A mentor is an experienced and trusted adviser: a guide, counselor, and consultant. A mentor shares what they have learned and is assumed to have greater wisdom, experience and maturity. A mentor is also a caregiver. Leadership gurus today uses the term “People Engineering” to denote the concept of a mentoring relationship. In the church, mentoring involves intentional shepherding; it is part of the discipleship process God uses to shape, equip, and prepare us for effective ministry.
Christ’s equipping of the twelve is a superb model in mentoring. At the very outset of His public ministry, He chose men who were willing to be mentored. He called, prepared and equipped them for their ministry assignments. This training by the Master was indispensable for their ministry. Moses and Joshua, Elijah and Elisha, Paul and Timothy are some of the other noteworthy examples of mentoring relationships in the Bible.
Today vision for mentoring leadership is lacking. Even in assemblies where able men have ministered and shepherded for many years, a future generation of leaders is not in view. It is evident that somewhere something went wrong. Therefore, it’s vital that we again pay close attention to this biblical leadership principle.
Passing on the Baton (2 Tim. 2:1-2)
Paul and Timothy present an outstanding model of a mentoring relationship. Paul recognized the importance of equipping successors to carry on the gospel after his life and ministry was over. His approach included carefully selecting the right persons, equipping them for ministry, and encouraging them in life’s challenges. In its historical context, Paul wrote his letters to Timothy to equip him for the task of leadership in the local church. Today it is equally vital to prepare the next generation of servant-leaders to be strong in Word, doctrine, wisdom, and shepherding skills.
It is easy for many of us in leadership to forget our vital responsibility to disciple those behind us. This is the only way godly and spiritual leadership will continue in a multigenerational setting described in 2 Timothy 2:1-2, “You therefore my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, these entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also” (NASB).
The central proposition of the text revolves around two responsibilities – to grow strong in grace and to teach others (the principle of growing in grace and knowledge, 2 Peter 3:18). Though others falter and fail, more is expected of Timothy (“You” is in the emphatic position). Timothy is to be different from the defectors (2 Tim. 3:10, 14; 4:5). Timothy has to “be strong.” Since it is in the present tense, the command is best translated, “keep on being empowered.” He is to responsibly draw upon a divinely-provided resource. God does the empowering; we just submit and receive His power. The preposition “in” may best be taken as by means of. Christ is the source of that power and grace is the means. It has to be continual and uninterrupted. If the flow of power stops, nothing works (like electricity). What a solemn reminder that only God’s grace will enable us to fulfill our ministry.
Growing strong in grace is for a definite purpose, to faithfully pass on to the next generation what Timothy had learned through years of tutelage. It is a ministry of spiritual reproduction. The emphasis is on the transmission of truth more than its preservation. It is preserved through transmission. Today many of us are zealous in guarding and defending the truth, but seldom think about its faithful transmission to the next generation. It is to be a succession of apostolic doctrine found in the New Testament. Spiritual leaders, empowered by God’s grace are to equip men to carry on the ministry in the next generation. What an awesome leadership responsibility!
“What you have heard from me” implies years of close association, discipleship and mentoring which was intentional and goal-oriented. Timothy was Paul’s “son” (literally child, which implies a very endearing relationship which is crucial to mentoring). “Entrust” carries the idea of placing something valuable in another’s trust for safekeeping. The treasure with which Timothy had been entrusted was to be entrusted by him to others. It was not simply sharing the truth or giving the truth, but it was to commit the truth to deposit for safe-keeping. Timothy was to be fully aware that the truth entrusted to him was important. As a steward he was to be faithful, responsible, and accountable (1 Cor. 4:1-2). The truth was also attested and confirmed by “many witnesses.” Paul’s teaching was supported by the confirming testimony of other reliable teachers of sound doctrine (“supported by many witnesses,” A.T. Robertson). This may also be a reference to the public and open nature of Paul’s instruction, in contrast to the false teachers’ secret and esoteric teachings of his day.
“Faithful” implies trustworthiness. Men whose character reflects the faithfulness of God’s own Word which they are going to teach. “Able” means that which is sufficient, qualified, or capable. It may be translated as “competent” (NET Bible). Paul was directing Timothy to identify a specific group of men who were spiritually devout and faithful, also gifted in teaching (1 Tim.3:2; Titus 1:9; 2 Tim. 2:24), spiritual leaders with “integrity of heart and skillfulness of hands” (Psa.78:72). Not all faithful men are gifted or able to teach. Timothy was to keep an eye on such people, teach and equip them to be able to pass this message of truth to others. These men must be prequalified by proven spiritual character and ability. For the health of our assemblies we cannot minimize the importance of this vital truth in relation to equipping leaders.
In a wider sense, every believer has a discipleship responsibility. Equipping believers to transfer the faith to others is an integral part of that discipleship. However, it has general and specific dimensions. Though teachers are to teach, not all teaching is to equip other teachers or leaders. Here Paul is not suggesting a general training program for all. Instead it is the specific dimension that is emphasized here and the teaching ministry in this context is very selective. Paul is talking about the careful, responsible, systematic equipping of shepherding leaders who will teach and disciple others in the fullness of God’s Word for spiritual leadership. Paul’s vision is for equipped leaders who are to be spiritual reproducers of faithful and able men equipped to teach others. The thrust of Paul’s instruction here is on intensified equipping of church leaders. If the church is to be strong, its leaders must be strong.
Paul envisions generations of godly leaders throughout church history, the transmission of truth taking place in each generation – Paul, Timothy, faithful men, others, and so on.
Points to Ponder
Teachers and shepherds have a special responsibility to faithfully teach the truth to competent people who can faithfully teach and lead in their generation. Let us passionately follow this biblical vision for leadership development.
The Lord’s will and instruction to ensure a succession of competent teachers in the church is emphatically presented by Paul. Let us not totally out-source the equipping program to institutions. While these institutions may serve a purpose on a broader level, the New Testament teaches that it must be fulfilled by local churches and its leaders.
The instruction and guidelines here presuppose competency, giftedness and quality as far as the teaching ministry of the church is concerned. This is what our assemblies need today. Let us not make compromises on this. This is an urgent need of the hour. May the Holy Spirit guide us toward this goal.