Why Mentoring Matters

By Chuck Lawless

I keep in my desk a Father’s Day card from a student in whom I invested significant time.  That card encourages me to press on when I get tired of the bureaucracy, paperwork, meetings, and tedious tasks that sometimes come with the job of being a seminary dean.  It also reminds me that most churches have not yet figured out how to do discipleship.
Most churches—if they do discipleship at all—still do it programmatically.  That is, they organize a program, teach some classes, and evaluate the program’s success based on numbers attending. The more who attend, the better the program is assumed to be.

To be clear, I am not opposed to programs. Well-designed and well-implemented programs can be an effective step in disciplemaking.  My concern is that programmatic discipleship built solely around small groups and directed studies misses the most obvious New Testament means of disciplemaking: one-to-one mentoring.

Jesus produced disciples by investing first in a group of twelve men, and then more pointedly in a group of three.  He called them to be with Him, taught them, empowered them, prayed before them, sent them out, challenged them, called them to account, and even fixed a meal for them (see Matt 5-7; Mark 3:13-15; Luke 9:1-6, 18, 29;  John 21:9).  They in turn became leaders of the early church.

The Apostle Paul followed Jesus’ model by pouring his life into a few young men.  The best example is Timothy, whose life was never the same after the missionary evangelist called him to join his team (Acts 16:1-3). The young protégé watched Paul minister, surely rejoiced with him when lives were changed, and prayed for him when he was persecuted.  What joy Paul must have felt when he could end his race with the knowledge that Timothy would carry on the work of the gospel (2 Tim 4:1-8).

Why should we make disciples through mentoring?

  1. The approach is biblical.  If Jesus and Paul made disciples through this means, how can we not follow that pattern?  Older men and women teaching the younger generation is not optional for the church (Titus 2:1-8). A commitment to the Word requires a commitment to mentoring.
  2. Christian teaching lived out reinforces the truth of the Word.  The mentee who watches his mentor do personal evangelism is more likely to catch that fire.  A mentor with a godly marriage gives his disciple the invaluable gift of Christian living modeled in the home.  Faith exhibited during times of crisis becomes a challenging example for the disciple to emulate.  Simply stated, it is in the classroom of life that we best see the Word in action.
  3. Mentoring discipleship requires the mentor to guard his life against the Enemy’s attacks.  Committed disciplemakers wear a bull’s eye on their back for Satan. He knows that if he can seriously wound the mentor, the disciples bear the scars of that fall. Knowing that their actions affect a second generation of believers, good disciplemaking mentors stand strong against the Enemy.
  4. A strong disciplemaking relationship provides a safe place to deal with failure.  Confession is good, for it brings our sin out of the Enemy’s darkness into the light—where we can deal with the wrong through repentance and forgiveness.  Most believers, however, have no one to hold them accountable to Christian living. A disciplemaking mentor models holiness, calls his disciples to the same, and holds them accountable to that standard.  Should they fail, he offers forgiveness and encourages them to return to the fight.

This kind of disciplemaking is, of course, costly—and often risky.  Finding the time to invest in others usually means deleting something else from the calendar. Your own sin becomes magnified when others are watching.  The costs of study resources, shared meals, and occasional travel expenses quickly add up. Pastors who mentor may discover that church members accuse them of having “favorites.”

On the other hand, the risk you take might result in a disciple whose faith is potent and whose growth is obvious.  You might have the privilege of watching someone grow far beyond you and be used by God in ways you had never dreamed.  Indeed, you might just find a “son in the faith” (1 Tim 1:2) who remembers you on Father’s Day.

I’ll take that risk any day.

Chuck Lawless currently serves as Professor of Evangelism and Missions and Dean of Graduate Studies at Southeastern Seminary. You can connect with Dr. Lawless on both Twitter and Facebook.



  1. Heartspeak says

    Amen! At the risk of offending many here, I would say that this is truly the heart of disciple making! Our programs do so little comparatively and we need fewer sermons and small groups and more one on one disciple making. All the ‘normal’ things we do may have their place but I’ve long felt that the best equipping of the saints would be pastors who have their twelve and then those twelve who have their twelve. The exponential possibilities would transform our world in a few short years.

    I’ve always desired a mentor but never had the privilege. I am committed however, to being one to others. It’s not glamorous, it seems so small and inadequate but then, isn’t that one of the truths of the Kingdom? It also requires a commitment and personal relationship with the Master that is transparent to another. That’s something that far too many are unable or unwilling to do…..

    • Chuck Lawless says

      Thanks, Heartspeak. Good mentoring, biblical preaching, and effective small groups all contribute to Christian growth. I agree that we need more mentoring.

  2. Brian Gass says

    I can never repay the great debt I owe to John Blackwell. And he would never want me to. Bro. John affirmed me when after only a short time after being saved, I surrendered to full-time ministry. I knew this was what God wanted to do with my life but it meant a lot to have this small church pastor come alongside me and affirm God’s calling in my life. Before I knew it he had taken up a love offering for book money “because preachers need books,” he said. He helped me through my first sermon. But most of all, he called me up every now and then and asked if I wanted to go soulwinning with him. I might have learned to be a decent preacher by reading the books by Jerry Vines he gave me, but I would never have become a soulwinner without his mentoring. I’ve tried to invest in others’ lives like he did mine, especially during my time as a youth minister and as a missionary. Gotta admit though, I haven’t been nearly as committed to it since returning stateside as he was. Thanks for the reminder of how important mentoring is to Kingdom advancement.

  3. says

    I am eternally grateful for Dr. Ken Dillard, the Collegiate Ministry director at the University of Cincinnati. He let me into his life and SHOWED me how life with Christ should be lived and I will never be the same. Where my salvation came before ever meeting Ken, it was brought to life and forefront through his mentoring in my life. I pray that I will continue the cycle as well as the hundreds of others that Ken has mentored and discipled. I resolve to be willing to risk my soft/risky spots with those around me in hopes that they too can see life lived for Christ.

  4. Joe Ball says

    As a guy who had the opportunity to “hang out” with Dr. Lawless for several months, he truly lives out what he writes about on this blog. Great stuff!

  5. says

    Great reminder Dr. Lawless. “Finding the time to invest in others usually means deleting something else from the calendar” is so very true and convicting. Sometimes, the reason I avoid mentoring relationships is because it takes a sacrifice of time and my own selfish pursuits.

  6. says

    Great words, Dr. Lawless.

    What are your thoughts on “mentoring groups”? By this I mean have a group of 6-10 that meet on a regular basis with their mentor for a period of time (1 year) then they, in turn, reproduce this with their own groups?

    • Chuck Lawless says

      Todd, I like the idea of mentoring groups, with these caveats in mind. First, the larger the group is, the less likely the mentoring will be personal. Second, group mentoring is best when focused on particular areas/goals for mentoring (e.g., spiritual disciplines, evangelism). I would be most comfortable with a mentoring group that is not larger than about three mentees.

  7. Bill Wright says

    This is right on time, Dr. Lawless. We have started a Men’s Ministry at our church and as one of the leaders of this ministry, I’ve desired to have a mentoring program. I know how important strong, mature believers have been in my life. He saved me at the age of 24 and my growth would have been erratic had the Lord not placed in my life strong men.

    Our church has been blessed with many very mature, Godly men. I’d like them to pour into the youth of our growing church. I’ve searched for programs but none of them seem sufficient. And I don’t want to force relationships, but it’s difficult to get guys together. I have men who want to be mentors…it’s just finding ways to get them to feed into others is the hiccup. Any suggestions?

    • Chuck Lawless says

      Bill, at the risk of sounding self-serving, I encourage you to look at my Lifeway resource entitled MENTOR: HOW ALONG THE WAY DISCIPLESHIP CAN CHANGE YOUR LIFE. It’s a six-session study designed to help folks find mentors and become mentors. You’ll find it in the “Threads” Bible study curriculum for collegians, but groups of all ages have used the material.

  8. Bill Gohmert says

    Thanks for a great blog, Dr. Lawless! Please continue to share more insights on mentoring and discipleship with us!

  9. Seth says

    I am only 25 years old, and have begun to mentor some high schoolers in my community through the game of basketball. I have especially been able to reach out and to mentor on a deeper level with one of my “kids” Recently, he has been asking a lot of salvation oriented questions, if you guys on this board would pray that I say the right things and point him to Christ with every answer and action…I would appreciate it. Grace and Peace.

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