Thursday, January 29, 2009

Intentional Mentoring - Part 2

Finding Someone to Disciple/Mentor

In Luke 8 Jesus tells a story about soils. A man throws out seed which falls on the various soils, some on the path and were taken up by birds, some on a rock that died without root or moisture, some fell among thorns and the plant choked and died. Then there was the seed that landed on good soil and yielded crop a hundredfold what was put into it.

Now, in this story the seed is the Word of God. And the different soils are the hearts of men. Some have bad hearts, which will either reject God's Word altogether or hold onto it for a little while before getting distracted, bored, or overwhelmed with the world. So there's bad hearts that won't accept the Word of God, but some... some will accept it and put out a hundredfold what you put into it.

Which one do you think is the best candidate for you to mentor?

I want to share with you how I go about looking for the good soil that is worth investing time into.

The first thing to do is to start praying that God leads you to someone with a good heart whom you can influence. A good heart doesn't equal a good person. In fact, people who have a lot of visible sin in their lives sometimes have great hearts. They don't pretend like the most of us have learned to do. A good heart is just one that deep down wants to change, and who will accept God's Word when it's presented in a way that makes sense to them.

These are the two primary things I'm looking for when looking for someone to mentor:
  • Interest in Spirituality - Notice again from John 4 that Jesus brought up something spiritual, and the woman at the well responded with spiritual questions. I use this same method when feeling people out to see who might be receptive. Bring up spiritual things (not forced) often and see who responds. This is my way of throwing out the seed to see what happens. Even if at first they don't respond, keep praying and talking about God-things. For example, for someone I'm mentoring now, I taught class and he came up to me afterwards wanting to talk about atheism. It wasn't an in-depth discussion by any means, but it showed me he had spiritual interest.
  • Interest in You - It doesn't really matter if someone is interested in spiritual things but they're not interested in you. If they don't trust and respect you, they'll likely not want to meet with you, nor will they listen to what you have to say about life. There's lots of ways you can connect with people, though. In 1 Corinthians 9 Paul talks about "becoming all things to all men." Study that passage. You can connect to others without giving up your identity, integrity, or convictions. For example, one of the guys I'm mentoring now was obviously looking for a role model. He likes converse, and when he saw my converse glasses he thought they were the coolest thing in the world. Well, I used that. That was an entrance into a growing friendship with him. We were friends before we ever studied together.
You really need both of these to mentor someone. The bottom line is that you can't disciple someone who doesn't want to be discipled. If someone is interested in the spiritual but you two don't connect, you're going to have a really hard time mentoring them. Become friends first, no matter how long it takes. If they're interested in you but not the spiritual, use that. Be transparent about your walk with Jesus and spiritual thoughts. Eventually they will either lose interest in you, or you'll influence them to start thinking about important things in life.

Let me just add that at this point I'm usually not concerned with if someone's a "Christian" or not. Most "Christians" don't read their Bibles or think spiritually anyway. Just focus on their heart and you can help them along to Christ, wherever they are in relation to Him. It's easy if you're looking for it.

Once you've found someone you think God has led to you, invite them out to coffee, dinner, or to your home. I'll often ask about their lives and share some about my own, and especially what led to me becoming a Christian. Then I'll ask if they'd like to start meeting (weekly or every other week) and studying the Bible together. Sometimes they're not ready for that. Not a problem. Just keep praying that their heart will be opened, and keep trying to influence them for Christ.

A general rule for me is that I only mentor guys who are younger than me. There's just too many problems in mentoring a female, namely the high risk of her building an unhealthy attachment to me. You can usually find a godly woman who will mentor a girl anyway.

These are just the basics I know, but hopefully this will help give you an idea of some things to keep in mind when looking for someone to mentor.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Intentional Mentoring - Part 1

I've been greatly affected by godly mentors in my life, men who have invested real time, emotion, and insight into my life. But if you're like me, you might feel like "mentoring" sounds exciting but vague. How do I intentionally mentor another person in the faith? I wasn't taught how, and I'm certainly not well-experienced in it. Yet, I have learned some very important principles in my own limited experience. I've mostly gotten these principles from 1 Timothy 4:16 which says,

"Be conscientious about yourself and your teaching; persevere in these things, for by doing so you will save both yourself and your hearers."

The two main ways we influence other people is through teaching and example. These are the four ways I try to put this verse into practice as a mentor:

1. Fun and Relaxation Time - It's important when mentoring someone to have time where you can just relax and have fun in everyday settings, doing things like: playing video games, going out to eat, hanging out, going to the park, spending time with your family, fishing, or whatever else you like to do for fun. This is important for two reasons: (1) It's important that people don't feel like they're projects. When you're just hanging out they'll feel more like friends and less like a student. They'll know they really matter to you. (2) It's important that people see how you, as a Christ-follower, live in ordinary life. They can see how you react to tough situations, treat other people, have fun, and even fail as a Christian.
  • Example: Before having a Bible study I like to do something fun with someone I'm mentoring like throw a football around, go see a movie, or just hang out around my other spiritual friends.

2. Structured Bible Study -
One-on-one Bible studies might be the most effective of all of these principles. The Word is extremely powerful, and by ourselves we are completely unable to transform the lives of others. But the Word working through us can, as well as it exampled in our lives. I tend to start by going through an overall context of the New Testament, next to God's overall plan in the Gospel, and then on to how to become a Christian. After that, it really depends on where that person is in their faith. But I try to make this a weekly event, even if the other three aspects can't always be there.
  • Example: Each week I try to get together at my house with the person I mentor for coffee and Bible study. Sometime I buy them a Bible, and we walk through it together taking notes and having interactive discussion.

3. Spiritual Conversations - I got this concept from John 4 with Jesus and the woman at the well. When he brought the conversation to the spiritual, she brought out a flurry of spiritual questions she had probably always wanted to ask. He simply gave her a context to ask them. Jesus also did this with His disciples, always using everyday situations as excuses to relate spiritual lessons to them. Much of ministry (in my experience) is the art of asking spiritual questions. You can always bring the conversation to the spiritual if you're genuine and do it on purpose. This doesn't have to be some weird gimmick or trick, but instead an honest effort to be focused on Christ in everyday life.
  • Example: I like to ask questions like: Is it hard being a Chrisian at school? Do you have many Christian friends? How do you think Jesus would act if He were in your shoes? Do you pray much? Had any hard times lately? Questions like this usually lead to spiritual conversation where I can give some kind of advice from something God has taught me in my life.

4. Belief in Potential -
If you're male, I highly suggest reading Wild at Heart. The author talks about how particularly men get their independence, identity, and courage from older men. Most men don't realize this, so they tend to cut down and make fun of younger men, which is debilitating for life. But mentors don't do this. They intentionally build up their mentoree instead of cutting them down, even if they're just messing around. They constantly point out situations where they believe in their potential to do something well. They also say out loud that they believe in them, and they always congratulate spiritual progress.
  • Example: I try hard not to sarcastically cut down people, but especially someone I'm mentoring. Even when they do something stupid or mean (that I may have to confront) I always follow up with "but I still think you're a good guy, this isn't like you." Always be encouraging about successes, but don't cut them down for their failures.

Of course, these are just the principles I try to focus on. But if you're passionate about helping others grow in Christ you'll probably do these things whether you realize it or not. The hardest part about all of this is time. We all have such hectic schedules I know, but it's a matter of priority. Are you willing to adopt one or two younger Christians and help them along in the faith? Jesus did it with twelve, but even if you focus on one you're doing more than most Christians are willing to do.

The main thing assumed in all of this is love. People can tell when they're just projects. But when you really love them, they'll feel inspired to do absolutely anything. I love it when Paul writes, "we were well pleased to impart to you not only the Gospel of God, but also our own lives, because you had becomes so dear to us." Isn't that beautiful? Paul didn't view people as programs or projects, but as dear friends. The most effective mentor is the one who genuinely cares for his mentoree.

This is part one, but the next two posts will be on how to find someone to mentor and how to mark your mentoree's spiritual progress.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Random Principle of Ministry #2: Real loves tells the truth.

I heard of a church once that made a list called "100 ways to reach your neighbor." They had many things listed like: make a pie for your neighbor, invite someone over for dinner, or rake your neighbor's leaves for them.

All of them were good, but you know what was never mentioned? Telling them about Jesus. It wasn't on there. "Study the Bible with your neighbor" didn't make the list.

I was talking to a Christian recently who was doing homeless ministry. She loved going there and loving the less fortunate, giving them food, praying with them, and caring about their problems... but she felt something was missing. She said, "I'm glad they can see a difference in me from the world. But they still don't know the reason for that difference. They're content knowing I'm a really kind person."

Because of arrogant Christianity, I'm afraid some of us have swung to the other end. Instead of teaching people, we've opted to "teach with our life" instead. But we can't have one without the other. We can't be hypocrites with our lives, but we can't make it about us either. A gospel that simply makes me look really good is no gospel at all. It's not about us. There's a reason for our good deeds: God has saved us! And, friend, He can save you too.

I gave some advice to this girl doing the homeless ministry. I told her, "It's amazing what you're doing there, but you're doing no favor by letting someone go to Hell unwarned. You have to, maybe with tears in your eyes, tell him the truth. It's good news, but he may not see it that way at first."

And so, it's true with all of us. Being kind isn't enough. Notice Jesus. He loved people so intensely, but it's precisely because of this love that he risked the relationship and told the truth. Contrary to popular belief, there is such a thing as sin. And we do no favors by letting someone drown in it. Being kind is only halfway; we must risk our friendship with others if it means saving their lives.

This goes with Christians and non-Christians both.

Aren't we glad Christ didn't leave us in blissful ignorance? I am so happy He didn't leave me as I was, but led others to me to confront my reason for existence.

The world is asleep in sin. God has called His followers to go around and wake them up. With kindness and love, yes, but some people don't like being woken up. Nevertheless, our calling is still to awaken the sleeping.

May we have the love of God so deeply rooted within us that it overflows into everything we do. May we love someone enough to tell them the truth, regardless of what it does to our relationship with them, because we love them too much to see them drown.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Random Principle of Ministry #1

Your relationship with God must come before other people's relationships with God.

Paul, who wrote half the New Testament, was deeply concerned about being "disqualified for the prize." This man preached to many and wrote Scripture, yet he knew how fragile he was. Preaching to others does not guarantee right standing before God. It's easy to get so wrapped up in "ministry" that it becomes more about the ministry than the God who makes it all possible.

It doesn't matter what we say about God if we never talk to Him.

I've noticed when I give real, emotional time in prayer to God, offering myself to Him, I have much strength to minister to others. But when I stop praying, feeling like I've "got it all together" I start to fade in passion and zeal. It's so easy to get caught up in what's going around us that we forget the invisible. We give so much attention to our lives, yet we neglect our relationship with the Father, the only part that really matters.

Whatever you need to do to nourish your soul, do it. Pray, really meditate on Scripture, read Christian books, have spiritual conversations, go by yourself in the wilderness, whatever. Sometimes taking a day off for a real Sabbath is healthy for the soul. And it's productive.

What will it matter if we convert the whole world, but everybody gets to Heaven but us?

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Is there such a thing as a "professional" Christian?

Are all Christians ministers, or just some?

What is ministry?

Share your thoughts, please.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

"Mere Christianity" - A Synopsis

This is the first Christian book I read after really deciding to follow Jesus. I remember walking through Hastings and how shocked I was to see that C.S. Lewis had written a Christian book. I loved the Chronicles of Narnia as a child, so I had to see what it was about. I must admit the first time I read it, it took me several months to get through it. But it was enthralling. This book, far more than any other besides the Bible, has greatly influenced my outlook on life. If you have not read this great piece of literature I highly suggest that you do.

Most of this book is just talks that Lewis gave over the radio, especially to troops. In it he sets out to "explain and defend the belief that has been common to nearly all Christians at all times." He does so masterfully. While intellectual, this book explains the heart of Christianity in non-theological terms. Using metaphors throughout, C.S. Lewis uses real life experiences we already understand to help us understand Christianity. It is simple, or "mere," Christianity. It is divided into four parts:

This first section has helped me more than anything else in believing there is a God, and that He is Good. Scores of books are written to "prove" God with science (i.e. intelligent design). While creation does point to a Creator, this method only works effectively if you are a scientist. If you are not, you really have to go on what other people have told you about it.

But Lewis works on a different premise. Why do we all feel there is such a thing as 'right' and 'wrong,' even if we disagree on what it looks like? If one of our friends punched us in the face we would be angry. Why? Because friends don't punch each other. But why do we have that idea within us? Why do we have this idea that people ought to act a certain way and not in another? And why is it not just in our society, but everywhere? We didn't put it there, so Lewis reasons that something else, something greater than us, must have.

And if that Greater Something put this idea of right and wrong in us, it must be on the 'right' side of things. That is, it must be 'good' because it is the one that gave us the idea that some things are 'good' and some are not. Something good would reveal itself to us, not just leaving us here to figure it all out. And this Good Something has. It is God. Lewis then reasons that the most probable explanation must be Christianity, because it is the only answer that really makes sense.

Here Lewis goes through the process of examining atheism along with different conceptions of God. He goes on to say that atheism is too simple. Many atheists' main reason for their belief is that the world is too unjust for a god to have made it. But what gave man the idea of just and unjust? So atheists argue that God, who gave them the very idea of right and wrong, does not exist because the world is too wrong. This may be an accusation against God, but He is the one who gave them that idea in the first place.

Another idea about God is that everything lovely and beautiful is "God" in some sense, so as long as we are all living good lives we are living true religion. But this is a candy religion. It is all rewards and requires nothing. After dealing with even more views Lewis says that the final view is the "Christian view that this is a good world that has gone wrong, but still retains the memory of what it ought to have been."

And finally he goes on to explain the Gospel, the heart of who this Jesus is and why He came. He writes, "The perfect surrender and humiliation were undergone by Christ: perfect because He was God, surrender and humiliation because He was man. Now the Christian belief is that if we somehow share the humility and suffering of Christ we shall also share in His conquest of death and find a new life after we have died and in it become perfect, and perfectly happy, creatures."

This is a great section in which Lewis explains the implications of God. He deals with some basics of morality like: faith, forgiveness, love, hope, sexual morality etc. I think up to this point in my life (before I read this section) morality seemed like such a cut and dry, boring thing. In Bible classes I mostly heard these terms defined, sometimes applied, but almost never why we should choose one over another.

Lewis' classic view of morality is this. God made us to live a certain way, and only living this way will bring us happiness, contentment, and meaning. The human machine is meant to run on God. Anything else that is put into it will eventually make the machine sputter out and die, even if at first it seems to do better.

He also explains it like taking a dog for a walk. If the dog gets caught on the other side of a pole, it will likely keep trying to push forward. If you try to pull the dog back around the pole it will think you don't want it to go forward, when really pulling back for the moment gets it around the pole, and further than it could possibly go with the leash in the way. This is sort of how morality works. No denial of a sin is fun at the moment (lust, greed, lying etc.) but in the end God is just trying to pull us around the pole to get us where we wanted to go in the first place: everlasting joy.

This is definitely my favorite chapter, and contains my favorite chapter in all books: Nice People or New Men. Many have the idea that religion is all about becoming nicer and giving God His due. Or that Jesus had some good social teachings and if we all just took His advice we'd be a better society. But that's not what God's after. Those are all by-products only. We have been self-polluted by sin, and it's only by becoming something completely new that we can be made whole again.

Lewis gets into a lot of theology, but from a very practical and reverent perspective. "The Son of God became a man to enable men to become sons of God." He has already done the work for us; we have only but to accept it. Here Lewis explains that we're all very much like tin soldiers. If you were to try to explain to a tin soldier (if it could speak) about what real people are like, and that it could become one, it might not much like the idea. It would be a long, painful process of veins coming in with bones and everything else. It might be quite unpleasant. But if he would just let it happen, he would experience something far greater than he could ever have imagined as being a mere tin soldier.

We are all in the same place, even though we tend to rank people. We tend to look at some people as more evil than others. But we're all tin soldiers without Christ. It's only through the Gospel that we become real people, sons of God. He then writes, "A world of nice people, content in their own niceness, looking no further, turned away from God, would be just as desperately in need of salvation as a miserable world - and might even be more difficult to save."

In conclusion Lewis explains that the seed of real life was started in Christ, and that we merely need to accept it to start transforming into a creature with a nature like God's. We are born spiritual babies through Him, but if we keep walking and trusting we will eventually become just like Him, though likely in the life after this one.


Of course I just skimmed the top of this wonderful book. If you want more detail I suggest reading it. I think I have read this book at least once a year since I gave my life to Christ. No book seems to stir me like this one does. Here Lewis talks about Christianity likes it's both real and poetic, like it's inspiring yet intensely practical. I love that.

He's a bit like Shakespeare. If you read Lewis enough you start to think like him, just like I've found myself thinking a little in Old English if I read Shakespeare very much. Once you're in his own version of the English language, his writing is like a refreshing glass of cold water. It is as if he knows real English, and that you've been taught a plastic version all your life. Writing like that about something as grand as Christianity, the reason for existence, really helps make Christianity seem a bit like that as well: the only life that really makes sense.

If any of you have read the book I'd love to hear your thoughts on it.

What's your favorite Christian book, and why?