As Christians seeking intimacy with God, the path to spiritual maturity is not always clear, direct or easy. Having spiritually mature, theologically knowledgeable mentors can be a tremendous help for our growth, but how do we identify and learn from them?
Why Are Christian Mentors Important As We Grow?
In a lot of ways, life experience is not always completely transferable, but, it is incredibly helpful when we can speak with someone who can provide guidance, wisdom, cautionary tales, etc… based on their personal, firsthand experiences when it relates to things we are going through or are dealing with
We see this at every stage of our lives, over a wide range of mundane and unique topics, as we grow from being infants who do not know where to put that thing people keep calling “food”, to learning how to tie our shoes, use the bathroom, ride a bike, first learn about that awful concept called math, all the way up to going through high school/college/university, stepping into the work force, raising families, etc…
These “basic” parts of life are not without their various guides, and teachers who all have a part in helping us make the journey from being young children incapable of doing anything for ourselves, to fully functional adults, capable of independent thought, and, eventually to some degree, the ability to guide others
(You do not want to learn math from me, just saying!)
In this same way, when we start off as Christians, we enter a world that is sometimes completely foreign to us, as we only understand in part
This is to be expected, so we cannot take for granted the amount of work required to go from our previous standard of worldly living to the one God wants us to live according to–his standards of righteousness
In the same way we could not feed ourselves as infants, let alone understand what food was, why it was important, nor could we distinguish between healthy food and bad, we begin our lives as Christians in a similar state as well, not always understanding the value of living righteously, sometimes not being able to digest food meant for the “mature”, not being able to tell the difference between right and wrong as we shed our old ways of thinking/living, and we often do not understand the value of picking up our Bibles or seeking God as frequently as we should
We must remember, and be humble, about the process of being reborn into God’s own, pure, righteous likeness, ie: we do not instantly learn to love others, let go of sin, etc… overnight, it is a process that requires effort over time, and dedication
If we are introduced to Christianity, but not shown the goals of righteousness and transformation we should be striving for, it can prevent us from growing into our full potential, so we sometimes need a nudge through positive encouragement or by getting called out because we are not pushing ourselves even though we know better–we should have a mind to strive for God’s standard of conduct, not simply follow what feels “right” or go by what is acceptable to the peer group around us
For example, sometimes people in our peer groups will not say something if a joke is told that is questionable, music is played that has bad content, etc… for fear of “upsetting” the group or being seen as self-righteous, judgmental, a prude or whatever–all the more reason to get an outside opinion we trust if we are not sure if we should have said something or not
And seriously, we have all been there, facing peer pressure, social influences that contradict Christianity, etc…, so it is great to have the encouragement and guidance of someone who understands what we are going through
A Good Mentor Will Not Ignore When We Are Headed In The Wrong Direction
Take Jesus for example, when one of the Apostles stepped out of line or if someone ran up proclaiming their righteousness, *BAP*, he was right there with a fresh dose of reality to set them straight, regardless of their feelings–Jesus always spoke honestly, and with directness, but he was never mean about it
You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother’”
“Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy”
Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me”
Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses
This passage is a hilarious revelation of Jesus’ character, as when he spoke honestly to the rich young ruler, it says “Jesus looked at him and loved him”, which meant he cared for the young man to the point where he wanted to point out the one thing that kept him from truly putting his faith in God (money!), regardless of whether or not it was going to upset the young man or not
In this same way, not only should a helpful mentor be able to give godly wisdom, they should also be able to candidly address issues in our lives in loving, but sometimes “uncomfortable”, ways for the sake of keeping us on the right path, as our journey to be transformed into God’s likeness takes a lot of effort throughout our lives
Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will
1 Thessalonians 5:14
And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone
2 Timothy 4:2
Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction
1 Corinthians 3:1-3
Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly—mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men?
We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil
The last line in the passage from Hebrews is interesting, as it says those who are not feeding on food meant for the mature, are “not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness”, and that the mature “who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil”
This is quite a set of statements, but is a reflection of where our heads can sometimes be if we lack spiritual maturity in some areas, ie: when spiritually immature, our ideas of what is right and wrong do not always line up with God’s
Examples of this type of spiritual immaturity can be seen when we “loosely” interpret the Bible’s teachings about some things, ie: we justify being in relationships with non-Christians, make improper or “crude” jokes because they are “harmless”, justify having sex before marriage because “we are in love”, listen to sexually suggestive music “because it has a good beat”, etc…
The reality is, mentors play a big role in helping guide us towards maturity, as sometimes our level of maturity leads us to be the toddler writing their name on the living room wall in full Crayola glory, even though we do not realize it is a problem, we do it just because it is “fun” or feels “right”
These Crayola moments are times when mentors, leaders, etc… help (notice I said “help”!) us by pointing out how we can improve or that something is not okay
Of course, we should not rely on others to teach us everything as God and the Bible should be our primary sources of strength, wisdom, etc…, nor should we only be motivated when someone is kicking us in the butt, but the value of learning from the firsthand experiences, and godly wisdom, of those around us is incredibly important–but we should have a mind to listen to their advice, taking it to heart, being prepared to measure it against the Bible’s teachings, not just compare it with our own sense of right and wrong or look for justification for things we already want to believe
Why Ask For Advice If We Do Not Have A Mind To Follow It?
Okay, let’s be honest, sometimes getting corrected makes us feel defensive, upset, judged, challenged, etc…
Even when spoken with the utmost love, the things mentors/friends/etc… say to us in correction can sting, as they may be pointing out things we do not want to acknowledge, areas we disagree are a problem, or maybe they are areas we had been actively denying were issues in the first place, but instead of being upset, we should be grateful (not always an easy reaction I know!)
I struggled with this particular point, as I had a lot of issues with rejection, low self-esteem, etc… as the result of a very abusive childhood, so when someone said things to me in a corrective manner I would sometimes get ultra defensive or would disregard what they said even if it was completely true, so I often missed some really good instruction, though I would often see the value in it much later
I was stubborn, mmm’kay…
In the midst of personal reactions, one thing I never knew at the time, was how the Bible tells us to love those who guide us to the truth through loving, godly correction
1 Thessalonians 5:12-13
Now we ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who [correct] you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other
Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you
Think about that the next time someone calls something out in your life that could use some work, as it is not very common for people to respond by saying things like:
“You are so right, thank you for loving me so much you would not let that slip by!”
Look at the story of the rich young ruler, when Jesus told him to sell everything he owned, he walked away without a word, and Jesus did not run after him either!
At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth
Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”
I am sure Jesus would have had a different reaction if the young man had cried out for God to increase his faith or at least done something other than turn his back without saying anything because he did not want to give up his money–a very telling reflection of the heart, one we can all see ourselves in over some point(s) of our Christian walk
How Do We Handle Unloving Or Judgmental Attempts At Correction, And What Happens When We Disagree?
Now, of course, not every “correction” is spoken in, or motivated by, love or wisdom, so it is important to not be defensive in these situations, and if we disagree, we should feel like we have the ability to ask for further explanation if something does not make sense to us, as both parties should be open to discussing a topic with the Word as the key foundation–everything should line up with scripture
Also, if someone says something we recognize as being true, but they said it in a way that made us upset, we should calmly express how accepting their instruction was more challenging than it needed to be due to their attitude, tone of voice, choice of words, etc…, but we should make sure not to be defensive or angry when providing this type of feedback–another reaction that is not so easy to master!
As we continue our growth, we should have a mind to be mentors ourselves, as we are instructed to become mature, bear fruit, and teach one another greater knowledge of how to grow closer to God–we should strive to be someone who speaks to others with love, patience, and total honesty just like Jesus
Surely you heard of him and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness
Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body
There are going to also be times when we will want to say something to a brother or sister, but feel uncomfortable or maybe not know the words to say–this is totally normal
Start the conversation by saying something like:
“I want to say something that is difficult for me and I feel uncomfortable, my intent is not to hurt or offend you…”
Showing this type of honesty and vulnerability before the conversation even begins is incredibly disarming, and will help whomever you are speaking with understand you are not there to just point a finger at them
Also, a good mentor may not be someone that is older, “smarter”, etc… they just may have great advice on a particular topic or have some really great spiritual maturity we can benefit from–always keep an open mind when it comes to who we learn from, we are all sharing God’s knowledge, love, and perfect wisdom anyway, it is not like those amazing things were ours in the first place
Just remember, if we are in an environment where we do not feel challenged or inspired in any way, by learning or teaching others, then we are probably in need of a mentor or to become one ourselves!