Leadership guru Ted Engstrom wrote in one of his books, “Most of what we learn happens at an informal, unconscious level. It follows that the way we ‘teach’ people is by letting them observe what needs to be done and how to do it as we go about our basic, everyday business of doing our job. A requirement of leadership is to train [educate] and a basic method of training is modeling.” He is talking about the process of mentoring.
Priscilla and Aquila exemplify this process in their relationship with Apollos. Luke describes Apollos in Acts 18 as someone who is biblical sound, educated, and enthusiastic, an unusually gifted person who was making an impact for the newly developing Christian faith. Two phrases from Luke cast a shadow over what otherwise is a bright portrait of a brilliant young Christian. In Acts 18:25, Luke informs us that Apollos “knew only the baptism of John.” And then he adds in Acts 18:26, “When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately.” Without going into a detailed discussion of what those two phrases mean, they clearly imply that something was missing in Apollos’ life. He was good, but not as good as he could be. He needed mentoring. And he received that guidance from a couple named Priscilla and Aquila. Thanks to their guidance and instructions, Apollos made an even greater impact for the kingdom of God.
The Bible is full of these mentor-mentee relationships, from Jethro and Moses in Exodus 18 to Moses and Joshua in Exodus 34 to Eli and Samuel in 1 Samuel 2-3 to Elijah and Elisha in 2 Kings 2 to Paul and Timothy in 1 Timothy 1. Of course the ultimate biblical example is Jesus gathering around him the twelve we know as disciples who walked with him and talked with him and observed him during the three plus years of his ministry on earth.
What do we need to remember about the mentoring process?
First, we need to acknowledge the importance of having mentors in our own life. If Apollos needed to learn from Priscilla and Aquila and if Elisha had to learn from Elijah, then we certainly to learn from others who are wiser and more experienced.
We don’t have to personally know the person to be mentored by him or her. Two primary mentors in my life have been Harry Emerson Fosdick, long time pastor of the Riverside Church in New York, and C. S. Lewis, the influential Christian writer from England. I never met either of these individuals but have been heavily influenced by both of them. I wrote my doctoral dissertation on Fosdick, although I never had the opportunity to meet him. And I have read most of C. S. Lewis’ books. Both have been my mentors.
We do not have to be just like our mentors. Mentoring does not mean “cloning.” Fosdick’s sermons influenced my preaching, but I do not preach in the same style or form as he did. C. S. Lewis shaped my thinking, but not at every point.
We can have different mentors at different stages of our life. As we develop in our Christian lives, and as the circumstances of our lives change, we can move past individuals who mentored us in the past, or we can gravitate to different men and women who can teach us what we need to know at this stage of our life.
We can be (and should be) mentors too. I’ve included a new logo on the printed version of this month’s newsletter. It shows a person with someone standing on his shoulders and then a third person standing on the shoulders of the second person. This is the mentoring process at its best. Each of us standing on the shoulders of someone else, and then someone else standing on our shoulders.