I mentioned this in my sermon this past Sunday (podcast here), but as I look back on my life, I realize that despite being active in church and Sunday School my entire life, it was really only during those periods of my life where I had a real, spiritual mentor that I experienced consistent, steady spiritual growth. In my sermon, I mentioned three people that had a significant impact in my life – two youth pastors (Taylor and Randy) and then the man I still to this day consider my spiritual mentor, Bob.
As I reminisce about that, I also realize the great sacrifices each of those men made in order to invest in my life. Mentoring takes time, and I was blessed to have men who were so willing to take the time to be with me – not just in a Sunday School class or youth group setting, but to go above and beyond the “traditional” call of duty.
For Taylor (and his wife Debbie), the thing that made such a big difference was the Monday night Bible Studies. This was my first exposure to “church outside of church.” Every Monday night, we met at Taylor and Debbie’s house for Bible Study PLUS… and it was the PLUS that made all the difference. We played games, had snacks, talked, laughed, you name it. PLUS, he was always available when we had questions. We knew we could go to him with whatever we needed. Taylor and Debbie created an atmosphere in which we wanted to be there and we wanted to study God’s word. The PLUS encouraged an openness to spiritual truths. That takes commitment.
For Randy, the thing that made such a big difference was his personal investment in me (and others) as individuals. Again, it was about so much more than just normal, traditional, youth group stuff. He was active with and encouraged our participation in International Bible Quizzing – from which I probably learned more about God’s word in two years than I had in the 17 years before. He cared about us as persons and spent time with us outside of church on a regular basis. The old Hispanic saying, “mi casa is su casa,” is pretty much how he lived his life. I rarely remember him saying know to the question "Hey Randy, can we come over?" We spent countless Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights in his small, one bedroom apartment just hanging out and eating nachos and pizza. The only way he could do that would be if he really, genuinely cared – which I know he did. God only knows the number and depth of ad hoc spiritual conversations that took place as a result of his availability and willingness to be a part of our lives.
Then there is Bob. Bob is the kind of guy that is just simply genuine. In fact I originally did not like Bob so much because I was just skeptical that anyone could be that genuine. I thought for sure it was all a façade. But I was wrong. Although I had known Bob for a number of years, I really did not get to know Bob very well until we spent time together on a mission trip in 2005. We spent a good deal of time together on that trip – and since. It was Bob (on that mission trip, in fact) who first encouraged me to consider going to seminary – and when I did go to seminary in 2007 he taught several of my classes the first year. Bob and I have talked fairly regularly about lots of things since then and he has been a regular presence in my life. We have gone on a number of mission trips together and have even done ministry together at a local women's shelter. I have taken bible study classes from him – and he has taken bible study classes from me. He has always been a great encourager and was always available if I needed time to talk. Even now, I know that all I have to do is give him a call and he will make time for me. There is no question in my mind that he is supportive of my ministry and cares for me as a person.
My point in telling these stories is this… to grow spiritually, you will obviously have to be in God’s word, exercise the disciplines, etc. However, if you REALLY want to grow spiritually, then you need to find someone who can help you through that – someone who can be a spiritual mentor to you. Unfortunately, that takes time and commitment. Blessed are those who find someone. Certainly, there have been long periods of time in my life when such a person was not really available to me. From around 1985 until after the turn of the century, I cannot say I had anyone in my life that comes close to the kind of spiritual mentor that these guys have been in my life. Maybe that was my fault. Maybe I just wasn't looking close enough. But the difference in my spiritual growth - or rather lack thereof - during that period is unmistakable. Church? Yes. Sunday School. Yes. Growth. Minimal. Maybe even backwards.
I think the message for all of us here is fairly clear. If we want those around us to grow spiritually, then we must be willing to be a spiritual mentor. We must be willing to sacrifice and make the younger disciples a part of our lives. We must be willing to give our time. And we must be willing to take a risk. Investing in someone else’s life is messy and the outcome can be a wild roller coaster ride, but that is what it will take to really disciple the younger generation. Actually, that is what it will take to really disciple anyone – regardless of his or her age. And after all, isn’t it worth it? Isn’t that what it is really all about? Making disciples for Jesus Christ.
Thank you, Taylor.
Thank you, Randy.
Thank you, Bob.
Thank you, Jesus, for sending such men into my life.
Help me to be a mentor to others.