How to Find a Mentor

By August 4, 2015Archive


It’s no novel insight to point out that our consumerist world makes everything about you. Why? It sells. I wanted to find a quick example of this so I turned on the TV. “With AT&T, the U-Verse revolves around you.” I think we’re done here.

Sadly, it is no novel insight to point out that much of popular Christianity operates in exactly the same way. And the reason might be the same: it sells. This truth stared me in the face most glaringly during my stint working at a Christian book store, which turned out to be simultaneously the best job (obviously, because of the books) and worst job (ironically, because of the customers) that I ever had. Here’s what struck me: the self-help section was twice the size of the theology section. And the Christian Living section (code for “covert self-help”) was about twenty times the size. One typically consults theology books to learn about God and his works. One typically consults a Christian Living book to learn how to make God work for you. As J.I. Packer said in his opus, Knowing God, “There’s nothing more irreligious than self-absorbed religion.” Forgive us Father, for we have sinned.

One of the ways this self-absorbed religion, masquerading most stealthily as a navel-gazing obsession with our own “spirituality” and “growth,” manifests itself is in the inordinate desire for a mentor—for someone to “disciple” you. The thought is that if you find someone to “pour into you,” your spiritual life will flourish instead of continuing to flounder. In this sense, most Christian books are “mentors,” helping us along the way. But the desire remains among most for one person to be that key ingredient who will move us from fruitless striving to fruitful thriving. There are two problems with this.

First, real life (which Christianity is by definition) rarely works this way. Think of friendship. Who has the most difficult time finding friends? Sadly, the answer is those who “just want a friend.” When most people encounter this attitude of desperation, there seems to be an instant barrier erected which serves to stunt true friendship. Why? Because friendships are naturally mutual. An attitude of one-sided charity kills a friendship just as quickly and effectively as it kills a marriage. Now, there are certainly those mature, selfless individuals (who seem to have no problem finding friends) who befriend those who offer them nothing, who seem able to change others for the better and draw out their potential. But these friends are few and far between, and there is a serious problem with waiting around for Jesus to send us someone that will be that key ingredient to fruitful thriving. That leads us to the second problem: He already has.

Listen to Peter:

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 1:3-11)

Peter seems to be saying that through the ministry of the Holy Spirit (“divine power”), the Scriptures (“promises”), and Christian fellowship (“brotherly affection”), God has given us all things that pertain to life and godliness. Asking God for a mentor who will be the secret ingredient to your sanctification (becoming like Jesus) is not only making an excuse, it is asking God for an idol—a false god. Idols crush people. And when we idolize a person, we crush them with the burden of our expectations. Only Jesus is God, so only He can bear such a burden. Jesus is our friend par excellence, befriending us when we had literally nothing to offer Him (not even potential), and laying down His life for us that we might be reconciled to our Heavenly Father (John 15:13; 2 Corinthians 5:18-21). But more than just reconciling us, we have the sanctifying gifts of His Spirit, His Word, and His Body. Truly, He is with us to the end (Matthew 28:20). It is in, through, by, for, and to His grace that we can run our race.

Yes, you must run. You must supplement your faith with virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love. You must make your calling and election sure. No mentor will do that for you. It is all by grace (alone) through faith (alone), but trying to pinpoint where grace ends and your effort begins is harder than resolving the age old riddle of the chicken and the egg. It is an exercise in futility because faith and works necessarily coexist in tension and paradox with one another (blog on this coming soon!). As Dallas Willard said, “Grace is not opposed to effort. It is opposed to earning.”

Are you alive to His grace? Even as you sit here reading this blog, God is being gracious toward you. Peter and I, members of His Body, are ministering to you. You have just read His Word. And hopefully, His Spirit is opening your eyes to the truth. It is crucial that we hear what Peter is saying: lacking in these qualities amounts to forgetting that we have been cleansed from our former sins. Wow. To make an excuse for our “ineffective or unfruitful” lives amounts to a denial of grace. It is to say that Jesus has not done enough, that He is not enough.

Let me end with a practical example. A few years ago, I started a comGroup (that’s what we call small groups at my church). It was really rough for the first year or so. Almost everyone left. This was crushing at first because starting out, I thought the goal of the group was for me to mentor a bunch of people. But as more came, I realized over time that it was the other way around. Now, every Thursday and sporadically in between, Sid teaches me what a compassionate heart looks like. Melissa teaches me to be a better evangelist. David teaches me about grace in suffering. Jenny teaches me fearlessness. Devin teaches me integrity and to not take myself so seriously. Jake teaches me imagination. Debbie teaches me to be less guarded. Sharla is essentially me as a female, which teaches me a lot. Vince teaches me about honesty. Jill teaches me humble joy. Cameron challenges me to be a better teacher! Sarah U. teaches me about hope. Sarah F. teaches me about vulnerability. Connor teaches me that tenderness and zeal are not opposites. Rachel teaches me about propitiation (inside joke). Travis teaches me what quiet faithfulness looks like. Casey teaches me about the beauty and value of a servant’s heart. My own lovely wife Brittany teaches me that there is much more to love than knowing all the answers. She teaches me that God is a person, not a concept. My nine month old son teaches me that Jesus was far less worried about making ministry convenient than I am. I love these mentors. I have only one Mentor. But in Him, I have many. In Him, the many are made one.

So, along with Peter, I challenge you. Don’t “just want a friend.” Find ways to be a friend. “Pour into” someone else. Repent of your shallow, navel-gazing, unfruitful selfishness and be a mentor. This will be exhausting. But He is your rest and refreshment. The agony of soreness won’t be worth comparing to the crown of victory. He will be with you. And He may just send some great friends and mentors to help you along the way.

Dane Olney

Author Dane Olney

Dane Olney is joyfully married to his high school sweetheart Brittany and they have a son named Levi. He is the Discipleship Pastor of VCC and is pursuing an MDiv in Christian Ethics from Fuller Theological Seminary.

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