When I was in the seventh grade, I played little league baseball in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The name of our team was the Seals. What a name for a baseball team, especially out in the plains of Oklahoma. We were worse than the Bad News Bears, and we intended to prove it. Out of eighteen games, we had lost eighteen games. On the final game, the Bad News Seals pulled together. We smelled victory, and we wanted to win. I had gotten several hits in the game already, but in the final inning, I came up to bat. The pressure was on. I hit the ball deep along the sideline in right field. It was a fair ball. I ran to first. I charged to second. I headed to third. By this time, the right fielder threw the ball to the first baseman. We needed that extra run. It was great to get a single. It was wonderful to get a double. It was fantastic to get a triple, but it was more important to hit a home run.
With all my might, I raced towards home plate. My parents and brothers were screaming. The Bad News Seals in the dugout were cheering me on, and I made my way towards the hall of fame in the legendary history of the infamous Tulsa Seals. Unfortunately, the first baseman threw the ball to the catcher before I got to home plate. It was too late for me to head back to third. The catcher caught the ball high, and I dived in the catcher’s breadbasket. Our WWF (World Wrestling Federation) fans would have been proud of me.
The catcher dropped the ball, and I was scrambling in the whirlwind of dust and dirt to find home plate. The catcher and I were wrestling in the dirt trying to touch home plate first. Luckily, I touched home plate before the catcher did, and I scored my first and last infield home run. I also brought in a couple of runs at the same time.
Folks, making a single, a double, a triple is unbelievably exciting, but nothing can compare with a home run. Yet in the Christian life, too many of us are content to become Christians and stay at first base as a Christian and as a church member only. Too many of us are content to stay at second: to study our Bibles, pray, worship in spirit and truth, and get plugged into a small group. Too few of us discover our spiritual gifts and get involved in ministry at third base. An even smaller percentage of Christians are home run hitters who make it all the way around the bases and come home. At First Baptist Church, my deepest desire is that many of you would get involved in missions and become grand-slam Christians. One of the greatest missions in the church today is to reproduce other Christians, to disciple new believers, and to mentor others and help them cover all the bases.
In The Purpose Driven Church, Rick Warren suggests that the baseball diamond represents the organizational model in the developmental stages of a Christian.1 First base signifies our salvation, baptism, and church membership. Second base represents maturity in Christ through Bible study, prayer, worship, and small group interaction. Third base stands for ministry, where we identify our spiritual gifts and use them to serve, witness, lead, tithe, etc. Finally, homebase is all about missions. Our purpose statement is to fulfill the Great Commission and follow the Great Commandment to love God and our fellow man. As Charles Lowery points out, somehow we have gotten the idea that church is about me and my needs. The church is not the Love Boat but a fishing boat. We have not been called to a picnic, but we have been called to go fishing. We are to be fishers of men and women. We are to mentor and mold others who want to be the best that they can be in the center of God’s will.
Why do we need mentoring? The New York Post film critic Michael Medved points out that by age 6, the average American child will have spent more time watching TV, videotapes, and motion pictures than a child will have spent talking with his father in his entire lifetime. Hollywood is shaping the next generation of young people. If you have seen any of the movies, you will realize that the next generation will be a moral Frankenstein. One minister asked a little boy about his mentors and said: “Hey, son, when you grow up, whom do you want to be like?” The boy said: “Mister, I ain’t found nobody I want to be like.”
Our heroes have seemingly disappeared in our society and in the home. One of the reasons we need mentoring more than ever is the mobility of our society, which has left our younger generations emotionally disconnected and rootless. Did you know that many grandparents may live anywhere from 500 to 1000 miles away from their grandkids? We are raising a generation of children without grandparents and frequently parents for that matter. We talk like children are our greatest national treasure, but we act like they are a national liability.
Art Linkletter said that children say the darndest things. That reminds me of the time a little boy complained of a stomach ache. The father said, “Son, the reason your stomach aches is that your stomach is empty, and you need to put something in it.” Not long after that, the pastor came to visit and complained of a headache. The little boy tried to be of comfort and said, “The reason you have a headache is that your head is empty, and you need to put something in it.” We laugh, but as a society we claim to be open-minded when in fact we are empty-headed because we take our children and our senior adults for granted. We need grandparents, parents, pastors, teachers, coaches, mentors who help us become what Christ intends for us to be as servant-leaders in the church and the community. When we devalue our children and their grandparents, we diminish our future and our past. Mentoring is the relational process of handing the torch of wisdom from one generation to the next so that our future may be as rich as our heritage.
To paraphrase the biblical admonition (Proverbs 29:18), I believe that without mentors, a people will perish. Mentors function as midwives who help us to catch a vision that only God can birth. Bill Delahoyde, Assistant United States Attorney, said, “Mentors are those who have gone before us on the mountain of life, but who pause and extend a hand to help us along the way, or who extend a safety line of love and affirmation that may keep us from falling off the mountain.”2
In the valleys and twists and turns of life, we need mentors who can help us climb up our own personal mountains. We all have challenging mountains to climb outside the church and inside the church. Studies reveal that only 6 percent of pastors say they have the gift of leadership, and churches are sustained by 15-20 percent of their membership. Is it any wonder that two-thirds of all Protestant churches are plateaued or dying? Chuck Colson said to evangelical churches, “If this were a business, you’d be contemplating Chapter 11 [bankruptcy].”3 It’s the 20/80 rule. Only 20 percent of the members in any given church are doing 80 percent of the work. That means that only 20 percent of the church makes it to home base.
In 2 Timothy 4:7, Paul said, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” Paul finished the race. As Christians, we need to finish the race and mature in Christ, making it to home base and mentor others. 2 Peter 3:18 says that we are to keep growing in Christ, “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
Susan Humston hasn’t stopped growing. I talked with her two months ago, and she told me that she plays bridge with people from Sweden and Argentina on the Internet at the age of 92. She hasn’t stopped living, and neither should we.
Steve Wingfield said, “Our primary calling as believers is to pass on the blessing. We do that by investing ourselves in other people. I am who I am today because of the grace of God and the blessing that other people have passed on to me. I thank God that my mentors, Dr. Robert Coleman and others, saw in me not just who I was, but who I could be in Christ.”4
2 Timothy 2:2 talks about the importance of mentoring. Paul advised Timothy: “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.” Paul mentored Timothy, and Timothy mentored others. Naomi mentored Ruth. Samuel mentored David, and David mentored his mighty men of valor. The primary mission of Christ was not mass evangelism but to mentor His twelve disciples. Jethro mentored Moses, and Moses mentored Joshua. Elijah mentored Elisha.
As the Scriptures tell us, Elijah was a great prophet who resurrected a child from the dead, who defeated the prophets of Baal, and who then ran as a fugitive. Underneath a broom tree, Elijah wallowed in suicidal depression. In his encounter with God, as recorded in 1 Kings 19, Elijah heard the voice of God not in the wind or the earthquake, but in the still small voice of God. Part of the message from God to Elijah was that God was with him and there was a remnant of 7,000 Israelites who would not bend the knee to Baal. However, the rest of the message in the vision was the mission to anoint Jehu and Hazael as kings and to anoint Elisha as a prophet. His mission vision was to mentor Elisha. In time Elisha would receive a double portion of Elijah’s spirit, and he would get Elijah’s mantle as well. Elisha would become a great prophet and leader.
Indeed, the great leaders of the Bible were mentored into greatness. So, who’s your Elijah? Who’s your Elisha? Who’s your Paul? Who’s your Timothy? Who’s your Naomi? Who’s your Ruth? Whom are you influencing and inspiring? Whom do you admire? Who are your heroes? Bob Biehl said:
When you influence a child, you influence a life.
When you influence a parent, you influence a family.
When you influence a president, you influence a corporation.
When you influence a pastor, you influence a church.
When you influence a leader, you influence all who look to him or her for leadership.5
Mentors are models, coaches, encouragers, supporters, advisers, listeners, examples of integrity. They are mature individuals to whom you can turn in bad times and in good times to help you grow personally and professionally. Mentors ask probing questions: “What are your dreams? What are you doing to attain those dreams? How is your marriage? How is your walk with the Lord?” Bob Biehl explains that “Mentoring is a lifelong relationship, in which a mentor helps a protege reach her or his God-given potential.”6 Howard Hendricks said, “Mentors look inside us and find the man [or woman] we long to be.”7
Proverbs 27:17 points out, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” Are we sharpening ourselves against the whetstone of another’s wisdom and character? Howard Hendricks said, “Show me a man’s closest companions and I can make a fairly accurate guess as to what sort of man he is, as well as what sort of man he is likely to become. You see, people tend to rub off on each other.”8 What kind of people surround you? Do they lift you up or pull you down?
As we have seen, we have number of biblical examples of mentoring, but the word for mentor comes from Greek culture. In Homer’s Odyssey, Odysseus left his newly born son Telemachus under the watch care of a trusted guardian by the name of Mentor. When Odysseus returned from the Trojan War and his adventures with cyclops and witches, he discovered that his son had matured under the care of Mentor. Homer later revealed that the person of Mentor was none other than the goddess Athena, who became incarnate in an ordinary man. That was pagan mythology.
In Christian theology, we have the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ. The Bible teaches us, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). Jesus Christ is our ultimate mentor and the model of godliness after whom we should pattern our lives. Unlike earthly mentors, Christ is a mentor who cannot let us down. When we imitate Christ, we follow the pioneer and the perfecter of our faith.
Let me tell you about some of my mentors who embody admirable virtues. My father is a mentor. I admire his courage and conviction fighting during the Vietnam War. It was an unpopular war, but he gave it his all and won many medals of valor. I admire my mother in rearing three boys while her husband was away at war. I admire my grandparents, who cared for us when my parents needed a break from three energetic boys. I admire my wife and her steadfast support. I admire my mother-in-law, who gives me insight and cautions me to slow down and have patience. I admire my old seminary professors who modeled for me excellence in my ministry. Dr. Tom Graves and Dr. John Carlton and Dr. Randall Lolley, to name only a few, epitomize for me integrity in the pulpit and pastorate. These are the folks I want to be like when I grow up. What about you? Are you helping to raise up another generation of the kind of people whom you admire because you are a mentor?
Mentoring is a great opportunity for senior adults who have the time and the wisdom to share with a young person. We often refer to senior adults as the Builder Generation. They helped to build a great nation, and they can help build the next generation. Over Thanksgiving, we went to visit my in-laws. My father-in-law is in a nursing home, and we spent some time with him. He gave my son timely advice: “Follow your dreams. Be your best. You are the greatest. Life is short.” Not long after that conversation, a senior adult woman by the name of Anita pulled up beside us in a wheelchair. I introduced my little girl to her, and she said, “Anna, childhood is a wonderful thing. You can enjoy the simple things in life. Adulthood is so full of complexities. Enjoy the moment and make the most of it. Life is too short to do otherwise.” You won’t hear that pearl of wisdom in the mall or on the interstate. You won’t hear that advice from a Boomer or a Buster. Are you willing to let a builder mentor you and pass on the wisdom of the ages?
Proverbs 13:20 instructs us, “He who walks with wise men becomes wise.” Boomers, Busters, GenXers, how many senior adults do you know in this congregation? Builders, how many teenagers do you know in this church? We are to weave an inter-generational tapestry of cooperation and mutual respect that cannot be torn by the strife of contemporary issues facing all businesses, families, and churches.
A young college student by the name of Bill walked into church one Sunday. Bill was a brilliant young man, but he wore jeans, went bare foot, and looked like a hippy. That Sunday morning he walked into church, and the church was packed. Bill couldn’t find a seat, but he was searching for answers from God, so he meandered down the aisle and plopped down on the floor in the front of the pulpit. About that time, a very dignified and elderly usher walked down the aisle with his cane. Everyone could hear his cane click. Everybody understood what would soon transpire. Everybody braced for the confrontation.
The old man leaned over and said, “Son, don’t you have any sense? You can’t sit here. Haven’t you ever been to church before? Go and sit in the back somewhere.” No, that’s not what the usher did or said, as everyone expected. Instead, when the senior adult got to the young man, he sat down next to Bill on the floor. The senior adult and the young man worshiped together at the feet of Jesus. The congregation was touched with emotion. Finally, the minister resumed his sermon and said, “What I am about to preach, you will never remember. What you have just seen, you will never forget.” Builders, we all deplore the declining values of the new generations, so what are you doing about it? Senior adults, God wants you to help preserve those vanishing values and give the world the love of Jesus Christ. As mentors and models, you can still be the spiritual Babe Ruths, Hank Aarons, Mark McGuires. You may not get around the bases like you used to, but God still wants you to be grand-slam Christians and help win the next generation for Christ.
Recently, Charles Schultz, the creator of Charlie Brown, died. Within the same hour, the legendary coach of the Dallas Cowboys, Tom Landry, died. Both Charles Schultz and Tom Landry were devout Christians. One cartoonist showed both in heaven at the same time. Tom Landry put his arms around little Charlie Brown and said, “Come on Charlie Brown. Let’s work on that kicking game.” The coach was there to help his student to be his best and do his best. This is mentoring at its finest: One Christian helping another Christian become more Christ-like. On the journey towards excellence, let’s become grand-slam Christians whose mission is to model Christ and mentor others who want to be more like Jesus.
Edward Erwin is pastor of the First Baptist Church in Shelbyville, KY.
1 Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Church, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1995), 130.
2 Bob Biehl, Mentoring, (Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman and Holman Publishers, 1996), 26.
3 Howard and William Hendricks, As Iron Sharpens Iron, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1995), 132.
4 Biehl, Mentoring, 181.
5 Ibid., 171.
6 Ibid., 19.
7 Howard and William Hendricks, As Iron Sharpens Iron, 18.
8 Ibid., 21.