Roboticization or Spiritual Transformation?

Is there someone in your life you respect for his or her spiritual maturity? Is your relationship with this person such that she is helping you become more Christ-like? Do you have a spiritual mentor?

Jesus dramatically transformed lives through mentoring. He called fishermen and made them fishers of men! He transformed a Son of Thunder into the Apostle of Love. The worst of sinners became the leading messenger of salvation in Christ in the first century.

The Apostle Paul was more than a messenger, though. He mentored his protégés for ministry. His mentoring paradigm is outlined in 2 Timothy 2:2, which reads: …the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others. From this outline and his additional correspondence with several different young churches it is clear that the mentoring model—though the word probably never crossed his lips—was Paul's preferred methodology for congregational development. Examples of this are found in such passages as Ephesians 4:11ff and Titus 2:1ff. Clearly, mentoring is a ministry which should be thriving in every church.

We must, however, be aware of the times in which we live. Our roots run deep in a modern, industrialized culture. Being apprenticed to a master of some trade or profession was the norm of Jesus’ day. Mentoring was a part of life for them. Today, experts are trained in the sterile environment of a classroom. In our day, the craftsmanship of skilled artisans has been replaced by highly efficient production lines. Virtually everyone expects everything to be mass produced in such large quantities that they can have all they want any time they want it. I know these are generalizations, but the basic point it sound, isn't it?

These expectations have found their way into virtually every aspect of life. Along with one-hour-photo-developmet, many seek shortcuts to spiritual maturity. Besides, in view of the rush-and-hustle-lifestyle we live, who has time for mentoring relationships? Furthermore, in our age of self-sufficiency and individual autonomy, who would listen to another person's advice on how to live and how to serve God?

Nevertheless, it is God’s desire that spiritual formation take place—not exclusively—but, in no small part within the context of mentoring relationships. This is abundantly clear in Jesus' marching orders to the earliest disciples. He told His followers, in essence, as you go about your living, I want you to be making disciples (spiritually forming believers), baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey my will. (See: Matthew 28:18-20). This is one way of describing the mentoring process, which Jesus obviously wished would be an integral part of the lives of these disciples.

Spiritual formation does not come about through the roboticization of Christ-followers; nor, can it be produced by robotics. Spiritual growth cannot be programmed into our lives; nor, can it be mechanically stamped on our hearts. It does not occur when individuals merely mimic the practices of others down to the smallest detail. If Jesus and Paul teach us anything about mentoring it is this: mentoring takes place in the context of healthy spiritual relationships. It is a process that occurs over time as believers are metamorphosed into the likeness of Christ.

While spiritual growth is a personal thing—it takes place on a personal level—it is very much a God-thing. We must not overlook this. God is at the center of spiritual growth and development, just as the Philippian Christians were told that God was working in them to will and to act according to His good pleasure. (See: Philippians 2:14) God accomplishes this, according the Ephesians 3:14ff, through the Holy Spirit who works inwardly so that Christ might dwell in our hearts. God shapes our lives like a potter shapes the clay. In fact, this is what the prophet Isaiah prayed for. In Isaiah 64:3 we read:


Yet, O Lord, you are our Father.
We are the clay, you are the
Potter;
We are all the work of your
hand.

It seems that one of God’s favorite tools for shaping our lives is spiritual mentors. Thus, it is fitting that we should consider some of the personal qualities which must be in our lives in order for transformation through this means of spiritual formation to occur.

Humility is essential for those who wish to mentor or be mentored. Serving God’s purposes in the noble task of spiritual mentoring requires that we set aside all personal agendas and selfish ambitions. Mentors look to God’s interests not their own. The Apostle Paul understood this. He said, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 11:1) Additionally, stubbornness and pride resident in the heart of one being mentored will prevent the process from taking place. Pride produces a response of divine resistance; humility sets us on the pathway of grace where God enables us to grow. (See: 1 Peter 5:5-7) So, whether we are being mentored or doing the mentoring, we must all humble ourselves under God’s mighty hand.

When iron sharpens iron (Proverbs 27:17), sometimes sparks fly. Therefore, courage is the second essential quality in mentoring relationships. It takes courage to own up to our shortcomings. Sure, we clean up and cover-up with all our finest come Sunday morning, but within the intimacy of mentoring relationships our secret selves can not be concealed. Transparency and vulnerability require courage. From the mentor's perspective courage is also required. Oh how difficult it is to speak candidly regarding another person’s spiritual development! Admonishing a brother in Christ—or, rebuking a brother or sister in Christ—these actions are not for the faint at heart. Only the truly courageous tread the mentoring pathway.

Third, mentoring requires a willingness to change. If you are not willing to be transformed, don’t even think about entering into mentoring relationships. The willingness to make changes grows out of a healthy dissatisfaction with the status quo, which is coupled with a strong desire to live into the high calling of God on our lives through Christ Jesus. This, in turn, is bolstered by an abiding faith in the power of God to transform our lives. If we are willing, God will provide the way.

The process of transformation through spiritual formation is not always easy, but the rewards for traveling this path are tremendous. On the one hand, there is a wonderful sense of fulfillment for those who are being mentored in Christ. After challenging those of like precious faith to grow in the Christian graces listed in chapter one of Second Peter, the Holy Spirit counseled through this apostle: If you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 1:8) Those who are growing in the Lord are effective and productive. What a fulfilling way to live! That’s an abundant life, isn’t it? On the other hand, there is the unparalleled sense of satisfaction that accompanies the work of mentoring. What did the Apostle John say? “Greater joy have I none than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth.” (3 John 4). Now that’s what mentoring is all about!

Are you involved in healthy spiritual relationships? Do you have a heart for mentoring? Do you have a heart that can be mentored?

© Bill Williams
September 16, 2005

About a fellow sojourner

a sojourner in life, trying to follow in the steps of Jesus.
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