God's Mentors...

Some time ago, in the last century, I computed how old I would be in the year of 2000.  As a young child, it was hard to imagine actually living to see that day!  As a young person, growing older seemed fraught with loss and adversity.  However, I’ve come to realize, that the years speed by and growing older has many advantages.  As a ministry leader, I know that you, like I, have encountered many people who take the route of choosing to focus only on what has been lost.  As I’ve been blessed to progress into the 21st century, I can certainly say there are lots of advantages to growing older. Particularly, when the focus is on what you have to give and understanding how you can continue to flourish – even as you age, going from glory to glory. 

In the book of III John, verse 2, it states, It is God’s will that we prosper and be in health, even as our soul continues to prosper.  Clearly, we can see from Scripture, it is the Lord’s desire that we continue to grow and serve Him for as long as we live.  That includes all of us, and it definitely involves the most advanced in years or the elderly among us.  I believe that Seniors are in fact God’s mentors and should be encouraged to be used in that way.  Regardless of a person’s educational achievement or extent of ministry training, they are vital and capable of giving to others.  Most committed Christians, regardless of age, desire usefulness in serving God.  Most of our churches are multi-generational and require our help in bridging the divide.  It is our responsibility, as ministry leaders, to empower generations by providing access and great opportunities for them to serve and be useful – regardless of their age.  This month, I think it is important to focus upon our Seniors, and bring attention to bridging the gap between the young and old.

Most of the time as people age, if they do not maintain a fruitful and productive lifestyle, they may feel they have very little to look forward to.  But there are many positive passages found in Scripture about becoming older and wiser.  The psalmist said, “They shall still bear fruit in old age; they shall be fresh and flourishing.”  (Psalm 92:14)  “The glory of the young is their strength; the gray hair of experience is the splendor of the old.”  (Proverbs 20:29)  “Is not wisdom found among the aged?  Does not long life bring understanding?”  (Job 12:12)  “I will be your God throughout your lifetime, until your hair is white with age.  I made you, and I will care for you.  I will carry you along and save you.”  (Isaiah 46:4)  “Remember the days of old; consider the generations long past.  Ask your father and he will tell you, your elders, and they will explain to you.”  (Deuteronomy 32:7) 

In the New Testament, the older and more mature are encouraged to take on the role of being mentors.  It is written in Titus 2, that the older men and women should teach others [the younger] what is good so that they will not bring shame on the Word of God.  The older men are encouraged to be serious and sensible.  Making use of every opportunity to come along side, counsel, and encourage the young men to have self-control in everything.  It is a God-given responsibility to exercise faith, love, and patience with others. 

Elderly women are not exempt from this spiritual responsibility as well.  Titus inspires the older women to behave as those who love the Lord and set a good example for others; teaching them what is good and proper.  This, then, also parallels with the concept of mentoring.  The basic or practical understanding of a mentor is someone who prepares someone else for the next step. 

The concept of mentoring is not new.  It carries the idea of matching experience with youth.  Mentoring is a life educational model based on the principle of a more experienced person who is perceived to have greater knowledge, greater wisdom or experience than a person who is less knowledgeable and experienced.  For the most part, it is relationship-based and it can take on many forms.  A mentoring relationship encourages one-on-one interaction, usually face-to-face, and during a sustained period of time.  In business, many companies sponsor mentoring programs in order to groom junior employees for future leadership.  Mentoring is a vital activity.  From a practical standpoint, it means that a young person doesn't have to reinvent the wheel to solve the obvious and the not-so-obvious.  The more experienced person is there to guide them through and help them reach their goal successfully. This concept of mentoring is reflected throughout the Bible in many relationships where we see the elder explaining to the younger: 

  • Naomi mentored Ruth; a young woman from a different background and culture.  (Ruth 2-3)
  • Mordecai mentored his niece, Esther.  (Esther 2-4)
  • When Mary was visited by the angel and was told she would conceive in her womb (Luke 1:26-40), she fled to her older cousin, Elizabeth, for counsel and comfort. 
  • Paul had mentoring relationships with Silas, John Mark, and young Timothy. 
  • The Lord Jesus himself mentored the 12 disciples.

One of the major problems of society today, as well as in the church, is the depersonalization of human beings.  With the increase in global population, everyone becomes “just another face in the crowd.”  Unfortunately, in this fast-paced society, many people are having difficulty coping with feeling alienated, lonely, and just another number – even in many of our own congregations today.  People all over the world are searching for truth.  They are hungry for the Word of God and for assurance that they are loved, and considered more than a mere number. 

Even in some of the most dynamic ministries, with the greatest pastors, new members of the church gradually lose their initial enthusiasm for the things of God and, eventually, only become “Sunday Christians” perhaps once or, at best, twice per month.  This is associated with (1) lacking a sense of connection or belonging.  (2) They may find little opportunity for personal involvement in a way they are comfortable with, or (3) even find difficulty in establishing meaningful relationships with others in church. 

Mentoring is a process for the informal transmission of knowledge from one person to another.  Regardless of age, no one is ever too old to be useful or fruitful in the Lord’s service.  It is our responsibility as ministry leaders to empower the well-advanced in years and help them to understand that they are vital, and have a place of service in giving to others through developing mentoring relationships with them.  As more developed and mature members of the community, seniors have valuable resources and relevant information to pass along to others.  They have proven information regarding spiritual growth, anchoring family, home, cooking, financial and life skills; not to mention work experience, career or professional development.   Seniors are God’s mentors and they have a great deal to pass along.

Mentoring relationships can take on many forms.  They can be developed under a “nurturing model, friendship model, cloning model, or an apprenticeship model. The cloning model is about the mentor trying to produce a duplicate copy of him or herself.  The nurturing model takes more of a parent figure, creating a safe and open environment in which the younger person can both learn and try things for him or herself.  The friendship model is more often that of peers rather than being involved in a hierarchical relationship.  Lastly, with the apprenticeship model, the professional relationship or career development is the sole focus." (Buell, Ph.D., Cindy, 2004, Models of Mentoring in Communication.) 

As you can see, mentoring does take on many forms.  From a biblical perspective, it is also a type of discipleship, which is certainly a ministry Jesus has called believers to when He said, “…go and make disciples in all nations …” (Matthew 29:19).  I encourage you to take time and recognize seniors around you.  Don’t overlook one of the most valuable human resources among us.   Again, regardless of age, educational achievement, or extent of ministry training, they are vital and capable of giving to others in this way.  Make a special effort to recognize the Seniors God has placed among you for their invaluable contributions and impartation of wisdom, cultural history and family traditions.  I encourage you to employ every practical means to help them embrace opportunities to develop important, meaningful, mentoring relationships with others.  As a result, we can all benefit, they remain fruitful and flourishing; and we are blessed!  One of the best ways we can shape the future is to preserve what we value from our past.  Encourage seniors to pass it on and help someone else for the next step.

This article is written by Minister Lois Vaughn