Who has impacted your spiritual life the most? Was it was a parent, a preacher, an older man or woman in your congregation? Think of how your mentor invested time and effort in you, teaching you by example how to sacrifice, asking for nothing in return. Who would you be if your mentor didn’t exist?
Paul recognized the power of learning from others and urged the Philippians to follow the example of those who were spiritually strong: “Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us” (Phil. 3:17). What kind of “example” makes the biggest difference? I asked five friends why their spiritual mentors had impacted their lives so greatly. Between us, we found that these are the traits of the most impactful mentors:
1. They value our spiritual well-being.
Our mentors impact our lives, first and most importantly, because they genuinely value our spiritual health. They work hard to guide us toward God because they love us and they love our souls, and everything they do for us is motivated by this Christ-like love.
2. They invest in us.
Our spiritual mentors spend time with us despite their own busy schedules. They invest in us without expecting repayment—whether that means spending time, effort, or money. They make it a priority to keep us committed to God and connected to other Christians, as well as to equip us to lead others.
3. They are willing help with (and point out) personal and spiritual struggles.
The most valuable mentors are those who will shoot straight with us. They are kind and gentle, but they aren’t afraid to be honest when we slide off the straight and narrow. They don’t hesitate to jump in and help us through whatever tough, messy challenges we are facing.
4. They live what they teach.
They are not our mentors in word only; they live their advice, and they teach us as much (or more) through example as through direct instruction.
Take Timothy’s examples of mentors: he was brought up in the faith by his grandmother, Lois, and his mother, Eunice (2 Tim. 1:5) and Paul referred to Timothy as his “child in the faith” (1 Tim. 1:2). Even as a young man, Timothy had powerful potential, and Paul, as his mentor, not only reminded him of his potential but also what he needed to do to achieve it (1 Tim. 4:12).
It is up to us, as “spiritual children” like Timothy, to listen. Paul’s sage advice would have done Timothy no good if he chose not to consider and act on it. Advice is hard to take and even harder to apply, but we should “Hear instruction and be wise, and do not neglect it” (Prov. 8:33). Often our mentors offer invaluable experience-tested, Scripture-based guidance.
Just as Timothy followed in the faithful footsteps of his mother and grandmother, we have the opportunity to learn through the example of faithful, strong Christians. This the essence of what Paul taught in 1 Cor. 11:1: “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” He wasn’t calling for others to imitate him because he was perfect; he was asking them to emulate his imitation of Christ.
As powerful and valuable as it is to receive advice, we can make the biggest impact by investing in others. In Titus 2, Paul instructed Titus to “teach…sound doctrine” and to be “a model of good works,” and he taught that the older women should “teach what is good” and “train the young women.” Whatever stage of life we are in, we have the enormous opportunity to make the impact on others’ lives that our mentors made on ours. Live as an example, and make the time and effort to invest in someone else. Listen to them and take an interest in them not just out of duty, but out of love. If you feel underqualified, remember that the reason mentors are valuable is not because they are perfect or know everything; they are valuable because of their selfless, in-deed-and-in-truth love.