Tag Archives: Mentoring

Miley, Sinead, and Grace-Filled Mentoring

In the plot of Disney's Hannah Montana, "Miley Stewart" (played by Miley Cyrus) becomes a famous pop star who uses the stage name "Hannah Montana." Because we live in a world of inauthentic relationships, Miley goes to great lengths to disguise "Hannah Montana" in order to protect her true identity. The young girl worries that if everyone knew who she really is, they would like her only because of her fame.

mileysineadLife seems to be imitating art in a twisted reversal of this plot line. Miley Cyrus appears to be wearing the disguise of a sexually liberated pop star, hiding the former, more modest version of her previous self, so that she can have it all while really having nothing at all. The world is witness to her shocking display at the VMA's, in her new video, "Wrecking Ball," and in a recent appearance on Saturday Night Live. Sadly, this may just be the beginning.

Sinead's Motherly Appeal

Over the years we've all watched a number of child stars self-destruct while longing for them to have parents or other wise folks who might protect them from the exploitation inherent to the industry. Many of us were therefore pleasantly surprised by the recent open letter to Cyrus by singer Sinead O'Connor. In her "motherly" appeal, O'Connor pleads for Cyrus to take another look at who she is becoming and who is profiting from her new pop persona. O'Connor writes "in the spirit of motherliness and with love" as someone who has been in her shoes:

I am extremely concerned for you that those around you have led you to believe, or encouraged you in your own belief, that it is in any way "cool" to be naked and licking sledgehammers in your videos. It is in fact the case that you will obscure your talent by allowing yourself to be pimped, whether its the music business or yourself doing the pimping. . . .

You ought be protected as a precious young lady by anyone in your employ and anyone around you, including you. This is a dangerous world. We don't encourage our daughters to walk around naked in it because it makes them prey for animals and less than animals. . . .

You are worth more than your body or your sexual appeal.

If you read the whole letter you'll find coarse language as well as many statements where we as Christians would not fully agree. But we can all embrace the central claims made by O'Connor—that Cyrus is being exploited, that she has placed herself in a dangerous situation, that young women ought to protected, that she ought not be objectified. These truths reflect our understanding that human dignity resides in having been created in the image of God, which means we are to be valued above all earthly values—including the greed and sexually depraved vision of a godless industry.

O'Connor rightly says that we must not encourage immodesty with our daughters because they may become the "prey of animals," those who exist to fulfill their own self-serving desires. O'Connor reflects wisdom gained from her experience. She explains that "nakedness" is the industry's means to fulfilling their financial ambitions—and the reason she chose her own unique look.

The look I chose, I chose on purpose at a time when my record company were [sic] encouraging me to do what you have done. I felt I would rather be judged on my talent and not my looks. I am happy that I made that choice.

O'Connor has taken some heat from women—including from Cyrus herself—and this open letter has since been removed from her website. But I think as the church, we should be willing to point to this appeal to Cyrus as an example of sacrificial love from a woman who has been viewed as a mentor and now seeks to function in that way.

Cost of Mentoring

Even further, we should recognize the cost of speaking truth into someone's life. It may mean that we are brutalized for being counter-cultural. It may lead to the functional end of a relationship. Or it may lead to an immediate blessing in the life of a woman who needed to hear that truth. Titus 2 calls women to risk everything for the sake of the gospel and to be godly examples to younger women, and for younger women to seek their wisdom. Our words should be grace-filled, patient, and firmly rooted in the Word of God.

As for Miley Cyrus, we can pray for godly influences that can help reroute her toward a journey that honors God while using her obvious talents. Her life is worth far more than what the industry will gain in profits.

But the truth is, Miley isn't the only one who needs mentoring. We all need the teaching and encouragement from those who have gone before us and have walked in a similar pair of shoes. Ultimately, the trials and struggles of younger women are not all that different from the older women around them. Wherever we are, we've been called to live as Christ lived—a life of humility and sacrifice—and to encourage the same in the lives of others.

How to Mentor Young Disciples When They Differ Theologically

One of the great privileges and responsibilities of pastoral ministry is mentoring godly young men for their future in ministry. This is a subset of the overall mission Jesus gave to the church to "make disciples of all nations . . . teaching them to obey every I have commanded you" (Matt. 28:19). While all converts to Christ need to be discipled into mature obedience in the faith, there is a special need for pastors to train up the next generation of spiritual leaders.

But what happens when the men you are training up to be pastors and elders begin to develop differing theological opinions? How should a pastor approach these disagreements?

Pattern of Sound Words

The apostle Paul describes the process of training up other suitable men like this: "[W]hat you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also" (2 Timothy 2:2). So what had Timothy "heard from" Paul in the presence of many witnesses? 2 Timothy 1:13 speaks of a "pattern of sound words," which Paul commanded Timothy to "hold" or "keep" (guard against all attacks). The word "pattern" comes from the word used for striking coins in the ancient world. The tupos (pattern) would be engraved on the extremely hard metal of the die, and then the die would transfer that pattern to the soft silver or gold of the coin. The image imprinted on the coin would be the same time and time again.

This word implies that the Lord desires no doctrinal innovation from the next generation of disciples, but rather conformity to the apostolic standard of teaching. At the moment of striking the coin, the softer metal must be the one that "smooshes" (yields) to the unchangeable standard. In this way, Paul commanded Timothy to pass on the "sound words" of orthodox doctrine to future generations of leaders. This vital principle of spiritual multiplication (four generations in 2 Timothy 2:2) is God's wise provision for the growth of the church over all of redemptive history.

Transferred Imperfectly

But because of the power of the world, the flesh, and the Devil, the transfer of "sound words" is not always perfect. Though God by his Spirit protected the apostles from error as they wrote the New Testament, disciples from the start have misunderstood aspects of the doctrinal pattern. Our sinful hearts tend to twist certain aspects of the doctrinal pattern, and the image is marred. This is true both in the pastoral mentor and also the disciple he is seeking to train. So what should a pastor do when he and his disciple disagree?

Here are six points to guide us when doctrinal disagreements occur:

First, it is essential for the pastor to teach the concepts I have already mentioned in this brief article. There is a perfect doctrinal standard that demands our conformity. That is the goal of discipleship. Since there are no disagreements among the Trinity or in heaven, any doctrinal disagreement on earth is evidence of the fall and of Romans 7—indwelling sin. We should strive against it and pray against it, seeking the goal of perfect unity. Neither pastor nor disciple should ultimately be satisfied with the fact that they disagree.

Second, both most embrace the standard for all doctrine: the perfect and unchanging Word of God, the Bible. From the moment God wrote his letters in the stone of Moses' tablets, God demonstrated the power of an unchanging and timeless word for his chosen people. Both pastor and disciple must take everything back to the Bible with absolute confidence that "all things that pertain to life and godliness" are found in the words of Scripture (2 Peter 1:3). Jesus said, "You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God" (Matthew 22:29). Disagreement has arisen because one or both of them has in some way been ignorant of what God has clearly spoken in the Bible. And both parties should come at the issues with renewed vigor in study by the power of the Holy Spirit, rather than acting as though the answers could never be found in the Bible. If the Scripture is sufficient for life and godliness, the answers are in there. Look again.

Third, both should approach the issues with humility. Romans 7 makes plain how powerfully indwelling sin corrupts the mind of every Christian. When there is a significant disagreement, both should humble themselves before God and ask for him to reveal within their own hearts how they may have strayed from right understanding. Psalm 119:169 gives a great and humble prayer for both: "Let my cry come before you, O LORD; give me understanding according to your word!" The student may actually be right, and the pastor can set a great example of humility by being willing to listen carefully to the arguments and assess them. "Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another" (Proverbs 27:17). God wills the growth of both the pastor and also the disciple through the process. A humble teacher continues to learn for his whole lifetime and churns out a generation of humble teachers in the same pattern. But a prideful mentor will churn out arrogant disciples.

Fourth, the disciple should respect the greater experience of the pastor in life and in the Word. I have been careful to say that the errors may be on both sides and have encouraged the pastor to look humbly to see if he may be wrong. But a disciple who is not teachable is a contradiction in terms. Essential to the role of a disciple is humility before his teacher. As Jesus said, "A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher" (Luke 6:40). If the disciple is fractious and consistently arguing with his mentor, it would be wise for the mentor (after some efforts to address the pride in the student) to sever the relationship. "A fool finds no pleasure in understanding but delights in airing his own opinions" (Proverbs 18:2).

Fifth, the mentor should understand that not all Scriptural issues are equally clear or weighty, and it is wrong to divert a great deal of time to arguing over minutiae. Though we believe ardently in the doctrine of the perspicuity (clarity) of Scripture, the Westminster Confession of Faith says, "All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all" (WCF 1.7). There are most certainly some passages that are "hard to understand" (2 Peter 3:16), and they require extra study to arrive at a satisfactory answer. The pastor should lead the disciple in understanding the history of debate over a well-known controversial issue and show where godly brothers and sisters have disagreed and where to find the boundaries of orthodoxy so they can disagree and stay within the realm of historical Christianity. The pastor should also teach the concept of adiaphora—issues not worth dividing fellowship over. As Jesus said, it is wrong to "strain out a gnat and swallow a camel." There are "weightier matters of the law" (Matthew 23:23-24).

Sixth, the pastor should demonstrate the maturity Paul commanded in 2 Timothy 2:22-26:

So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil,  correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.

One evidence of "youthful passion" is the desire to win in "foolish, ignorant controversies." The tendency to quarrel is immature, and the pastor should rise above that temptation. Inherent in this passage is fervent prayer (already encouraged in my first and third answers above). The pastor should bathe the disagreement in prayer, not only for greater understanding in the mind of the disciple but also for turning his heart and freedom away from the attacks of the Devil. It is spiritual warfare, and prevailing prayer to God who alone can bring the individual to his senses is essential to discipleship.

May the Lord grant the richness of blessing on all pastors and their disciples, that he may raise up a generation of godly, humble, wise, fully instructed leaders who will then pass on these same traits to yet another generation for the glory of God.

When Mentoring Exposes Your Idol of Being Needed

Sharing the gospel is inextricably tied to sharing other aspects of life with those we're mentoring. Consider what the apostle Paul says: "We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us" (1 Thessalonians 2:8). Biblical mentoring requires engaging the whole person for more than just a scheduled time each week or month. It includes meeting for lunch or coffee, showing up for an important event in the life of the woman you're mentoring, inviting her to be part of your life or family, serving together, and even enjoying together the seemingly "frivolous" activities such as watching a movie or going shopping.

Life-on-life ministry comes quite naturally to many of us women as we love to care, nurture, and share emotional intimacy. Yet as in every other relationship, there is danger that I find my identity in mentoring another young woman and so become enmeshed in an unhealthy relationship. My definition of "unhealthy relationship" is a relationship where one of my idols takes the central place that belongs to Jesus. In mentoring, this can happen when my idol of being needed replaces Jesus as what I am worshiping and serving in our relationship.

Warning Signs

What does this idolatry look like, and how can you establish healthy biblical boundaries? First, identify the idolatry. You may be serving your idol of being needed more than Jesus if you notice the following in your mentoring relationship:

  • Reluctance or refusal to speak the truth in love to her when needed out of fear of losing her approval or the relationship.
  • Rearranging your schedule, neglecting other priorities and responsibilities (such as family and work) in order to spend time with her.
  • Tending to give her advice immediately when she asks for your counsel without asking questions to help her think through the issue for herself.
  • Avoiding sharing your own weaknesses and struggles, presenting yourself as strong and seemingly invincible.
  • Always being available to her regardless of what time she calls or what you are doing.
  • Expressing disapproval of decisions she makes on her own, perhaps even explicitly encouraging her to talk to you first before making any decision.
  • Discouraging her from other influential relationships outside your mentoring relationship or neglecting to connect her to others within your church community.

Second, repent of seeking life outside of Christ, humbly acknowledging that your need to be needed has become an idol in your heart. Repent of allowing this idol to cause you to unintentionally mentor women into people-worship instead of God-worship. Rejoice that you have a God who mentors you (and her) perfectly and even now is restoring you back to himself through Jesus. He is jealous for full-hearted worshipers, and he lovingly redeems you and me from all of our false worship.

Finally, realize that repentance will include setting healthy boundaries in your mentoring relationships. The purpose of setting boundaries is not for your ease and comfort but out of love for God and the woman you're mentoring. Healthy boundaries flow out of the foundational belief that you both need Jesus more than you need one another. Your goal in mentoring is to help this woman to grow more fully into the unique person God has created her to be in his image, not to recreate her in your image.

Practical Boundaries

Keeping that foundation in mind, practical boundaries might include:

  • Involve others in your relationship. Connect her with other women in the church, serve together with others in the community, invite her over to dinner with your family or roommates, and so on.
  • Appropriately share your own weaknesses and struggles. This is a tangible way of showing that you also need Jesus Christ and that you are not her savior.
  • Ask questions that help her think through dilemmas and decisions she presents to you and support biblical decisions she makes, even if it's different than what you would have done.
  • Communicate when you are and aren't available. For example, if she tends to call you later than when you're normally up, let her know that it's best for her to call you before your bedtime (or family time).
  • Know your limits. If she is struggling with an issue beyond your ability, time commitment, or experience to handle alone, recommend she talk to a pastor or counselor. Help her find this person and go with her to a few sessions if she's open to that assistance.
  • Lovingly confront her when necessary, in humility. This is a way of pointing her to Jesus as her Redeemer and together finding grace at the foot of the cross. Remember that you are ultimately serving Christ, not seeking to win her approval (Galatians 1:10).
  • Stay accountable to someone else. Ask a close friend or family member to give you input if you're unsure of whether you're fostering an unhealthy relationship with a woman you're mentoring.
  • Point her to Jesus! This is the obvious point, of course, but it is foundational to a healthy Christ-centered mentoring relationship. Pray together with her when you're trying to sort through a tough issue. If she calls you at a time when you're not available for a long discussion, suggest that she spend time praying about the issue and reading Scripture. Verbally remind her (and yourself) that you want to help her to seek Jesus and become dependent on him, not on you. She needs Jesus more than she needs you.

As you keep your eyes fixed on Jesus, prayerfully seeking wisdom as you mentor other women, he will give you grace in the moment as you need it. The danger of boundaries for boundaries' sake is that I would use them to protect my own comfort and selfishness. But biblical Christ-centered boundaries foster increased dependence on Christ for you both.

As you abide in Jesus, he will give you wisdom to know when you should drop what you're doing to lovingly sacrifice your time or agenda and allow yourself to be interrupted by her needs. He will also give you grace to trust him when you're not able to be there for her in a difficult moment of need. And most importantly, as you find your security and identity in Christ your Redeemer, you will be able to mentor her into finding the same for herself.

3 Lessons Learned from a Pastoral Mentor

As the potter presses his clay, he has in mind a final design. Each spin of the wheel brings this design closer to reality. Scripture uses this pottery metaphor to describe our sanctification, "for we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works." And in this life-long process the Spirit uses faithful pastors to press grace into our souls.

When most people hear the name R. Kent Hughes, they probably think of homiletics. His many expository commentaries, long tenure of preaching at College Church in Wheaton, Illinois, and leadership in The Simeon Trust have rightly earned him the reputation. But I think of something else. Having served alongside of Kent for a number of years, I see him primarily as a mentor. Reflecting on this time together, I have compiled three lessons from his leadership that every gospel-oriented mentor should embrace.

1. Take Time to Listen

My office was located between Kent's study and the Dewey Egbert coffee machine, so he routinely passed my door. Occasionally, he would step inside for a visit. Since I was the pastor of evangelism, he'd sometimes ask my opinion on an issue pertaining to outreach. Frankly, I'm not sure that he really needed my input (especially during those days when I was brand new to ministry). After a few minutes of conversation, he might respond, "Why don't you raise that point in our elder meeting. Take ten minutes to lead us through a conversation about it." What a gift. These are the opportunities that cause young leaders to blossom. Unlike a more corporate approach to church business that tends to centralize decision-making and discourage other stake-holders, Kent fostered a collegial ethos in which every team member had a voice.

2. Allow Others to Take Risks

Summerfest was the name of our annual community outreach. In addition to feeding 900 people each night, running a 5-K Race, and providing a host of special interest classes, we also featured a guest evangelist over four nights.  These sessions were normally held in a space that looks more like a nice hotel lobby than a church building and therefore (we figured) more suitable than the sanctuary for welcoming un-churched guests. Unfortunately, this area could only seat 500 people, while the sanctuary could hold 1,000. So I proposed that we hire artists to create an enormous curtain for the front of our sanctuary (to hide the pipe organ) and—get this—send in the evangelist on a zip line (young pastors try to make their mark in unusual ways). I discerned by Kent's facial expression that he wasn't fully persuaded. Nevertheless, he gave his consent. Thanks to the work of some phenomenal artists, the sanctuary was transformed, and the event was a fabulous success. When the week had finished, Kent thanked me for taking the risk. In reality, he deserved thanks for providing the opportunity.

3. Invest in Relationships

We admire those whom we trust. And we develop trust by sharing our lives. This is what leads me to think of Kent as a mentor. Whether it was around a campfire eating S'mores, behind his Benelli shotgun shooting targets, over a billiard table, on a hospital visit to a congregant with terminal cancer, or at dinner with him and his wife, Kent routinely shared life and ministry with his colleagues. Conversations tended to be full of laughter and sometimes tears. In either case, my wife and I would drive home from these occasions knowing we had received a valuable gift. We had a front row seat to observe the routines that animate a godly marriage, family and ministry.

Looking back in hindsight of several years, I recognize that Kent's legacy is still alive in our ministry. It is evident, for instance, in how my wife and I extend hospitality. When my intern and his bride visit for dinner, we express the same sort of interest and concern that Kent and Barbara would convey to us. This is discipleship—we serve others as we ourselves have been served. In Kent Hughes I've caught a glimpse of what Paul intended when he exhorted the Philippians to "join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us" (Phil 3:17).