Oskar Schindler stepped into the scene of world history as a greedy, selfish, fornicating entrepreneur who saw the second world war as an opportunity to fill his pockets with the money that would soon be passing hands in the war effort. A member of the Nazi party for its social and business benefits, he soon realized that Jews provided an excellent means of free labor, thus padding his pockets even more. But somewhere as the carnage of the Holocaust played before his eyes, Oskar Schindler experienced a change of heart. A change that cost the entirety of his wealth in an attempt to save the Jews through his business. At last, a penniless man, the Allies moving toward victory, Schindler was forced to flee. Some 1200 Jews whose lives this Nazi saved signed a letter should he fall into the hands of the Allied Forces. They also presented him with a gold ring on which was engraved in Hebrew these words from the Talmud, “whoever saves one life, saves the world entire.”
“Whoever saves one life, saves the world entire.” Those words added a new perspective to my outlook on ministry. As a matter of fact, it is hardly an exaggeration to say it completely changed my ministry perspective. The saying goes that we can miss the forest for the trees. I suggest the opposite is also very much a possibility—to lose sight of the trees for the forest. Men may prefer the big picture, but God assures us he takes note of every little sparrow. In a day when bigger is better, quantity speaks for quality, and a few megachurches tend to eclipse the impact of the smaller churches that comprise the greater part of the world, it is easy to forget the individual in the crowd.
Jesus’ earthly ministry set out to show more than anything the shepherd’s heart for the individual. As the crowd mobbed his heels and choked him in its dust, cheering his miracles and begging for earthly satisfaction; Jesus always picked out the one in the crowd, usually on the edge, who needed Him the most. Indeed, by contemporary standards, Jesus was far from successful if you value his ministry in light of the number of His followers. But what He did is unique and how He invested three years of ministry in ways that changed the world serves as an excellent example for us today. He invested in twelve men who went on to change the world and saw and ministered to the individual.
As a pastor (or any ministry professional for that matter), preaching, teaching, administrative work, knocking on doors, and the myriad of other activities in which we are involved, all focus on people. The fury of activity which sucks up our time and energy is all for people, or so we think. In the bustle of good activity as a shepherd among God’s people, we can and do forget the importance of the kindly word, the hand on the shoulder, the private prayer with a struggling young person, the personal investment of my time and experience in one person at a time helping them become a man or woman of God.
We have forgotten the value of our role as a mentor. We have forgotten the example of Jesus who mentored twelve men over the period of his earthly ministry. Or Paul who mentored young men like Timothy into positions of leadership. Moses who took on Joshua who became the next great leader of the nation of Israel. Perhaps the leadership crisis we face in the church today is not only because young people do not hear or heed the call of God, but also because as ministers we have not taken our role of mentoring seriously enough. The statement “he who saves one life, saves the world entire” has not resonated into the core of our ministry philosophy.
If mentoring is a Biblical part of ministry, what holds us back and how can we get started in mentoring and investing individually in people?
Consider with me a couple reasons why we shy away from mentoring. Time is a critical factor. Be honest; people take time. It is much easier to handle people in a group all at once than one-on-one. Mentoring takes time; it may cut into your personal time, sermon prep time, church project time. What will other people think if I invest more time in one person than another? Jesus wasn’t afraid to be exclusive. He chose twelve men. Out of those twelve men his chosen circle was three. Out of that circle of three only one inherited the title “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” Your investment in each person is going to be different. There are those who would waste your personal investment in their lives. A mentor finds those on whom he can make a lifelong impact. The amount of close, personal investment forms another area of resistance. It is more comfortable to live my public life on the platform. But in mentoring I share who I am and the man God has helped me to become with another person. I share my life experiences; they get to watch my mistakes and failures as well as my triumphs and victories. I allow them a window into my personal life which, while uncomfortable is worth it.
How can a busy pastor add mentoring to his long list of responsibilities? How do you get started in this most rewarding work?
Consider it as essential to your ministry as preaching, pastoral visitation, or discipleship. If it’s optional you will relegate it to a list of lower priorities. Is your ministry going to have the shotgun effect, or the accuracy of a rifle one shot at a time? What impact do you want to leave when your days in ministry are over? Remember, you don’t pass on the baton to a crowd.
Take time to consider areas of interest and passion in your life. Not just ministry related passions. What do you do in your spare time? How do you relax? What activities do you enjoy that you could invite a young person to join you? Your investment in an individual has the greatest impact as they interact with you in the personal side of your life. Look for individuals who may share similar interests and passions with you.
Look for people with signs of promise. Those who are serious in their walk with God. Those who show a desire to grow. Individuals who possess a strong desire to give back to others from what God is doing in their lives. Look for a young person in your congregation or youth group who is preparing for Bible college. Look for those who will value what you have to offer. Ask God to lead you to the right person or people. Consider the person whom God has been preparing for you to invest, and consider how God has been preparing you for them.
Much more could be said and has been said by great men on the subject of mentoring. I am convinced that when we pursue this Biblical model of ministry it will change the lasting impact of our efforts. Stop seeing the forest and begin looking at the trees. Find a Timothy, find a Joshua and pour your life into that person. Be real, be genuine. Do you want to be a part of the solution for today’s leadership crisis? Fulfill your God-given role as mentor. Preach with fervor, pastor with kindness, teach with wisdom and then add to that list: mentor with passion. Make that personal investment one individual at a time and see what great things God can accomplish through you.