The book, As Iron Sharpens Iron, by the father and son team of Howard and William Hendricks, is a text I was prepared to dislike for it’s perceived “trendiness” and formulaic composition, but instead I found it to be a thoroughly practical and virtually timeless work. The “trendiness” and formulaic composition, it turns out, were the result of my misapprehension of what mentoring is all about.
A mentor, generally speaking, is a man (As Iron Sharpens Iron, we are told, was written by men for men in the Promise Keepers movement, but the underlying principles are applicable for all believers) who functions more or less as a father figure in the most positive sense, affecting and influencing the total development of another man (p 18). Specifically, a mentor is someone who is committed to you as an individual; to help you begin to grow, keep on growing, and enabling you to realize your life’s goals throughout all your time of growth (p 158). A mentor is someone who pours their life into you, facilitating you “being all you can be,” to borrow a phrase from the U. S. Army.
Beginning on page 158 through page 159, the Hendricks’ give a valuable listing of the traits that comprise the pith of what a mentor is: he is a source of information; a provider of wisdom; a promoter of specific skills and effective behaviors; a dispenser of feedback; a coach; a sounding board; someone to turn to; a devisor of plans; and a nurturer of curiosity. On examination of the points in this list one may see what I believe is at least one of, if not the “priority perspective” of this whole endeavor.
Without practicality, and a practicality expressing itself in relationship at that, no matter how well thought out the concept or how well written the text, the material would be of little worth to people laboring in the vineyard of the Lord. But this work is eminently practical and available to practically anyone. It is not geared exclusively to the professional teacher, coach, pastor, or seminar innovator, but to each believer with a desire to serve the Lord to their fullest ability.
These two points are for me, the most important perspectives shared in As Iron Sharpens Iron: practicality and participation. Mentoring works and almost everyone may be involved, whether as a mentor or as the one being mentored. As Paul tells Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:2, “And the things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, these entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also” (NASB). We all as Spirit-filled Believers, have much to share with others who will then share with others, etc.
In the first centuries of the Church, a good bishop was one who “traditioned well.” This simply meant that he had poured himself and the Faith he had been entrusted with throughout his life, into someone who would follow him in service to Christ’s Church. He was to be a mentor and he was to mentor others who in turn could repeat the process Biblically (from conversation with Dr. Raymond K. Levang, AGTS, Fall 1986).
I unfortunately find some disagreement with the Hendricks’ when it comes to what I believe to be their rather narrow definition of the term that has always been exactly synonymous with mentoring to me: discipling (pp 182-183). Perhaps as an unabashedly Pentecostal Pastor for the last twenty-five years, I have come to see Discipleship as a life encompassing relationship with other Spirit-filled believers, but have not, as many others mentioned in the text, connected mentoring with what I was doing! It is not the term “mentoring” that matters, but the life changing, life affirming relationships that count (pp 101, 122 & 183).
Three key insights I have found in this book are:
1. Mentoring is Biblical. Without Scriptural backing, it doesn’t matter if mentoring is the greatest thing since Azusa Street (pp 77, 180-181 & 191-192). In the Assemblies of God sixteen tenets of faith, the first tenet tells us: ” The Scriptures, both the Old and New Testaments, are verbally inspired of God and are the revelation of God to man, the infallible, authoritative rule of faith and conduct” (http://www.ag.org/top/beliefs/truths.cfm#1). Even if the Assemblies didn’t believe this, still I would need a standard by which to judge things and that standard would be God’s Word (Isa 55:11; Jer 1:12; Ezek 12:25-28, NASB)! No matter what, we cannot afford to attempt to build God’s Kingdom with anything other than God’s tools.
2. Peer Mentoring Works. We don’t have to be of another, older generation to successfully mentor someone (pp 32-34). Barnabas and Saul/Paul are a prime example of peer mentoring at work (p 141). We don’t have to be of the same gender to mentor a peer, as with Apollos and Priscilla (Acts 18:24-28, NASB). What we must be are participators in this lifestyle with Jesus as He works His change through us. Which leads me to my third point.
3. We Must Be Available. As participators we must be prepared to make the most of every opportunity in these evil days, we must be available to serve Jesus twenty-four hours a day, 365.25 days a year. No that doesn’t mean we’ll allow those we mentor to suck the life out of us to the detriment of family relationships or our relationship with God, but we will not view our mentoring as an inconvenience to be avoided. The beautiful example of “availability” for me is Barnabas (pp 129-131 & 141).
There was a need to be met with Saul that nobody wanted to meet. Barnabas was available, and able, so he took Saul under his wing and successfully mentored him. Then he mentored John Mark even though Saul/Paul was against it. So be it. Barnabas knew what his mission was even when Paul seemed to forget how raw he was as that Saul Barnabas first discipled. But, the point is, Barnabas was available to mentor whoever the Lord had for him, whenever.
Seeing these three principles enunciated clearly in As Iron Sharpens Iron has reaffirmed to me the importance of what I was doing as a Pastor and what I will do again, God willing. Even when the numbers do not seem to indicate success, I recall Barnabas and Jesus, and once again I remember that God’s standards are not the world’s standards and as Paul wrote in Philippians 4, “I have learned to be content,” for numbers do not mean success. But, I will be available! I know my labor in the Lord is not in vain, because His Word tells me so (1 Cor 15:58, NASB).
Whether or not I understand it, His Word is what I depend upon (Isa 55:8-11). And even though like Ananias when confronted by God’s directive to pray for the Christian killer Saul (Acts 9:10-19, NASB) I may tell God “You don’t mean him, do you?” I’ll know that He doesn’t make mistakes and that I may mentor anyone the Lord directs me to whatever their age, gender, social status, financial standing, or anything.
As Iron Sharpens Iron has proved, upon consideration, to be a blessing to me, as it helped clarify mentoring and presented it in comprehendible terms as a goal worth accomplishing.