Walking Side by Side: Mentoring and Apprenticing the Younger Generation
I would have missed a beautiful story of friendship and mentoring in Scripture if I had not created space for older mentors to walk side by side with me on my spiritual journey. I was younger, and I did not know how to handle difficult texts. So I chose the only logical path: ignore their existence. But eventually my poor attitude toward Paul and my “practice” of not dealing with difficult texts caught up with me. I let it slip to a spiritual friend. This mentor quickly reminded me that I could not simply ignore the prolific writings of the Apostle Paul because I was challenged by (i.e., had a really, really bad attitude about) some of his words. This mentor was adamant, and it spurred me to grow in my spiritual journey.
It’s a little comical to me now, because Paul seems to have had a similar conversation with Timothy: “All Scripture is God-breathed and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16-17).
Lucky for Timothy, it seems he was on the receiving end of training and equipping when Paul wrote these words. I’m pretty certain I was on the business end of a good old fashioned rebuking and correcting! I would guess that Timothy had shared those moments with Paul, too.
In Acts 16, we read of Paul’s first encounter with Timothy. Timothy’s mother is described as a believer and Timothy as well-known among the people (Acts 16:1). Paul must have recognized Timothy’s giftedness and saw it as something to be nurtured. Timothy must have really wanted to learn from and travel with Paul because the price tag was pretty steep—circumcision—ouch! From then on out, Timothy was immersed in every aspect of Paul’s ministry and life, and he saw the fruit of their labors in the growth of the church. Paul didn’t tell Timothy how to be an evangelist, he modeled it for him, every second of every day.
The charge to Timothy in 2 Tim 3:10-17 is a beautiful passage that allows us, the readers, to understand just how much life Paul and Timothy had shared since they first met in Lystra. It’s obvious that Paul knows Timothy that well and Timothy respects Paul that much. Maybe if they were living in our present day context, they would end their texts messages with “bff4ever.” They were mutually committed to one another in living out a deep and life-giving Christian friendship that mentored Timothy and provided support for Paul. The fingerprints of this spiritual relationship are all over the New Testament. That is quite the friendship!
I worry when I read this story. I worry that the modern expression of church life does not do much to cultivate these mentoring, apprenticing, spiritual friendships like Paul and Timothy’s.
In most churches, people in each generation or life stage enter the building and scatter to their unique classrooms. In worship, we sit side by side with little interaction. Life Groups often form around common interests, goals, or life stages. If the church gathers only once or twice a week, parents may be reluctant to allow their teens to miss class and serve elsewhere in the church. Not much space exists for cultivating multi-generational relationships in our churches. The loss of this space may have significant impact on the younger generations.
A few years ago, a member of the faculty at one of our universities said in a meeting, “We want to train ministers but you, church leaders, must send them to us first.” In the context of the conversation, the implication of the statement was that fewer young adults enter the university with a desire to pursue ministry as a career. What had I done to invite the young people of our congregation into the Children and Family Ministry in such a way that they were exposed to my passion for ministry and encouraged to have confidence in their own spiritual giftedness?
That question led to the establishment of a summer apprenticeship program in our Children and Family Ministry for juniors and seniors in high school. Teens need jobs, and the purpose of this summer job was to immerse teens in ministry: leadership, tasks, teaching, and spiritual relationships. Teens are privy to ministry as it unfolds, participating in ministry alongside leaders. So far, former apprentices have grown from the experience, even engaging in ministry or the study of ministry in their college years.
This is but one way to walk side by side with younger disciples. It is one of the ways I have chosen to be available—as Paul was to Timothy. I challenge you to consider your own spiritual journey and then ask yourself, who has God put in my path to walk side by side with me on my spiritual journey? This invitation takes humility, courage, time and effort, but it is so worth the price.
Let me leave you with some words from three of our former apprentices:
Sometimes I think teens don't feel as if they can help out or become a part of something in the church. Adults might not see them as "Grown-ups" but those (CM) kids definitely do. Not only do you get to grow closer to God but you get to know families in the church who can help build you spiritually and also who you can affect likewise. It helps the teens feel like they can do something for the church and offers a way to connect in a time when connecting is sometimes the hardest part. – Sydney, Apprentice, Summer 2014 and Youth Intern, Summer 2015
My mom has always been teaching a kids' Bible class for as long as I can remember. In taking this job, I was able to learn the ropes for teaching, and now I am ready as well as committed to teaching in the Church in the future. – Laura, Apprentice, Summer 2015
The apprenticeship made relationships cross-over the generational gap. We got to talk and learn from older generations, older teachers, and connect with the little kids, and be an example to them, and talk to the parents about their kids. – Kendall, Apprentice, Summer 2014 and 2015