Mentors come in different forms, but all contribute to our growth
This year, I share the stories of men who played a vital role in my spiritual development. Looking back, I see them as mentors, although most of them would never have used that term to describe their relationship with me.
Barnabas and Paul were men who had true hearts for mentoring. Barnabas took Paul and John Mark under his wing to lead them to fuller spiritual service. Paul, in turn, guided Silas, Timothy, Titus, Priscilla and Aquila to greater knowledge of the Gospel and to greater service.
My mentors had different backgrounds and helped me at different stages of my life. The first was the preacher I heard throughout my adolescence; the second was a college professor; the third was a colleague; and the fourth is a collection of former students.
Although I did not have a close relationship with the first, he became a model of serious study of the Bible and Christian thought. He trained me to be an attentive listener, an introspective thinker and a truth seeker. I have always remembered a powerful lesson on Eli’s sin of not rebuking his evil sons. He also taught me to seek fuller understanding of God’s nature as a central mission of my life.
My second year of college, I encountered a professor who had a tremendous influence on my life and thought. I had him for several classes, but his real impact came through private conversations and discussions. He was the first adult who asked to pray with me. He was an electrifying personality whose intensity always made me feel as though I were on the hot seat — and he inspired me to some of my best dreams and plans. He taught me to be a serious student of the Word, seeking the whole truth. He expressed confidence in me that caused me to dream of things I had long considered impossible. He was sure I would make an acceptable college professor, and his trust has always driven my professional life. His model has encouraged me to single out people, especially students, and help them have vision of their potential.
My third principal mentor was a colleague from another department. He is an avid reader whose curiosity drives him to keep learning and studying. He planted the idea that reading a book a week would help me stay mentally alert and connected to the world of ideas.
His passions as a father helped me have perspective in dealing with my children. Even when he had a child interested in things that were unimportant to him, he would listen and study with the child. He truly is a great teacher who knows how to challenge students to look beyond the surface for the truth and significance of ideas or works of art. In him I have seen the wonder of ageless living, always living “deliberately, fronting only the essential facts of life” (in the language of Thoreau).
My fourth mentor is not a single person, but a composite of many students who have helped me become a stronger, better person. Many students have helped me remember humility’s role in learning. I have taught many students who are far brighter than I am, but they have respected what I know and what I am seeking to understand more fully.
They have become partners in understanding God and using the power of language to discern and communicate truth. Many have introduced me to subjects that are important to them. I have been challenged to think about science and what science can teach me about the universe and the atom. Through the questioning of students, I have sought to understand the work of Freud, Darwin, Einstein, Dewey and a host of philosophers and theologians.
Others have taught me the importance of evangelism as they invited my family to share in mission trips and in providing financial support for mission efforts. Still other students taught me a more compassionate spirit in looking at the need for drinking water and humanitarian aid. Some have made me sensitive to spirits that are broken by abuse and neglect in formative years.
Jesus called us to his church, a community of believers who can mentor, support and serve each other in the journey to heaven where we will live, eternally worshiping God.