Mentoring: Training the second line of leadership

Discover what mentoring involves, how it can be a blessing, and how to be a good mentor in the ministry of the church.

N. Ashok Kumar is a speaker-producer for the Adventist Media Center in Pune, India.

May 21, 1991, dawned as usual. New Delhi was gorgeous, with flaming red flowers of gulmohar trees adorning the streets of India’s capital. Thousands of people crowded the streets, malls, and old bazaars as usual, enjoying the last days of spring and dreading the oppressive humidity and heat that would soon come their way. But before the day was over, the city and entire country were engulfed in sorrow, tears, and a fear of the unknown. Rajiv Gandhi, then prime minister of India, was assassinated in the distant south.

The dreadful murder cut short the career of a young leader who had so much to give his country and was to lead millions into a bright future. Rajiv was well prepared and groomed to face the challenges of leading the world’s largest democracy, which was struggling to emerge and march toward new economic and social tri­umph. But when he was assassinated, the whole country felt the vacuum that could not be filled. There seemed to be no obvious second line of leadership that could step in and take over the reins of governance.

Some time passed before the country recovered from that shock. The lack of mentoring and preparation of leaders for the unknown exigencies of the future was obvious everywhere.

The context of that tragedy led every political party in India to think about mentoring and grooming future leaders.

Mentoring and preparing leaders for the future should prevail in any organization—from a giant corporation to a small church entity. To overcome crises in leadership, a second line of leadership must be trained and men­tored. Neither imagined threats nor feared jealousies should come in the way of preparing future leaders, ready and trained to fill leadership roles. This article will review what mentoring involves, how it can be a blessing, and how to be good mentors in the ministry of the church.

Mentoring: What it involves

When Moses accepted the call to lead the children of Israel, he was not informed about how long he would be holding the office. He was not given the exact date when he would retire from his post. But Moses was an effective and God-fearing leader, and knew that the future of Israel was in the hands of God, who is the ultimate Leader. And yet, Moses knew that God works through human agencies. Moses took up not only the mantle of leadership to direct the children of Israel through the desert to the borders of the Promised Land but also the role of being a mentor. In that role, he trained Joshua to become a future leader. Exodus 17:8, 9 introduces Joshua for the first time. Joshua “entered the personal service of Moses either before or soon after the battle with the Amalekites.”1 As a good leader, Moses saw the leader­ship potential in those around him, encouraged the development of that potential, and gave them on-the-task training. Moses did not see a threat in Joshua but an opportunity to secure the future course of the history of God’s people in the wilderness and on to the Promised Land.

In the same manner, Elijah men­tored Elisha. When Elijah saw Elisha, plowing his land with 12 yoke of oxen, he spotted a person whom God could use. At the prophet’s bidding, Elisha ran after Elijah and accepted the summons to be mentored by him for the future ministry that awaited him (1 Kings 19:19–21).

Later, Elisha learned the lessons of discipleship. He understood the impor­tance of following Elijah until his time for leadership had come. The process of mentoring is a two-sided coin: the leader prepares, trains, and educates; the future leader follows, observes, learns, and awaits the appropriate time to assume the responsibilities of lead­ership. Spiritually speaking, mentoring has no room for power grabs. Before Elisha could assume leadership, he waited, walked, watched, and learned the way God expects a leader to be. The time for transition of leadership came when Elijah ascended to heaven, and his mantle fell upon Elisha. The new leader was ready to take charge and tried what his master did earlier. Elisha hit the waters of the Jordan with the mantle of Elijah and was excited to see a repeat of the miracle that they had witnessed earlier.2 Often on the road of mentoring, those who are tutored tend to follow the attitudes of their teachers, and so we should learn the importance of mentors reflecting God’s will and way as perfectly as they can.

The New Testament provides a good example of mentoring in the min­istry of Paul and his association with Timothy. Timothy joined the apostle in his second missionary journey (Acts 16:1–3) and remained with him ever after. The spiritual bond that tied the apostle and Timothy lasted a lifetime, and Paul addresses the young man as a son (1 Tim. 1:2). He remained faithful and loyal, not only to the apostle but also to the guardianship of the truth that was shared with him.

Paul found Timothy trustworthy and assigned him pastoral work at Ephesus (1 Tim. 4:12). Though Timothy was timid by nature (2 Tim. 1:6, 7), Paul encouraged him to become one of the finest workers for God.3 As a good mentor, Paul was interested not only in the spiritual and pastoral growth of Timothy but also in his physical welfare so much so that the apostle advised him to take proper medications to ensure his health (1 Tim. 5:23). Paul’s mentorship produced a successful evangelist and pastor. A careful reading of the two epistles that the apostle wrote to Timothy reveal the concern of the aging mentor for the development and growth of the young pastor: that he should be strong and stable in the true doctrine of the gospel, guard the sacredness of public worship and private conduct, resist false teachers, be rooted and firm in God’s Word, train elders and deacons for the future of the church, and safeguard the truths entrusted to him. Both epistles that Paul wrote to Timothy are models of mentoring care and concern for the future of God’s community of faith.

Blessings of mentoring

When I reflect on the relationships of Moses and Joshua, Elijah and Elisha, and Paul and Timothy, I often think of the blessings I have enjoyed from several good mentors in my life and ministry. Two such mentors stand out. The first one was a senior pastor when I had just entered the ministry as his associate. By precept and example, by patience and gentle prodding, he led me to understand and follow the great mysteries of pastoring—preaching the Word, visiting with parishioners, praying with those who needed prayer, caring for those who needed the touch of grace, and just being someone who can be trusted by the community of faith. This senior pastor, by his example and leadership, led me to a closer walk with my Savior. While I was still wrestling with my call, he took the time to guide and counsel me in the practical difficulties of ministry. He gave me opportunities to minister and encouraged me to take respon­sibilities. He molded me to become a well-organized worker for God.

The second leader was my confer­ence president, who gently guided me in the steps of church administration and leadership. I remember one time when I was asked to translate for a visiting preacher. My understanding of English was no match for the speaker’s eloquence, and I was timid and ner­vous. But the conference president believed in me and expressed his confidence that I could do it. With his encouragement, I did it, and gradually became proficient both in English and my mother tongue. Step by step, encouraged by the mentors I had, I have now reached the stage of being a radio speaker. Both my senior pastor and conference president were con­scious of their roles as mentors, and helped to make me what I am. They taught me responsible ministry and exhibited in their personal lives how pastoral principles work. Their unself­ish and generous guidance enhanced my spiritual and professional growth. Their influence touched and molded my professional and spiritual lives.

Being effective mentors

Of the many principles that con­tribute to the making of good mentors, three stand out as significant.

1. Be an encourager. Mentoring is by no means an easy task. Our mentees may not always meet our expectations. At times, they may dis­appoint us. Peter disappointed Jesus several times. He was hasty, impru­dent, and often spoke first and then thought. He was quick with his sword in defending his Master and was just as quick in denying Christ. But Jesus never gave up on Peter. As a Divine Mentor, Jesus knew the possibilities that lay buried in the heart of Peter. In spite of all his failures, Jesus encour­aged Peter and assured him of His prayers in the face of satanic assaults to derail him from discipleship (Luke 22:31). Again and again, Jesus encour­aged Peter and, after the Resurrection, assured him of the sacred job of caring for His sheep (John 21:15–17). Ellen G. White writes, “The Saviour’s manner of dealing with Peter had a lesson for him and for his brethren. It taught them to meet the transgressor with patience, sympathy, and forgiving love.”4 As mentors, should we not follow the example of Jesus and be a source of encouragement to those who are under our care and training?

There may be times when being a mentor can be quite discouraging. A pastor was once told by his supervisor that something was wrong with his work: “Only one person has been added to your church membership this year, and he is just a lad too.” Later that day, heavy of heart, the pastor prayed for encouragement. He knew God as his ultimate Mentor, and He waited, walked, watched, and learned the way God expects a leader to be. The time for transition of leadership came  when Elijah ascended to heaven, and his mantle fell upon Elisha. The new leader was ready to take charge and tried what his master did earlier. Elisha hit the waters of the Jordan with the mantle of Elijah and was excited to see a repeat of the miracle that they had witnessed earlier.2

Often on the road of mentoring, those who are tutored tend to follow the attitudes of their teachers, and so we should learn the importance of mentors reflecting God’s will and way as perfectly as they can.The New Testament provides a good example of mentoring in the ministry of Paul and his association with Timothy. Timothy joined the apostle in his second missionary journey (Acts 16:1–3) and remained with him ever after. The spiritual bond that tied the apostle and Timothy lasted a lifetime, and Paul addresses the young man as a son (1 Tim. 1:2). He remained faithful and loyal, not only to the apostle but also to the guardianship of the truth that was shared with him.

Paul found Timothy trustworthy and assigned him pastoral work at Ephesus (1 Tim. 4:12). Though Timothy was timid by nature (2 Tim. 1:6, 7), Paul encouraged him to become one of the finest workers for God.3

As a good mentor, Paul was interested not only in the spiritual and pastoral growth of Timothy but also in his physical welfare so much so that the apostle advised him to take proper medications to ensure his health (1 Tim. 5:23). Paul’s mentorship produced a successful evangelist and pastor. A careful reading of the two epistles that the apostle wrote to Timothy reveal the concern of the aging mentor for the development and growth of the young pastor: that he should be strong and stable in the true doctrine of the gospel, guard the sacredness of public worship and private conduct, resist false teachers, be rooted and firm in God’s Word, train
elders and deacons for the future of the church, and safeguard the truths entrusted to him. Both epistles that Paul wrote to Timothy are models of mentoring care and concern for the future of God’s community of faith. 

blessings of mentoring

When I reflect on the relationships of Moses and Joshua, Elijah and Elisha, and Paul and Timothy, I often think of the blessings I have enjoyed from several good mentors in my life and ministry. Two such mentors stand out. The first one was a senior pastor when I had just entered the ministry as his associate. By precept and example, by patience and gentle prodding, he led me to understand and follow the great mysteries of pastoring—preaching the Word, visiting with parishioners, praying with those who needed prayer, caring for those who needed the touch of grace, and just being someone who can be trusted by the community of faith. This senior pastor, by his example and leadership, led me to a closer walk with my Savior. While I was still wrestling with my call, he took the
time to guide and counsel me in the practical difficulties of ministry. He gave me opportunities to minister and encouraged me to take responsibilities. He molded me to become a well-organized worker for God. The second leader was my conference president, who gently guided me in the steps of church administration
and leadership. I remember one time when I was asked to translate for a visiting preacher. My understanding of English was no match for the speaker’s eloquence, and I was timid and nervous. But the conference president believed in me and expressed his confidence that I could do it. With his encouragement, I did it, and gradually became proficient both in English and my mother tongue. Step by step, encouraged by the mentors I had, I have now reached the stage of being a radio speaker. Both my senior pastor and conference president were conscious of their roles as mentors, and helped to make me what I am. They
taught me responsible ministry and exhibited in their personal lives how pastoral principles work. Their unselfish and generous guidance enhanced
my spiritual and professional growth.

Their influence touched and molded my professional and spiritual lives.

being effective mentors

Of the many principles that contribute to the making of good mentors, three stand out as significant.

1. Be an encourager. Mentoring is by no means an easy task. Our mentees may not always meet our expectations. At times, they may disappoint us. Peter disappointed Jesus several times. He was hasty, imprudent, and often spoke first and then thought. He was quick with his sword in defending his Master and was just as quick in denying Christ. But Jesus never gave up on Peter. As a Divine Mentor, Jesus knew the possibilities that lay buried in the heart of Peter. In
spite of all his failures, Jesus encouraged Peter and assured him of His prayers in the face of satanic assaults to derail him from discipleship (Luke
22:31). Again and again, Jesus encouraged Peter and, after the Resurrection, assured him of the sacred job of caring for His sheep (John 21:15–17). Ellen G.
White writes, “The Saviour’s manner of dealing with Peter had a lesson for him and for his brethren. It taught them to meet the transgressor with patience,
sympathy, and forgiving love.”4

As mentors, should we not follow the example of Jesus and be a source of encouragement to those who are under our care and training?There may be times when being a mentor can be quite discouraging. A pastor was once told by his supervisor that something was wrong with his work: “Only one person has been added to your church membership this year, and he is just a lad too.” Later that day, heavy of heart, the pastor prayed for encouragement. He knew God as his ultimate Mentor, and He would never fail him. As he concluded  his prayer, he sensed someone walking up behind him. Turning around, he saw that same boy—his only convert that year. The boy said, “Pastor, do you think I could become a preacher or missionary some day?” The pastor encouraged him to pray and seek  God’s guidance about it. The lad was Robert Moffat, who later went to Africa to win that land for Christ. Some years later, when Moffat spoke in one of the churches in London about his experience on that continent, a young doctor, deeply moved by Moffat’s message, came forward to work with him in Africa. His name? David Livingstone. 

2. Be ready to sacrifice. Mentoring can be a joyful experience when there is a sacrificial attitude. When mentors sacrifice something, this will be cherished in the hearts of their followers. I can recall my senior pastor’s many acts of sacrifice and kindness. He once gave me his own personal Bible for my use, invited me to use his library for study, took time to pray with me, and was there when I needed him. These little acts of sacrifice cemented within me a resolve to be like him. His mentorship was a precious gift for the rest of my life. Without a spirit of sacrifice, one cannot be an effective leader, much less a successful mentor.

3. Lead from the front. From a biblical perspective, a leader or mentor lives as a shepherd. If you want to be a mentor, then you must become a shepherd, leading the sheep from the front, ready to lay down one’s life for the safety of the flock. Paul stresses this important factor of leading from the front: “I urge you to imitate me” (1 Cor. 4:16, NIV). He also reminds the mentors to “follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1, NIV).

Mentors are not cattle drivers; they are shepherds—caring, gentle leaders, showing the path of righteousness and service.

Conclusion

The importance and necessity of effective mentorship cannot be overstressed. Without training in a second rung of leadership in ministry, the work of the church will suffer. A Joshua must follow a Moses. An Elisha must succeed an Elijah. No one can remain a leader forever, and no organization can succeed in its mission without adequate provision for the next round of leaders, and that is where mentoring counts.

 1 Francis D. Nichol, ed., The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, vol. 1 (Washington, DC: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1953), 584. 

2 John Lange, Lange’s Commentary on the Holy Scriptures, ed. Philip Schaff (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1960), 3:16.

3 Merrill C. Tenney, New Testament Survey (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1961), 334.

4 Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1940), 815.


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N. Ashok Kumar is a speaker-producer for the Adventist Media Center in Pune, India.

March 2013

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