Does mentorship have to be from an elder?

mentor

The natural process of life is that children are born into the world helpless and completely dependent.  They learn and grow quickly, always asking parents, teachers and other “grown ups” the meaning of a word or how to accomplish some goal.  As a child, you assume that grown-ups know everything, and you trust what they tell you to be the truth.  As a child, and even as a youth, I believed that all adults were very wise, mature in relationship skills and decision making, and Spiritually mature.  One day, however, my dad did tell me that sometimes obnoxious children grow up to be obnoxious adults.  My eyes began to slowly open.

I was in high school and college during the initial thrust of peer-led small groups and Bible study.  In school they were developing “Peer Mediation” teams, where I was trained over a few months to help other students work out their problems without having to go to an authority.  At Church, as a fourteen year old Freshman, I was coached to teach and lead a small group Bible study, with students that were even older than me!

I drew strength from verses like 1 Tim 4:12,

“Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe.”

I read a lot of books, and learned much from regular and deep conversations with my parents.  But then in college, our campus ministry emphasized a discipleship program where peers mentored peers.  The upper classmen, by virtue of being one or two years older, had great wisdom and responsibility to perpetuate the cycle of Bible studies, community, and discipleship – all outside of a local church.

There developed a very real void and lack of understanding or respect for inter-generational mentorship and discipleship.  We already section off our kids by age for school, sports, events and Sunday School, and we train them to only know and interact with their peers.  Thus that is where they are comfortable.  Their worldview becomes very small and limited to whatever fad is big for their current life-stage.

This is a relatively new cultural phenomenon.  Throughout history and around the world, it has been common place that elders receive the greatest honor and respect.  They were often given the seat of honor at the table, they had the final say, and most cultures had a system of the eldest child living at home with the parents, thus having multiple generations under one roof.

“A gray head is a crown of glory;
It is found in the way of righteousness.”

– Prov 16.31

There is a fundamental and essential discipleship that must happen inter-generationally.  Struggles we are facing and questions we have have been experienced and answered successfully before us.  Sometimes we are discouraged in a phase of life, and we just need an experienced voice to let us know that it will not last forever.  And sometimes we actually need instruction for how to navigate new waters.

Paul taught us that older women must teach the younger women how to love their husbands and children!

Older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips nor enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good,so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, so that the word of God will not be dishonored.

– Titus 2.3-5

Love seems to be natural for a wife and mother, but sometimes we act foolishly believing it is best and loving.  Sometimes we spoil out of love and create a monster.  Those who have gone before us can offer us insight into those decisions.

But there will also come times when younger people need to speak truth into older people’s lives.  Like Timothy.  He was a young pastor, and found himself in a situation where he had to teach older men the truths about God and Jesus.

Consider the mission field, for example.  A missionary couple in their twenties or thirties is by very definition entering a foreign culture to teach a truth which is new and different from anything this host culture has ever heard.  They will have to teach people of all ages, and answer those extremely difficult questions about their long-standing beliefs and loved ones who have already passed away.

But here at home, too.  Any person of faith – at any age – can lead another person to faith – of any age.  A high school student can adequately know and communicate the Gospel to a senior citizen.  He can also teach basic spiritual disciplines like prayer, Scripture memory, daily quiet times, tithing and church involvement.  He will not be able to communicate experiential knowledge of raising a family by faith, or making career choices by faith, but it can and should happen that we recognize spiritual wisdom and truth from people of any age.

We should also not let our age be a hindrance to us, no matter where we find ourselves in life.  If God is calling you, you are neither too old nor too young:

But the LORD said to me,
“Do not say, ‘I am a youth,’
Because everywhere I send you, you shall go,
And all that I command you, you shall speak.
But the LORD said to me,
“Do not say, ‘I am a youth,’
Because everywhere I send you, you shall go,
And all that I command you, you shall speak.

– Jer 1.7-9

In short, we all have something to learn from one another.  Truth can be communicated from any age, and sometimes a fresh perspective from another age will speak a truth to us in the way we need to hear it.  There is always a level of experience that can help teach through a situation, but age and experience does not always mean wisdom.  Thus we must function as a body.  We must know, interact with, and learn from people of all ages.  We must recognize truth and wisdom when we hear it and learn discernment for things that are not truth.

So let’s get out there and start breaking down some of our age-barriers.  Let God bring people of all walks of life into your world, and we will all benefit and grow.

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