From the Pastor’s Desk: Rev. Simon Lee

Dear brothers and sisters of RCAC,

In my last article (1), I shared my initial thought on mentoring relationships through Barnabas and Paul: Prerequisites in spiritual mentoring. In this article we are going to look at the 3 phases of the mentoring relationship of Barnabas and Paul: Sponsorship, nurturing and multiplication.

  1. Staunch sponsorship of the mentee

Whereas Paul (then Saul) had a reputation as a persecutor of the church (Acts 9:1-2), Barnabas was a well-respected leader and teacher in the Church in Jerusalem. Even Ananias, a disciple of Jesus at Damascus, when asked by the Lord to go speak with Paul was hesitant because of the “evil” he had perpetuated against the followers of Jesus (Acts 9:13-14). Paul also had to face the same challenge when he tried to join the disciples of Jesus in Jerusalem (Acts 9:26). No one could trust Paul who not too long ago was the one who hunted them down to put them in prison. Barnabas put his reputation on the line in taking a risk in sponsoring and recommending Paul.  Because of that, Paul was able to preach boldly in the name of Christ. But he had to leave Jerusalem because the Greek-speaking Jews in Damascus sought to kill him (Acts 9:28,29).  The believers sent Paul away to Tarsus for safety and there he stayed for about three years (Gal 1:17-18). Again, it was Barnabas who sought Paul out to join him in teaching the believers in Antioch, resulting in many people being taught (Acts 11:25-26). Barnabas and Paul also were given the honour and responsibility to bring the special relief offering to the believers in Judea. In these ministries, Barnabas was a strong sponsor of Paul, helping to launch him in his early ministries.

During my many years of ministries where I have served, I had to recruit young Christian workers or mentor them, both in teaching and pastoring, I had on more than one occasion vouch for and sponsor and support young inexperienced workers. Sad to say I have been disappointed more than once, when the person(s) I strongly sponsor turns out to have his or her own agenda, or only give lip-service to entering a mentoring relationship. But I really treasure those who are willing to be mentored and even become valuable teammates who excel.

  1. Nurturing the mentee to be a leader who excels

Usually after an initial sponsoring and initiation period, the mentoring relationships that survive go into a maturing and nurturing period where the mentor and mentee consolidate the cultivation process. This is the most satisfying stage of the relationship where there is mutual trust and respect.

Such is the case when Barnabas and Paul embarked on their first missionary journey. As they travelled, Barnabas took risks in letting Paul take the lead. This is seen in letting Paul speak on Cyprus, as well as letting Paul respond to the challenge of a false leader (Acts 13:9-12). We find in the Lukan account the names of Barnabas and Paul are mentioned in alternate order, indicating that Barnabas was starting to step aside to letting Paul take the lead (Acts 13:7, 13, 43; 14:14; 15:12, 25), until eventually Barnabas withdrew entirely into the background. At this stage, the mentor takes on the role of an advisor, letting the mentee develop into a mature leader, in fact one who excels over his mentor where he is gifted.

This mentoring phase was a relatively long period that began from the conversion of Paul and lasted till the end of the Antioch mission at the conclusion of the Jerusalem Council. One big problem I see in the succession plan of leadership in the Chinese Churches worldwide is the failure to cultivate leaders over a longer period.

On the other hand, the problem preventing the full development of the mentee is when the mentor always hangs onto his position as the leader, or the opposite is true when the mentee is too assertive or too eager to take over the leadership, prematurely thinking that he or she is ready to assume leadership. Jesus teaches us the servant leadership model. Jesus called them (the disciples) together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:42-45)

  1. Multiplying healthily the mentoring relationships

While mutual respect in the mentoring relationship should continue to flourish, the mentoring structure must end when maturity in the mentee is attained, indicating the goal in the relationship has been achieved. It is natural that the mature mentee wants to be independent and that indicates there is a healthy relationship, ready for termination. Sometimes when honest differences in opinion start to surface in the mature mentoring relationship, the best thing to do is to allow it to move into a separation phase where the mentoring relationship is redefined, and perhaps multiplied.

In the case of Barnabas and Paul, the separation phase came to a head when they decided to return to the places where they had preached the gospel (Acts 15:36). Barnabas wanted to take Mark, but Paul was not in agreement because Mark had abandoned them during the first missionary journey. Eventually they went their separate ways, Barnabas taking Mark, and Paul taking Silas.

I like to see this result as the mentoring model being multiplied. We do not know much about the relationship of Barnabas and Paul after this as the Lukan account focused on Paul (the mentee) as he continued his apostleship to the Gentiles. But one snapshot of Paul much later asking that Mark come to him because he regards him as useful to him would indicate he later saw Barnabas was right in giving Mark a second chance, investing in his life (I Tim 4:11). In the mentoring relationships of Paul and Timothy, Silvanus, and Titus (2 Cor. 1:1; I Thes. 1:1; Gal 3:1), we see Paul continuing mentoring in the footstep left by Barnabas.

What the church needs today is more mentoring relationships at all levels. I tried to do this when I was professor in Hong Kong, forming “Pastoral mentoring groups”, some of which still are active today. Paul in writing to Timothy his spiritual son and mentee, says “You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also.” (2 Tim 2:1,2)

Your servant in Christ,

Rev. Simon Lee