“But he abandoned the counsel that the old men gave him and took counsel with the young men who had grown up with him and stood before him.” — I Kings 12:8
American Christianity, if anything, is personal. Believers in the west tend to emphasize their “personal relationships with Christ” and “individual walks.” The individualistic culture of the United States spurs us on toward an every-man-for-himself mentality. We individualize everything, from our individual fitness plans to our separate bank accounts to our personalized phone cases.
In contrast, the early Church in the book of Acts is described as: “being together, holding all things in common. . . selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need” (Acts 2:44-45 ESV). Paul’s admonition to the church in Galatia commands: “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2 ESV). Perhaps it would be less painful to conform to the ways of the early Church if we lived in a society that valued sacrificial giving, humility, and community.
We were never meant to walk this life alone.
Many churches have begun to strengthen specific areas of community with small groups and Bible studies. Nearly all of this fellowship, however, emphasizes the importance of peer to peer relationships. Small groups, Sunday School classes, and Bible studies are organized based upon stages of life. There are third grade Sunday School classes and Young Adult Bible studies and Empty Nester small groups. If you’re a single or a newlywed or a grandparent, there are gatherings and prayer circles and potlucks for you to meet with other singles or newlyweds or grandparents.
We are so convinced that our Christianity is personal, we assume anyone who is not in our same stage of life couldn’t understand what we’re going through.
There’s a passage in I Kings 12 that speaks of the importance of mentorship and godly counsel. King Solomon had just died, and his son, Rehoboam, was preparing to rule Israel. Rehoboam didn’t start out foolishly. In verse 6, he clearly desired to gain wisdom from the older men: “Then King Rehoboam took counsel with the old men, who had stood before Solomon his father while he was yet alive, saying, ‘How do you advise me to answer this people?'” (I Kings 12:6). He seemed to have a sincere longing to hear the insight of his father’s advisers. He approached the situation with humility and respect.
However, as soon as the old men gave him an answer he didn’t want to hear, he sought guidance elsewhere: “But he abandoned the counsel that the old men gave him and took counsel with the young men who had grown up with him and stood before him” (I Kings 12:8).
Rehoboam’s most foolish move in this passage was in abandoning the counsel of the elder men. He ignored their years of experience and their hard-won wisdom and looked among his peers for the advice that he wanted to hear.
The Bride of Christ desperately needs faithful, enduring saints to provide counsel and admonition to younger believers. If the Church does not disciple from within, it cannot stand. Those who have continued to run the race with perseverance must take on their role of sharpening those who are just coming off the blocks.
When seeking a godly mentor, search out a spiritually mature believer who is far enough removed from your situation to give objective input, and close enough to you that they understand your individual fears, struggles, and aspirations. Pursuing cross-generational mentorship is difficult at the start, but it is completely worthwhile.
If we consistently surround ourselves with a homogeneous circle of influences — people who are of the same age, gender, socioeconomic standing, or ethnic background, we will find that our egocentric worlds grow smaller and smaller. It is effortless to slip into the ranks of closed-minded, stagnant believers. Cross-generational mentorship combats the homogeneous circles we create and tears down the walls of pride we build.
Left unchecked, our pride can keep us from the most important relationships we have. Pride is the enemy of love, of vulnerability, and of growth. The simple fact is that, whether we admit it or not, we have a lot to learn. We need to seek out confidants with whom we cannot just divulge, but repent of, our deepest struggles and hurts.
James 5:16 reveals that healing comes through confession: “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” Although we tend to run from this idea in the Protestant Church, confession is a significant part of the healing process. While confessing to Christ is the means of restoration and forgiveness, it seems that confessing sin “to one another” still plays a role in healing our hearts.
How can we find this kind of spiritual mentor? What should we be looking for that makes this individual stand out? Richard Foster, in his book Celebration of Discipline, suggests ideal characteristics of the person who will offer spiritual direction in your life:
“A spiritual director must be a person who has developed a comfortable acceptance of himself or herself. That is, a genuine maturity must pervade all of that person’s life. Such persons are unmoved by the fluctuations of the times. They can absorb the selfishness and mediocrity and apathy around them and transform it. They are unjudging and unshakable. They must have compassion and commitment.”
Compassion. Commitment. Selflessness. Stability.
Seek a person you admire. Seek a person who wholeheartedly loves Christ and who loves the people around them well. Seek a person whom you desire to emulate. If your mentor is someone you don’t want to be in twenty or fifty or seventy years, find someone else.
But please, find someone. In Ronald Reagan’s inaugural address, he voiced the following:
“Freedom is a fragile thing and is never more than one generation away from extinction. It is not ours by inheritance; it must be fought for and defended constantly by each generation, for it comes only once to a people. Those who have known freedom and then lost it have never known it again.”
Reagan was speaking to political freedom. I would argue that the statement can be re-purposed to speak a profound truth about spiritual freedom. The Church is battling daily the effects of sin in the world. Without genuine and effective spiritual leadership, without disciples making more disciples and saints mentoring new believers, the Bride of Christ is in danger of collapse.
It is our distinct privilege to usher the Kingdom of God to the earth while we are here as stewards. In order to glorify God and enjoy Him forever, we must pass the baton to the next generation. For college students and young adults, this means it is our responsibility to find enduring runners and to have the courage to accept the baton when it’s passed to us.
Featured Image Credit: Rachael Seymour