Mentoring as Memory Making

father_child_fishingI can remember my grandmother showing me how to bait a hook, and my grandfather teaching me how to distinguish the tension in the line that is caused by a river’s current from the pull of a snagged trout.  I don’t mean I remember the idea.  I mean I can see in my head some clear pictures of them teaching me – of a silver fish in the bottom of a gray bucket, of a yellow kernel of corn in my hand next to the hook, of Granddad smoking his pipe on the bank.  That was almost 40 years ago.  40 years ago, I had thousands of experiences each day, but that one I can still picture.

I can remember my youth pastor teaching me how to read the Bible.  We were having a Bible study in a dusty upper room of a church, back when churches still had libraries, and we sat on the floor in a circle, and he showed me how to think through the biblical text.  We were reading Isaiah.  The carpet was green.  I can see us sitting there.

I can remember a leader in my college ministry at church teaching me how to articulate a rational defense of the Christian faith. We sat in the basement of his house watching VHS tapes of William Lane Craig debating other scholars.  We would pause the tape to debate the points that he made, and also to talk about our girlfriends and our desired careers and the news.  I can remember the very intense look my friend would get when he mulled over philosophical questions.  He’s now a philosophy professor who teaches at the same school as Craig.  I picked up a book in a theological library the other day because I saw my friend had written one of the chapters, and he had written about a subject I remember us arguing about one night.

Mentoring is not the act of an expert passing on a field of expertise.  It’s the moment that someone who is passionate about one of their interests stops to show why it matters to someone else.  What matters in that transaction is not that someone with a professional certification educates someone else.  What matters is that a memory is made when two hearts and minds gather around a topic of a similar interest.

Imagine what would happen if everyone who is passionate about Jesus took just a moment this week to talk with someone else about what Jesus has done for their marriage, their morals, the meaning of their lives, their parenting, their friendships, their prayer life, or their inner peace.  Imagine if all they did was share a question they wondered about concerning Jesus so that two people could wonder it together.  Mentoring is making memories that Jesus can use for the rest of someone’s life, and everyone who follows Jesus ought to be a mentor.

This week can pass by forgotten, or it can live on in someone’s memories for the next 40 years.

It Only Takes One

If I could study any of the biblical cities, I’d study Ephesus. I’d study it because it was a burgeoning, multi-ethnic, religiously diverse metropolis. I’d study it because it’s the best preserved of the ancient cities, having been vacated by a majority of the population after a wicked bout of malaria. And I’d study it because, through it, a couple of Christians changed the world. 

Imagine that if you decided to teach the faith to one person, you would create out of your city a hub of Christian teaching, writing, and thinking for the next hundred years. Imagine that if you decided to teach the faith to one person, one day people would talk about your city the way they talk about Salt Lake City – you know, “it’s ok to visit, but there sure are a lot of Mormons there.” Substitute “Christians” – that’s what a single mentoring relationship can do.

Ephesus
The theater in Ephesus, where Paul preached (Acts 19)

At Ephesus, Paul went and preached, staying 3 years and beginning a church. He appointed Elders and empowered saints. Then he left. But while he was there, he mentored Timothy, his “son” in the faith, to whom he passed on the best of what he knew.

John, the disciple of Jesus, settle there and became a pastor. He led the church, continuing to pass the faith on. We know of just a few names of individuals who moved from rural and distant parts to the big city, and that changed the city.

Ephesus became one of the centers of the Christian church in the centuries to come. By the 5th century, when the Roman Emperor wanted to call together a council of the bishops of the church, he called them to Ephesus.

It’s not inconceivable that any American city could have such a legacy. It only took one or two people gathering, engaging, loving, and teaching. Anyone can do that, in any city. Why can’t it be your city? Why can’t it be mine?