By Jim Holm
Let me begin with a testimony. I attend one of the most diverse churches I’ve ever seen. Four congregations, three primary languages, a variety of ethnic groups: African-Americans, Hispanics from several countries, attendees from half a dozen Asian cultures and of course Anglos from all over the United States and some from Europe.
The ethnic diversity may pale next to the economic and cultural diversity. Couples that have been married north of 60 years worshipping with widows and widowers, never-marrieds, people living together but not yet married and single moms who may have children from more than one relationship. People with substantial wealth sitting next to people receiving public assistance. People with tattoos and piercings beside people who would never consider such things.
Then there are the spiritual differences: Adults who are 75 or more who have been in church virtually every Sunday since they were born praying with people who came to Jesus last year and some who haven’t yet come to Jesus at all. There are people who could name all the books of the Bible—in order—in a small group with people that might not be able to find the New Testament. It’s all here, every single week, and by the grace of God, it works.
A melting pot of humanity like this brings a variety of issues. Some people haven’t managed their finances and are not even sure where their money goes. Some struggle with building relationships, resolving conflict, raising children or coping with teenagers. Some have never learned to trust God when the rug is pulled from beneath their feet. Every Sunday these people come to worship with people who can account for every penny they have, have worked in conflict situations and resolved them for years and have loads of experience at dealing with children and youth. Others have gone through deep valleys and have found God to be faithful throughout.
Forging relationships, sharing life
Our theme this year—with this church I’ve just described—is “relationship.” God brings us together for his purpose. How can we walk together, two by two, sharing life experiences, praying for and learning from each other?
What do those of us who have travelled farther down the path of life with Jesus owe our brothers and sisters who haven’t yet gotten as far in their life journey? Do we who have journeyed longer have anything that is profitable to share with our fellow worshippers?
And on the other side, what can we “experienced” disciples pick up from the excitement and enthusiasm for Jesus we see in newcomers? These new believers and seekers have a freshness, a simple trust, a belief that trusting Jesus actually changes lives, while we who have been around the track sometimes feel jaded. Walking together is a mutual learning experience; sharing goes both ways.
So, we posed a question in our congregations: “Are you ready to seek a relationship with someone in the church to whom you might be an encourager, a partner, a prayer warrior and a friend? To mentor or to be mentored by a spiritual guide, a fellow traveler?”
I pose the same question to you who are reading this. Will you consider seeking and developing a new spiritual friendship, learning to know someone in your congregation with whom you can share your experiences of Jesus and learn from theirs?
Perhaps you are interested, but wonder how to begin. Let’s start with the Scriptures. Here are three biblical examples of spiritual mentoring. All three are intentional and focused, and all three lead to outstanding results.
Moses and Joshua
Begin with Moses and Joshua. Joshua came from a very distinguished family; his grandfather was the chief man of one of the 12 tribes of Israel. Joshua himself must have had a warm spirit toward God, which neither his father nor his grandfather possessed. They both died in the wilderness because of their unbelief, and Joshua did not. Moses picked Joshua for his chief of staff, his closest aide.
We first meet Joshua in Exodus 17. The Amalekites have attacked the Hebrews and Moses needs an armed forces commander. He chooses Joshua. Moses goes up on a hill to watch the battle; Moses lifts his hands in victory, and Joshua wins the fight.
Joshua becomes a full-time assistant. In Exodus 24, when Moses goes up God’s mountain to receive the Ten Commandments, he takes only one person: Joshua. Joshua doesn’t get all the way to the summit, but farther than anyone else. And he waits there, while Moses stays on top, for 40 days. That mountain sojourn does not end peacefully: The people at the bottom make a golden calf and worship it. Joshua sees how Moses handles that crisis, and Joshua uses that knowledge later on in his own leadership role.
Joshua learns to be disciplined and to receive correction. In Numbers 11, Moses is angry because the people are complaining about the food. He pours out his frustrations to God, and God promises to spread the spirit of prophecy around on some others so that Moses doesn’t have to carry so much responsibility. When the prophesying starts, Joshua becomes upset that some are prophesying in the wrong way—not by the book. Moses tells Joshua that he is wrong to be upset. Joshua listens, takes the advice and absorbs his lesson.
Joshua doesn’t know it, but he is being prepared for a tremendous task—to be Moses’ replacement. Do you remember that Joshua was picked to be one of the 12 spies going into the land of Canaan? When 10 of the spies give up any hope of conquest, Joshua and one other man hold out, standing against the crowd, against public opinion, for the will of the Lord. When the announcement comes that Joshua will be the new leader, the people cheer at his commissioning ceremony. They know that this young man had been prepared to take this role.
Jesus and his disciples
Also consider Jesus and his disciples. Jesus knows that he must pass along what he knows to his followers. But these 12 are ignorant, narrow-minded, superstitious, prejudiced, impulsive, judgmental and hot-headed. Do you see potential there? Jesus does.
Jesus calls these fellows to walk with him, and what do they learn? Prayer, fasting, spiritual disciplines, standing up to pressure, evangelism, cross-bearing, humility, self-control and forgiveness. He teaches them self-sacrifice, self-control, serving, washing feet and how to wait on God. And when Jesus prays his final prayer on earth, he does not pray for the crowds but for these 12.
The apostle Paul
Finally, there’s the apostle Paul. He seems to have mentored all sorts of people—Aquila, Priscilla, Apollos, Silas, Titus, Timothy and John Mark. Timothy may have received more of his attention than anyone else.
From what we can gather, Timothy is timid, vulnerable, has a weak stomach, looks young for his age, is not very strong, is the nervous type, is afraid of hardship and perhaps even sometimes is ashamed of Paul. But Paul enters into a relationship with him and mentors him.
Here’s the short version of the story. Acts 16 tells how Paul calls Timothy, and 1 Timothy 4 speaks of the prophetic gift which Timothy receives. In 1 Thessalonians and 1 Corinthians, Paul, who is in prison or travelling elsewhere, sends Timothy to two of the most difficult churches in the New Testament. The Thessalonian congregation had become confused and troubled about Christ’s second coming while the church in Corinth was just a mess. And when Paul needs someone to send to straighten things out, he sends Timothy.
Call it mentoring or relationship building or training or whatever. Moses and Joshua, Jesus and his disciples and Paul and Timothy illustrate what mentoring is meant to be: a relationship, a friending, a learning to know and a sharing of experiences of life. It illustrates what we are seeking for our congregations during this year.
So again the question: Many of us have a lot of experiences—some good, others not so good. Can we pray that God will open up the possibility of developing a relationship with another person so that together we can share what we have learned—walking together, learning from each other and growing? Who knows? Could there be another Joshua among us, another Timothy?
Being part of a diverse church is an invigorating experience. It is a tremendous challenge, but an exhilarating experience. But maybe, in our diversity, we can actually learn from each other, mentor one another. That can give today’s exhilaration an eternal benefit.
Jim Holm is the pastor of Faith Community, one of four congregations of Butler Church, a USMB congregation in Fresno, California.