Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A Call for Godly Mentors

When I came into the Church I was on fire. I was excited and passionate about reading the Bible and talking about God. It wasn’t but a few weeks after my baptism that I preached my first sermon.

I read the Bible for hours every day, and I had lots of spiritual discussions. But at 17, I had no idea what it looked like to be a godly man. So, I tried to build relationships with older men in the congregation and the elders.

But I hit a wall. They were very willing to mess around with me and make sarcastic jokes, but I was struggling in a life-and-death spiritual battle. I felt so alone in dealing with my lust, anger, and basically selfish tendencies. I had no idea what a Christian man should be like, but when I looked to the older men in the Church to see how, I met nothing but sarcasm.

But I didn’t want jokes. I wanted a relationship.

The amount of potential influence older men have over younger men is enormous.

When I was younger (around 8 or 10), I got in trouble a lot. People in my life were constantly disappointed with me: talking in class, not doing my homework, making fun of people etc. I remember feeling like a failure, like I couldn’t do anything right.

As a young boy in New Orleans, the preacher seemed like God to me. We had a kind man for a preacher, one who gave out candy and encouraged us children. His name was Mike Fox. I remember every time he saw me he would say, “Joshua, you’re a good man.” This still brings tears to my eyes. I cannot even begin to tell you what effect that statement had on me.

I didn’t believe him. I was so puzzled as to why he would say something like that. “No, I’m a bad kid, he must think I’m someone else,” I would think to myself. But every time he told me I was a good man, I felt something come alive within me that wanted to live up to what he said. I knew I wasn’t a good man, but I wanted to be, if nothing else but that he wouldn’t be lying when he said that about me.

It was his belief in me that later in life made me want to search out God. My dad didn’t live with me, so with the exception of my grandfather, that preacher was the only man I ever felt believed in me.

In switching gears a little bit, let me begin by saying that our society is very different than every other society in history. Kids spend more time with themselves than they do adults. They are their own people group, and there are entire lines of products targeted solely at them.

Youth are raising themselves.

Kids have their own private rooms, computers, phones, and social lives. Typically they live in a vacuum away from normal adult life. Think about it. How many serious life conversations did you have with adults while growing up? I can’t think of a single one.

Recently I’ve been meeting with a 15-year-old who is always around Church stuff. His family is even in ministry. I took him out to eat so we could talk, and I asked him if he had someone he could come to for advice. Nearly in tears he told me that he feels so alone as a teenager. “I don’t know what I’m doing,” he told me. “You were a teenager, but I’ve never done this before. I really need some help, man.”

That’s how I felt at his age, too. I felt like adults expected me to live by some ambiguous standard, but they never explained exactly what that standard was or why I was supposed to live by it. The only time I figured it out was when I got in trouble for breaking it.

For a time after being so passionate about God I fell away from Him. I still went to church services every Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night, as well as any other extra activity they had. But I had stopped reading my Bible, praying, or living for God at all. But you know what? No one noticed.

I’m not blaming others for that, but there’s no doubt in my mind that I would have come back to God a lot sooner if I felt I had someone to talk to. But I felt alone, like my only connection with God was at the building.

Titus 2:6-7 says older men should encourage the younger men as well as lead a good example for them. But surely this must go beyond Bible class once a week. In order for them to “set an example” they must be intentionally around younger people in everyday life.

I’m so thankful that I’m a little older now, because I KNOW the influence I have over younger men. I work with a missionary program, and it gives me such joy to hear one of the guys say that he looks up to me and appreciates me investing time in him.

I’ve been blessed with many great mentors in my life: Paul Partlow, Brandon Price, Chris Johnson, and Timur Rahimov (in Russia). In 1 Cor. 11:1 Paul tells the Church to imitate him as he imitates Christ. These men have lived out this passage with me. They make me who I am, because as I have followed them I have seen past them and followed Jesus.

My biggest inspiration to continue trying to mentor younger men is the difference older men have made in my life. I know that I am more like Christ because of them, and I know that I can help younger men become more like Christ too.

This is getting long for a blog entry so let me get to the point: You hold enormous influence over people younger than yourself, and if you would just invest some time with them you will reap eternal rewards.

Pick out someone of the same gender younger than yourself and take them out to coffee. Go do something fun. Get to know them. Ask them about their lives and be genuinely interested. See if they would be interested in reading the Bible together with you. Be transparent about your life and your faith. Share your life experiences and the things God has taught you. Explain what it means to be a godly man.

I cannot exaggerate this. Doing this can absolutely transform someone’s life, but you must do it intentionally.

Thoughts?

12 comments:

living.in.tune said...

I believe Jesus had the same message. I recently re-watched "Dust" the nooma video. Knowing the custom of the times, Jesus took the low lifes, the hacks, and said that they could do, what he did, and do the same things he did. Even Greater. What a huge thing to hear from GOD. God belieiving in me, has rocked my world. And the fact that he then Spent countless hours, years, teaching, guiding, and training them. So, I totally agree. Mentorship is a must, and Jesus gave us the example. Man, He's the greatest. Thanks Josh.

Paul Ford said...

Joshua,
You have correctly convicted me of this sin. I know that youth need godly examples. Heaven knows that they are not getting enough godly examples at school - and as you remind me - at church either.
Thank you for sharing your commitment with us, and for being a good example for others. Church is sometimes a place where numbers count more than quality. "How many youth we have", rather than being there for the youth when they really need our help.

I will focus more on this great work.

brettincasie said...

Yes. I had the exact same struggle especially when I moved back home after my first missionary internship. I guess maybe people thought I had it together or something, but I needed people to look up to. I felt like everyone I spent real time with needed my strength, and sometimes that was really hard to give when I didn't have anyone more mature than me really speaking into my life. It was nearly impossible to spend any real time with women older than myself. I know it's hard with families and stuff, but I really want to be that for people younger than me even when I'm married and have kids someday. That ambiguous standard that you mentioned, I remember trying to figure that out as a teenager and not really knowing either. I pray that I can be a mentor to people here in Mexico and wherever I am for the rest of my life.

Joshua Tucker said...

Darrin - Hey man I've enjoyed chatting the last few days. The "Dust" video really helped to shape my ideas about discipleship and mentoring too. Thanks for the comment bro.

Paul - Thanks again for another encouraging comment. This is maybe what I see as one of the biggest weaknesses of the Church today - regardless of what the particular structure looks like. We have preachers and teachers galore, but almost no mentors. It made me so excited to hear you want to focus on it more, and it makes me wish I had come to the Church you're at when I came to Christ.

Brettin - I'm so proud of you and what you're doing. It's good to hear I'm not the only one who had those experiences, and I truly hope God helps you balance a family and ministering to younger women some day. You're learning that now I'm sure, and I look forward to hearing more about it some day. Thanks for being you.

Trent said...

awesome post man! I m not sure what I would have done without those few 'mentors' I had while growing up and I still have a few at age 35. It never stops. Our youth today are "screaming" for guidance, yet we must love, care, and invest in them!! Praying for your ministry Bro!!

Like a Mustard Seed said...

I'd say your questions and reflections in this post actually completely tie into all the previous ones where you are exploring what it looks like to live as the Body of Christ, outside of a weekly production... What you described about doing things like going out to coffee, talking, and just plain being interested, I think are the "meat and potatoes" of what it means to live as the Body. It's about relationships. It means investing your time into people, and getting to actually know them. This is something that is quite simply impossible within a conventional church framework. Well, maybe not impossible, as I did encounter such moments as I grew up going to church, but now looking back, I realize that they almost ALL occurred outside of the official "church stuff". The real relationship building was always squeezed into some corner somewhere, instead of being the focus. It was the exception, and not the norm. Now I'm seeing that this kind of relationship building is what we're called to do. After all it's what we see Jesus doing with the twelve. We see from scripture that discipleship goes hand in hand with having a very integrated relationship with others, and so it is to be the bedrock of our understanding of everything from family, to leadership, to fellowship, and even sharing the gospel. We have to invest ourselves in getting to know people, and then just allow God to work through that....

Daniel

Joshua Tucker said...

Trent - Thanks for the comment brother. That's one of the things I love about AIM: mentoring is built-in. I wish the Church everywhere was wired more like that naturally. Hope to see you soon man.

Daniel - Thanks for dropping by. I really appreciate your comment. I agree that a lot about what I've been writing about comes directly into play in genuinely investing in friendships with other people. It must go beyond the official "church stuff," as you said. I'm especially concerned with the youth in the Church, in age and in spiritual growth. There are many who want to follow God and be like Him, but they have so many questions with no one to talk to about them. We can all be a shepherd to someone, gently caring for their faith. I am so thankful to God that He continues to provide people like that in my life. We need more than concepts and 3 point sermons... we need each other.

Terry said...

It's been a while now, but I remember similar thoughts and feelings as a new Christian at age 17. The only godly man in my life was the preacher, but I was a little too shy to open up to him about my struggles and temptations. Your post encourages me to be the kind of man I needed to be around when I was a teenager. I will try to be that man for my son and for others. Thanks for the inspiring post!

Like a Mustard Seed said...

"We can all be a shepherd to someone, gently caring for their faith."

Right there, you just summed up one big, crucial truth that I long for more people to grasp! Beautiful.....

alisha dawn said...

It's hard to read that and not feel pain of what others might be experiencing and remembering what I experienced. Yet I am inspired more! I longed for a Godly mentor in my life for so long. I had a few small ones but because of that I do want to be a mentor who can help encourage and even change the direction of someone's life. Thanks for that reminder. I really want to be more involved with younger women. I want all my actions and conversations to younger women be good and guiding for them.

David said...

Nice blog! It is so important for people in the church to get involved and for those with some experience to share a little with someone else. It is essential to healthy church growth! It is a great way to learn to love too. Mentors for any age person are of great value!

Amazingly our religious structure can get in the way. There are too many steps to "ministry," and mandatory waiting periods. There is too much "this is my disciple" and that sort of thing. I always ask the question, how long does someone have to be in the church before we let them work the parking lot?

I am of the mind that everyone with a job or position in the church should be discipling/mentoring their replacement. If you are a pastor, youth leader, guitarist on the worship team or toilet cleaner, you need to mentor your replacement. Just as Elijah worked with Elisha, everyone involved needs to find someone to take their place. It's a good plan, because if you are in your calling, you'll stay there, and if you are not, you'll get promoted!

The problem is when one has a gift that is not part of the current ministry vision. What then? It is right here where folks feel undervalued. It brings us to the very root, we need to love first. Mentoring, and discipling comes from loving, not always teaching. I believe more ministry is caught then taught anyway.

There are so many needs in any church, and the number one need is "significance." Mentoring can provide that.

For the youth, they do need father type figures, but I have found that letting them do my jobs in the church has made them grow faster, and rekindle the fire for both of us. I let them teach, pray for others, play guitar and bass, and come on mission trips. Kids don't have a junior Holy Spirit!! Amazingly, some of this has caused conflict. Why? There was some crazy assumption that an eight-year-old couldn't pray for a sick person to be healed, or and 11-year-old couldn't bring some one to Christ. Why????

Erick Paddy said...

Josh,

I really love this blog, and this is so true. You are such a good example of this, i thank God everyday for what you have done for me and invested in me. You have been such a good example, and just a great Godly figure for me to look up to. I respect you as a person so much. I hope that one day, i can return the favor to a younger man, and change his life in as many ways as you have for me. I will Definetly keep thesee thoughts in minds has god gives me opprontunities to be a Godlly figure in mens lives around me.

Love you brother. And this blog is great. You should write a book. You are one of the smartest people i have ever me.