Have you heard you might benefit from a mentor? It can be easy to infer that the current emphasis on mentoring comes from the fact that it is a new concept, but history shows that’s not true. In fact, Edward Smither in his book Augustine as Mentor shows us at least four ways in which the mentorship process has long-established patterns from which we could learn.
I. Smither emphasizes that Augustine was a humble, lifelong learner.
“The mentor’s continual posture of learning demonstrated authenticity and humility for his disciples, making his mentoring more attractive and effective.”
Assuredly, as in all my writings I desire not only a pious reader, but also a free corrector.” – Augustine, On the Trinity
Augustine “believed that as soon as he learned something in the Scriptures, he should quickly pass it on for the edification of the Church. He confessed, ‘I feed you on what I am fed on myself… I set food before you from the pantry which I too live on.'”
II. Smither emphasizes Augustine’s care in how he communicated what he learned, and the impact that can have on us as his heirs.
“Regardless of whether he had personal contact with a spiritual leader, his mentoring was warm and personal. The tone of his books and letters seems consistent with how he was portrayed in the monastery, in a church council, or on a personal visit. Letters merely facilitated a conversation that could not take place face-to-face.”
“As encouragement was a key value in his mentoring approach, it was not without verbal communication. Putting a pen to paper is now rare, but spiritual leaders might well follow Augustine’s example with email, voice mail, or text messaging. Or they might invest time in encouraging phone call or personal visit.”
III. Smither shows spiritual leadership that shaped and was shaped by Augustine was channeled through imperfect, changeable action taken in community.
“It is better for you to live with a thousand in all humility than alone with pride in a hyena’s den.”
Pachomius to his monks
“Since unreasoning action and unpractical reasoning are like ineffectual, he added to his reasoning the succor which comes from action.”
Gregory of Narcissus on Basil
“In the context of the ‘burden’ of ministry, Augustine, like Valerius, was aware of his shortcomings but committed to putting capable leaders to work where he was weak. He deliberately involved men in ministry on an increasingly difficult level and happily released them to their own ministries.”
IV. The Augustinian model as related by Smither is undertaken with the knowledge that we deal with variable human beings and with God’s prerogative to show their impact in His time.
“The peoples of the Western world are largely in a hurry to accomplish and pack more into their schedules. This race, aided by the speed of increasing technology, tends to squelch human relationships. The church, particularly evangelical Protestants, seem to be in a similar hurry; and discipleship ministries, the well programmed and efficient, are often entirely lacking in Augustine’s notion of community.”
“Each mentor’s legacy will look different, but it is difficult if not wrong to judge or rate a person’s legacy. A mentor’s legacy may lie dormant for a while, only to resurface in a later generation. (Van Gogh never sold a painting in his lifetime!)”
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