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Christian mentoring: Embodying the triune God

“But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.”  Jn. 14:26

Christians look to the triune God as their source of wisdom and knowledge: for love, comfort and guidance. The triune God is our Father, Leader and Mentor who helps us model our walk on that of our Lord Jesus Christ. In their mercy, the Father and Son sent the Holy Spirit to guide us in our endeavours to “be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love. . .” (Eph. 5:1-2).    

The book of Ephesians shows Paul exemplifying the Christian role of mentor, teacher and guide. He models the actions of Jesus Christ – quoting Scripture, praying, worshiping God, teaching and living in the Spirit; and so he reaches out to mentor, in this particular case, the church in Ephesus. It has been suggested that his letter was written to a number of different communities, parts of the letter being added or taken away, as appropriate for each community. This only enforces the role of mentor, leader guide, as defined by Jesus Christ, when he sent the Spirit to the eleven disciples and ordered them to go and make disciples of all the nations (Matt. 28:19).  

Christ Jesus came, died and rose again. His death on the cross created the cornerstone of the Christian faith. His resurrection enabled him to send the Spirit to the apostles, such as Paul, to whom “. . . this grace was given. . . to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ, and to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God. . .” (Eph. 3:8-9). Through the Spirit’s indwelling of each apostle, and through its bestowing of the special gift of teaching, the apostles were able to spread out beyond Jerusalem, to share the Good News.

Dr. James M. Houston says, in his book The Mentored Life: From Individualism to Personhood, that the Father and Son blessed Paul with a particular gift of the Spirit, which enabled him to see the Law in an entirely different way, in the light of Christ. This was a gift that would enable him to preach among people whom he had formerly persecuted. God had taken the least likely of individuals and had shown his glory in him “. . .who once [was] far off [and has] been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Eph. 2:13). This is indeed an answer to the Lord’s prayer, in which he says, “I have made you [God] known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them” (Houston, 161). And thus, Christian mentorship was born.

Fellow friends of God
Christian mentors abound for the followers of Christ. Houston describes them as “mentored by faith in the personal character of the triune God, by his Word, and by prayer, for the ultimate purpose of worship.” In addition, the triune God works through the Spirit, who is poured out on its children. They, subsequently, share the knowledge gained through the Spirit, with their fellow “friends of God.”

In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul’s words are not of chastisement or legalism but are words of love, a love that is familiar to us who know the love of God, the Son and the Holy Spirit and are “marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance toward the redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory” (Eph. 1:13-14). Although Paul is one of the Ephesians’ mentors, in whom the Spirit is at work, Paul makes it clear that it is the Holy Spirit who is responsible for the Ephesians’ education in the Lord. Paul affirms that the gift of the Spirit has also been given to the Ephesians, which will enable them to be imitators of God, as beloved children and to walk in love, as Christ loved them (Eph. 5:1).

As members of the Body of Christ, empowered by Paul’s witnessing and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the Ephesians are spiritually empowered in their own walk with God, and must now also go out and mentor their fellow Christians by  “lead[ing] a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:1-3).  Houston states that  “unlike secular mentors, we need to build our relationships on the Rock – God’s own nature and his relationships with humans.” The church of God is a family. Jesus Christ refers to himself as the groom and the church as his bride. Christians are known as God’s children and we refer to him as Father, and to our fellow Christians as our brothers and sisters. God is not just one essence either but an incomprehensible “three-in-one.”

Hearing his voice
As Christians, we are called to follow Jesus Christ, accompanied by the Holy Spirit. In him, we hope to read and see the Word of God. We hope to hear the Spirit in the Scriptures. We hope to hear the Spirit in fellow Christian mentors’ words and guidance, and so “be comforted and consoled” as author Henri Nouwen says in his book In the Name of Jesus. As Christian spiritual directors or Christian mentors, we need to help others hear that voice of the Trinity, who is speaking to them out of their life. We need to show them that through the Holy Spirit, they can and must learn to be the person God has called them to be. Houston puts it like this: “Every saint of God is a pattern, but no saint is the pattern. That is why we all need personal attention in discipleship and mentoring to guide us to ‘build our identity’ righteously and socially to guard and guide us on our own journey of faith.”  Eugene Peterson points out in Working the Angles that we need to be careful, when mentoring, to not take on the role of the Spirit. It is not for us to be the voice of the Spirit in someone else’s life. It is not for us to do the work for the one we are mentoring. Instead, we are to sit in “prayerful companionship, as they work it out.” This is precisely what Paul did with the church in Ephesus. While he was physically distant from them, his spirit accompanied his letter which urged them in a loving, prayerful way to “live as children of light – for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true” (Eph. 5:8-9).

If, by walking in the Spirit, we will behave in a righteous manner, it is clear that we need to take time to become quiet and listen to what the Spirit is telling us to do. How would Jesus respond in this type of situation? What plan does God have for me here? What am I being taught? And what is God trying to tell the people I am working with? 

  • Heather van Woerden is currently a student at Carey Theological College, working on her MA in Spiritual Vocation. She is the co-author (along with her young son, Salvador) of Salvador’s Questions, a picture book about the Christian view of heaven and dying. Her book is available at lulu.com. She also writes a Spiritual Musings blog at alightedpathsite.com.

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