The “Mentor Myth”

On the Resurgence website, Mark Driscoll describes what he calls the “mentor myth” – that out there, somewhere on the earth, is a person who knows everything you need to know. They can teach you, organize you, develop you, save you and make you the person you need to be. This belief doesn’t seem to be too uncommon among young people (myself included!). But by adopting this belief we set up mentors as functional saviors and therefore set them up for failure. As Jonathan Edwards taught: if we idolize someone, we will eventually demonize them.

There are three practical ways that I have learned to guard against this kind of idolatry. One is by surrounding myself with multiple mentors, keeping in mind that they each have different strengths and weaknesses from which I can learn. Secondly, I can do so by remembering that a discipler is merely a tool being used to teach me to place my hope in Jesus. While having a mentor(s) is invaluable, we have to remember that only Jesus is the Savior & Leader that our hearts are searching for. No human mentor can fill that role. And finally, we can avoid falling for the “mentor myth” by reminding ourselves that we have Someone better than hundreds of human mentors: the Holy Spirit Himself.

First of all, we can guard against falling for the
“mentor myth” by having an abundance of counselors.

I have been blessed by numerous individuals who have invested in my spiritual life, beginning with my fantastic dad and mom. After college it hit me that I had so much more to learn about the Lord and about life. I mean, let’s be honest… becoming a “real” adult scared me. So I took it upon myself to find a few older, godly women who would be willing to let me live life with them. In a sense, I’ve developed a “bullpen” of women who I go to for advice and direction. These women collectively have shown me how to run to Jesus for my affirmation and validation and how to become less dependent on the approval of people.

While having a mentor is great, having an abundance of counselors is even better. Why have more than one mentor? Especially if you’re trying to guard against idolizing them?? Proverbs 11:14 says, “Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.” Mature followers of Christ are also flawed human beings (Romans 3:23). Therefore, they have different strengths and weaknesses from which we can learn. Just like a baseball bullpen is filled with “specialists” who contribute to a game in a moment of need, so can a “discipleship bullpen” be beneficial to our walks with Christ. While my relationships with the women in “my bullpen” don’t all include weekly trips to Starbucks, each relationship is a blessing to both parties involved. These women would not call me their “disciple,” but that is exactly what they have done for me in practice. I could go on and on about those who have seen my growth as a worth-while investment of their time and energy. Some of them were only in my life for a season; others are still some of my closest friends. Since no “one person” has all the answers, why not develop friendships with many godly people from whom we can learn?

Secondly, we can help prevent unrealistic expectations
& codependency by keeping in mind that our mentors
are imperfect messengers to point us to the real Savior.

There is danger in leaning too heavily on another human being for affirmation and validation. No matter how godly a person is, he or she is still flawed. They will fail you, and you will fail them. Like Proverbs said, there is safety in an abundance of counselors. Notice- they are just counselors, not saviors. Being discipled is obviously a blessing and an important aspect of our walks with Christ, but we need to be careful not to look to our mentors for ultimate validation and affirmation. No person (or group of people) can fill the role that only God was meant to fill. It will prove to be disappointing for you and draining for the other person. By all means- seek advice & take advantage of opportunities to learn from those who are a step ahead of you! But be careful not to put your ultimate trust in people; only Jesus is sufficient for your deepest needs.

Finally, you can guard against the “mentor myth” by remembering that if you have a personal relationship with Jesus, you have something even better than having hundreds of mentors.

What’s better than having hundreds of Kay Arthurs or John Pipers discipling you? Having the same Holy Spirit living inside of you that raised Jesus from the dead (Romans 8:11). If you have a personal relationship with Christ, then that is true of YOU. In John 14, Jesus describes the Spirit as the “Helper;” part of His job is to teach us and remind us of what God has said in His Word. Yes, yes, yes- listen to godly counsel from those who disciple you! But also learn to lean on the Holy Spirit to counsel you & to remind of truth from God’s Word.

While the mentors I mentioned above have different strengths and weaknesses, they all share the common thread of pushing me to more fully place my hope in Christ, not in themselves or in a group of people. They have taught me to run to Him for the “final say,” and not just to call them on the phone or take their word as ultimate truth. Our goal as followers of Christ should be to know & love Jesus Christ more- not a person, church, ministry or group of people. Discipleship “done well,” is a key contributor to that.

 


Emily is a native of Athens, GA, who never left. She graduated from the University of Georgia in 2009 and now works for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes at UGA and Watkinsville First Baptist Church. She loves spending time with college students, cheering on the Dawgs, running, and drinking an unhealthy amount of coffee.

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