As a little girl, I remember an afternoon I spent playing in the front yard while my Dad was busy picking up sticks and weeding. At one point, he stopped his usual work and went into the garage. He came back with some tools and began doing something I’d never seen him do before. There was a young thin tree that was bent over, suffering from the damaging effects of a storm that had recently blown through. (And, if I remember correctly, it was also suffering from the effects of neighborhood children—myself included—who liked to bounce on its bent-over limb for fun.)
My father took a rope and tethered the young tree to a much older tree—one that was sturdy and strong, standing straight. When I asked him why he was tying the two trees together, he explained that the older tree could offer support and strength to prevent the younger tree from growing askew. The older tree had withstood years of winds and storms. Just by standing beside the younger tree, it offered stability.
This image comes to mind whenever I think about discipleship. Essentially, a spiritual mentoring relationship is one where a younger believer is tethered to a more mature believer for a season so that he or she might grow stronger in faith and be equipped for ministry. Just as my Dad looked around for an older and stronger tree nearby, we can look for older and stronger believers in the faith to help us.
When considering qualities to look for in a mentor, Titus 2:2–3 provides helpful insight:
Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good.
Who we follow matters. It’s important to learn from mature believers whose faith has stood the test of time. They’ve walked with the Lord for years and are marked by steadfastness and wisdom. Consider these four questions as you seek to find a mentoring relationship:
1. How does the person live?
Paul exhorts older believers to be dignified, self-controlled, and reverent in their behavior. Their conduct exemplifies their character. Notice their lives and consider: Does his life reflect his faith? Does she serve with humility? Do his daily patterns reflect faithful obedience to God’s word? Look for mentors who give careful thought to their ways as they serve others.
2. What does the person say?
Paul encourages sober-mindedness, as well as proper use of the tongue. Listen to what the person says and ask yourself: Does he display wisdom with his words? Does she gossip about others or speak unkindly of her husband or friends? Does he complain or fault-find frequently? Our words matter. They reflect the attitudes and inclinations of our hearts. Look for a person who is quick to listen and slow to speak and whose words are encouraging, thankful, and honoring to God.
As we grow spiritually, we need older believers.
3. What governs the person’s heart and affections?
Paul specifies that older believers should be loving, steadfast, and not slaves to much wine. Look for a mentor who seeks pleasure by seeking God—who rejoices with the psalmist, “In your presence there is fullness of joy” (Psalm 16:11). Consider these questions: Is he free from addictions? Does she possess an inner discipline regarding alcohol, food, TV, shopping, or other worldly pleasures? Does he increasingly trust God for his joy and contentment? Typically, mature believers overflow with warmth and kindness that comes from years of sitting in the presence of God.
4. What governs the person’s mind?
Paul states that men are to be sober-minded and that women must teach what is good. Look for someone who regularly spends time reading their Bible. You won’t have to ask about their daily patterns, it will be evident. As the word transforms their minds, they’ll speak with wisdom and faithful instruction will be on their tongues. It may not be formal teaching from a podium, but the word will overflow naturally into their conversations. They’re still studying, learning, and excited to grow in their understanding of God with you.
As you look for a mentor—or seek to be a mentor—this may seem like a daunting list. No one fulfills all of these traits all of the time. Every mature believer struggles with sin. You’re not looking for perfection, but for an older believer who desires to continually grow in these areas. He or she doesn’t have to be a formal teacher, but their life, words, and affections are increasingly marked by a love and devotion for Jesus.
As we grow spiritually, we need older believers. Just as the older tree doesn’t make the younger tree grow (the water and the sun do that), a mentor isn’t able to make a you grow (God does that). But an older believer can stand beside you, offering the strength they’ve gained as God has sustained them through a variety of seasons. Seek them out. Their words can refresh and rebuke. Their examples can teach. Their presence can encourage.
Melissa B. Kruger is the author of Growing Together: Taking Mentoring beyond Small Talk and Prayer Requests.
Older women, read Titus 2, and be encouraged to embrace your calling to train younger women in the church.
Let’s talk about why we should take the Titus mandate seriously and not miss God’s rich provisions for our growth in grace.
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