From the Pastor’s Desk: Rev. Simon Lee

Dear brothers and sisters of RCAC,

Real mentoring relationship is hard to find

I have had many teachers all my life, most of them good. The earliest teachers that I can remember were in my secondary schools’ years and it is interesting that I have kept in touch with some of them till now. The reason being that they really dedicated their lives to more than teaching to discipleship. Then I can remember some of my professors in my graduate school years in medical school, mainly because we saw each other in the lab daily, not just in a big lecture room. The teachers that influenced me most are (and were) those I became connected to in theological schools and professional circles, either as a student or fellow professors or theological educators and professional colleagues.

But if you ask me who were those who really “mentored” me, the list becomes much shorter, because a mentor-mentee relationship goes beyond a teacher-student relationship. It goes beyond the sharing of information and knowledge; it goes beyond the giving of advice, counseling, and coaching; and it goes beyond a teaching or co-worker relationship, to a caring and mutual supporting / enriching relationship. It may or may not happen in some spiritual director-directee relationships. In some cases, the relationship often changes as it develops in different stages into a mentor-friendship, the roles of mentor and mentee may even at times reverse, with the growth of the mentee.

Two mentors I had that most influenced me were Rev. Dr. Arnold Yeung (楊牧谷博士牧師)and Rev. Dr. James Chueng(張慕皚博士牧師). Both of them saw in me what others did not see and were willing to invest in me (when I was a no-body) in giving me opportunities to serve and grow in my writing ministry and in my pastoring/teaching career respectively. I cannot thank them enough for shaping my life in my most productive years. I cannot pay them back, and can only pay forward, as in the many mentoring relationships and groups (教牧菁英小組)from my days in seminary and university teaching in Hong Kong that I have maintained, some for over 15 years.

A classical Biblical mentoring relationship

In studying the growth of the Early Church in Acts of the Apostles, one fascinating relationship is that of Barnabas and Paul, a classical Biblical mentor and mentee relationship. Paul clearly is most prominently featured in Acts, and we study the 14 important Epistles in the New Testament that he wrote. But all the success of Paul is intimately tied to one person, Barnabas, who became his one and only mentor. Barnabas appeared first in Acts before Paul as a leader in the early Church (Acts 4:36; 11:22, 13:1). His relationship with Paul (then Saul) started when as a devout follower of the Jewish faith, he was vehemently persecuting the followers Jesus Christ (Acts 9). Barnabas guided Paul each step of the way during his development from a new convert to the great apostle to the gentiles. But I believe that such a mentoring relationship often is formed intentionally (and/or by divine providence). From experience I have found it cannot be successful unless it is mutual. It also must have certain prerequisites and may goes through several stages.

Prerequisites in spiritual mentoring

First, true to his name, Barnabas was a “son of encouragement” known for his enduring character of encouragement in the Jerusalem Church (Acts 4:36, 37) as well as to the new believers in Antioch (Acts 11:22). Barnabas was in his own right, a prominent teacher (Acts 13:1), a respected leader (Acts 14:11, 12). The important thing is that he was a person who was submissive to God as seen in his willingness to take risk with Paul (then, Saul) (Acts 9:27). In my experience, this takes courage and is a deliberate choice which may or may not succeed depending on whether a mutuality can be established.

On the other hand, Paul who was a devout follower and staunch defender of the Jewish faith but who was totally misguided in his zeal and became a persecutor of the followers of Christ (first called “Christians” in Antioch). It took a dramatic divine encounter on the road to Damascus, as a result blinded Saul for several days, for him to find his real blind spot in his religious zeal. Once a proud and self-confident man, a scholar par excellence, he had to be converted and became first a blind, humble and helpless person, and “be told what you are to do.”(Acts 9:6) As we see later in the life of Paul, he was able to turn his negative energy to positive energy in taking on the enormous task of taking the gospel to the whole of the gentile world. This we can see in the Lord’s divine plan in His word to Ananias on Paul: “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” (Acts 9:15,16) To being a “chosen instrument” requires both a call to honour to serve Christ and also a call to suffer for Christ. It is ultimately in being willing to suffer for Christ that we truly understand what it means to serve Christ, with honour, humility and integrity.

Next: Mentor and Mentee: The relationship between Barnabas and Paul 2: Sponsorship, nurturing and multiplication

Your servant in Christ,
Pastor Simon