea to Older Christians

  1. Reblogged this on Manoah's Wife and commented:
    This is an excellent word to all of us who older in the faith. It is our responsibility and privilege to pass on to the next generation the wisdom we have been given during the years we have walked with and served the Lord.
    Blessings,
    Manoah’s Wife

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