A church as God intends it is not a gathering of people who sit back and listen to one person preach. Instead, one life touches the life of another, who then touches the lives of people in his or her sphere of influence—those whom the originator would never have known. To make it even more exciting, those recipients, in turn, touch the lives of others also. That is a contagious ministry.
The medical profession models the idea of multiplication very well. They don’t just educate and graduate medical students and then cut them loose, saying, “Okay, folks, lots of luck. Carve away!” How would you like to be a patient lying on the bed, about to go in for surgery, and the doctor blurts, “You know, I’ve never really actually done surgery, but hey, we’ll give it the ol’ college try. Turn on the anesthesia doc . . . and let’s get ‘er done!” You’d explode, “WAIT, STOP!” Why? Because you want somebody who’s been trained. Really trained. You want a professional who has learned specific, tried-and-true techniques of doing medical work correctly—one who has spent years being shaped, observed, confronted, reproved, rebuked, and corrected. In a word, you need someone who has been mentored.
Any education is most effective when the teachers are more than mere dispensers of information. Students need a school where the professors care about the lives of their students, where a student is not just number 314 in the class. That’s why I don’t believe a theological education can take place online. (No one learns surgery online, by the way.) Information can go on the Web . . . but an education requires more than data. It involves the touch of a mentor—one seasoned life poured into another inexperienced life.
Why do I say this with such conviction? I am the product of mentoring. There have been men in my life, some of whom you would not know if I wrote their names, who have made a major difference in my life. They saw potential where I did not. They encouraged me to become something more than I was. They reproved me and corrected my mistakes. They modeled what I longed to become. They warned me . . . challenged me . . . guided me. One of the first of these men saw the most potential in me where I saw the least.
One of my mentors, Dr. Howard Hendricks, says that every Christian needs at least three individuals in his or her life. We need someone who has come before us who mentors us. We need another beside us who shares our burden. And we need someone beyond us whom we’re mentoring.
Otherwise, we grow stagnant. The church then becomes a place where Christians sit, soak, and sour. They walk in, take notes, walk out, and come back next week . . . to sit, take notes, walk out, and return again next week . . . to sit, take more notes, and walk out . . . until (ho-hum) Jesus comes back. What’s wrong with that picture? VIRTUALLY EVERYTHING! There’s no passion . . . no contagion. No personal application and change. No passing of the baton. No multiplication. There is passivity and stagnation!
Make no mistake, we all need mentors. Furthermore, we all need those we are mentoring. The church is the ideal place to connect both.
When it does, I repeat, it becomes a contagious place.
See also The Church: A Place of Mentoring, Part 1