ODE TO A MENTOR
My mentor’s name is David. We met at a local pastor’s gathering where he took voluntary interest in me. I needed a mentor and he wanted to make disciples by caring for the next generation of pastors. For the next year and a half, David poured into me. He taught me the importance of sharing life stories, hunting one other’s sin, and giving each other grace.
1. We shared life stories together.
One of the first things David and I did at our monthly meetings was share our life stories. David wanted to model life-on-life discipleship, and the best way to start this was by retelling our histories. This meant we shared big events, little events, and even those embarrassing moments we didn’t want anyone to know about in a stream of consciousness. It lasted ninety minutes to two hours. The one who listened asked three questions at the end:
- What did you hear as David told his story?
- Is there any place where your story intersects with David’s story?
- What would you like to tell David in light of his story?
I remember David encouraging the pattern of shepherding leadership in my life. That meant a lot to me as I was newly approaching pastoral ministry. Over the coming months we continued to talk about pastoral ministry, family, and God. For as much as we shared life together, I wish we had shared even more.
2. We hunted each other’s sin.
Sharing our life stories with each other provided an opportunity to confess many of the ways we’ve failed. We were open about our sins so that we could hold each other accountable in our sin patterns going forward. This included anything from asking each other the blunt questions to searching out each other’s motivations. The purpose was always to help bring healing.
As we were beginning this fight against sin together, David pulled Timothy Keller’s book The Meaning of Marriage off the shelf. He read a quote about granting each other a “hunting license” to search out sin in each other’s life. There were only a handful of people he’d given this license too, and now I was one of them. He, of course, claimed a hunting license for my life.
David didn’t use his license often, and I only used mine once jokingly on him, but I was glad he had it. Instead of causing me to hide my sins when I was around him, it helped me open up so that he could shine some light on my darkness. This light was a mixture of admonishment followed by grace.
3. We gave each other grace.
What I admire most about David’s discipleship of me was his continual reminder of my need for God’s grace. He helped me not only understand the gospel, but relish the grace within the gospel. I am a sinner and that’s just how it is for now. But my great savior Christ Jesus has come to save me because he absolutely loves me. He has gone so far as to trade his spotless record for mine, so that now God sees me as he sees his Son. Holy. Righteous. Clean. What better news is there than this?
David was especially good at making grace practical to my everyday. Instead of wallowing in my sin, he taught me to release my guilt as I prayed Psalm 51:10 “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” (ESV) When I shared with him how I wanted to be more satisfied and joyful in Christ, he pointed me to the book Pure Pleasure by Gary Thomas. There I began to learn all the ways God has provided for his people’s joy.
My mentor lived a life of grace. When he was diagnosed with stage four cancer, nothing about that grace-filled life changed. He went much quicker than expected, but I got to write him a letter before he passed. In that letter it was my turn to remind my mentor of his need for God’s grace. His wife shared through mass-email that she had been reading letters to David from all the men he had mentored throughout the years. He would just listen and say, “My boy, that’s my boy.” I don’t cry often, but I cried when I read this. Even at the end, my mentor loved his sons.
MY MENTOR’S LEGACY OF DISCIPLESHIP LIVES ON.
I’ve tried to take the model David gave me for mentoring, and use it as a framework for discipling others. Already I’ve experienced the blessings of sharing life stories, the responsibility of having a hunting license, and the joy of giving gospel grace. I’ve seen others grow in ways David must have seen me grow. I want to be the type of mentor David was to me. He loved me and was an enormous example of Jesus to me. He is now present with the Lord, but the impact of his discipleship lives on. Praise God for mentors.
Jonathan M. Romig (M.Div., Gordon-Conwell, 2013) is the Pastor of Cornerstone Congregational Church, a new church in Westford, MA. Gospel-Centered Discipleship (GCD) published an earlier edition of this article.