2 Timothy is a staple text for Australian evangelical Christianity and for many university ministries. It’s about mentoring, fidelity, endurance, and ‘gospelling’. It’s a text I’ve heard preached on time and again, especially in pivotal, rite-of-passage events such as national conferences and ministry camps.
And then it was my turn to expound this very text at just such an occasion: 2014 TAFES staff orientation. I called these sessions ‘Becoming a gospel mentor: feet, mouth, heart’. In these posts are a few highlights and impressions from what we explored.
We often point to 2 Timothy 3:16 and stress the importance of the biblical compass for our lives. But it’s striking that in this passage, when Paul refers to himself (v10) and others (v14), we see that people are just as important. Timothy can be assured of the truth because he knows the people who have taught him, a trustworthy family of mothers and grandmothers, and fathers like Paul, who have raised Timothy in the faith. Timothy can follow in their footsteps because he knows them as the people of God, the walkers of the way to life.
Paul speaks of and alludes to family throughout 2 Timothy, and this family language is a demonstration of the nature of ministry: it’s about people. And that means ministry must take place in ordinary life, the day-to-day world, the everyday things: sharing meals, sharing your home, sharing journeys; the people on your mind, the people you miss, the people you cry about and cry with.
Yet in both Tanzania and Australia, churches and ministries often give a great deal of attention to events and programs: the Sunday service, the marriage workshop, the Bible study booklet, and so on. All these things are tangible, visible and malleable — and important. But they are not ultimate.
Events and programs have their uses, but what about all the space in between? What happens in between Sundays, in between prayer meetings? Those are not empty spaces; that’s where life takes place, and where lives take shape. That’s where ministry finds its focus in mentoring. Mentoring is less visible, even invisible, but it happens in and around everything else. Even in terms of events and programs, there is a pretty obvious place for mentoring: before and after, preparation and debriefing, delegation and follow up.
Ministry isn’t about events, and neither is it about numbers. Of all the thousands of people who attend church events, what is actually going on in their lives? How many are disciples? Who is actually practicing their faith and walking in the way of Jesus?
The personal and intimate nature of 2 Timothy is exactly where we see Paul’s strategy: true impact lies in the power of a single transformed life. It’s quality, not quantity. In comparison with a packed auditorium, the scale of mentoring is tiny. It is a one-to-one relationship of walking together. But the purpose of mentoring is precisely in its small scale: to get inside one another’s lives and dig below the surface. Think of what is possible in that relationship. It’s where motives and motivations are revealed. It’s where sin is exposed and light can break in. It’s where the Spirit can do his transforming work.
Arthur Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.