This is part two of my series on the Christian hero’s journey in which I use the hero’s journey as a framework to understand the Christian’s journey. In the previous article, I looked at the first stage—or first part—of the journey: “the call.” This article will discuss the second part of the journey: “the wise mentor” (discipleship in Christian theology).
When one first thinks of the hero’s journey, it may appear to be something that the hero or Christian goes on by themselves because it’s his or her journey. When examined more deeply and biblically, the hero or Christian has one or more individuals who join him or her on this journey, often serving as helpers or friends. At least one of those people is—or should be—someone who helps the hero/Christian learn and grow. This person is the wise mentor (or discipler in Christianity).
In this article, I want to look at the role of the mentor or discipler from a biblical viewpoint and answer two questions:
- What does the discipler do, or what is their role?
- How should they accomplish this?
The Biblical Role of the Discipler or Mentor
Thanks to popular movies, many of us are quite familiar with the role of the mentor. In many instances, the mentor worked for good while in others the mentor was evil. For example, Gandalf (Lord of the Rings) and Obi-Wan Kenobi (Star Wars) mentored Frodo Baggins and Luke Skywalker respectively in order to help them do what was right; Emperor Palpatine (multiple Star Wars movies) mentored Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader to be evil. Regardless of their motives, Gandalf, Obi-Wan, and Palpatine each mentored his respective disciple.
Throughout Scripture, we see that the discipler is supposed to help the hero/Christian grow in his or her faith. That is, the mentor helps the young believer spiritually mature. He helps the believer gain knowledge and experience. The discipler guides and teaches the Christian hero along his or her journey with Jesus.
We call this process of helping another believer grow and mature “discipleship.”
Discipleship can occur in one of three ways: one-on-many, one-on-few, or one-on-one. The one-on-many is best exemplified in a worship service in which the pastor teaches a large number of people at once time. We also see this method of discipleship in Scripture: in Matthew 5-7, the “Sermon on the Mount,” Jesus taught a large number of people, and in Mark 4:1-9 we learn that Jesus taught large crowds while standing in a boat. Thus, one-on-many is a biblical method of discipleship.
The second method, one-on-few, is quite common in churches. This is when a mentor or discipler teaches a handful of people, allowing for more personal and in-depth interaction between the discipler and the disciple. This most often occurs within small groups or Sunday school. Jesus also used this method. Jesus spent a lot of time teaching just his disciples or close followers (Mark 4:10-33; Luke 8:9-18) and, at times, seems to have given more in-depth discipleship to just a few: Peter, James, and John (Mark 9:2-13; Luke 8:49-56). As such, one-on-few continues to be a biblical method of discipleship.
The third method of discipleship is one that occurs far less frequently than the other two: one-on-one mentorship. This one is self-evident in the name: one person teaching or guiding one other person, and just like the previous two, we see this method also in Scripture. Jesus individually taught Peter (John 21:20-22), John (John 19:26-27), and Nathaniel (John 1:47-51) among others. Also, Paul mentored Timothy (1 Tim 1:1-2; 2 Tim 1:13) and Titus (Tit 1:4). Although less frequently used, one-on-one mentorship can often be the most intense, intimate, and instructional form of discipleship. No wonder the master-apprentice training model has been used for millennia in across multiple industries and trades!
How long a Christian is discipled by a wise mentor often varies; it may last days, weeks, months, or even years. It should never be, though, a matter of going through a single Bible study and—voilà!—you’re discipled! As long as there is room for us to grow, as long as we need to repent of our sins, and as long as there is more for us to learn, discipleship will continue. Although a particular mentor may leave or pass away, Christians should continue to be discipled.
Throughout Scripture, we’re told that as believers, we are to move from spiritual infancy to spiritual maturity. In his first letter, Peter writes,
Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation—if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.
1 Peter 2:2-3
In these verses, the Apostle is saying that spiritual infants (that is, young or newborn Christians) should grow up spiritually in Christ. That is, they should mature. We also see this in Paul’s letter to the believers in Colossae:
Him [Jesus] we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.
Paul is showing us that Christians must be growing in their faith in Jesus. This idea of continual discipleship is also talked about by the author of Hebrews:
Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.
The author doesn’t mince his words! He’s saying that, as Christians, we should be constantly growing in our knowledge of theology and of Christ. We should be moving from a basic theological knowledge of Christ to one that is growing ever deeper. However, this is about far more than just theology: it’s about having a growing, personal relationship with Jesus (i.e., knowing the gospel).
The question, though, is how does a disciple help the Christian hero grow and mature?
The Biblical Method of the Discipler or Mentor
When it comes to the method of discipling someone, the Great Commission and a word from Paul are quite helpful. Before he ascended into heaven, Jesus told his disciples,
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.
From these verses, we learn what the mentor or discipler is supposed to do:
- Evangelize (i.e., “baptizing them”)
- Teach sound theology and practice (i.e., “teaching them”)
A biblical discipler is one who shares the gospel with others, giving them the opportunity to respond to the gospel and be saved. Additionally, a biblical discipler is one who teaches correct doctrine (in contrast to the numerous false teachers refuted and rebuked by men like Chris Rosebrough, Justin Peters, and BezelT3) and who lives out their faith each day.
While Jesus gives us the “what” part of the method, Paul outlines the strategy, or the “how” aspect in his second letter to his protégé, Timothy:
You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also.
2 Timothy 2:1-2
Paul outlines in these verses a three-step process to discipleship:
- Be a learner (i.e., “what you have heard from me”)
- Teach others (i.e., “entrust to faithful men”)
- Empower your students to become disciplers (i.e., “who will be able to teach others”)
In order to mentor or disciple someone else, we must first be students ourselves. Of course, that doesn’t mean we stop learning – even Paul kept learning right up to his martyrdom (2 Tim 4:13). We must then take that which we learned or are learning, and teach it to others. However, we don’t teach simply so the other person can learn, but so they can also become the wise mentor to a Christian hero going on a journey with Jesus.
Now that you have a better understanding of biblical discipleship, let me bring all this home.
Bringing It Home
When it comes to the hero’s journey—or the Christian’s journey—this stage is absolutely vital! It’s critical that a Christian does not go on his or her journey alone. Rather, the Christian hero must have a wise mentor (or multiple mentors) to guide and teach him or her along the way.
Every believer must be discipled.
Every believer must be a discipler.
This isn’t for the benefit of only you and I, however; it’s also what brings glory to God (John 15:8)! God is glorified when Christians disciple others, mentor others, and help each other grow in faith. Jesus mentored people. Paul mentored people. You and I must mentor people.
Were your or are you being mentored by someone? How is that person helping you grow in your faith? Share you testimony below in the comment section.
Are you serving as the “wise mentor” for another believer? Are you filling the biblical role and following the biblical method outlined above? Comment below your discipleship testimony below.