Mentoring in the Old Testament: Part 1

Mentoring has radically impacted my life – much of who I am and what I do are a result of the mentors that God has placed in my life.  Some mentors were intentional; others were instinctive, but all have been used to make a radical impact in my life.

Mentoring is God’s primary method to develop His leaders.  We see numerous examples of this all through the Bible.  In this series of posts on my blog, I want to briefly look at several examples of mentoring from the Bible.  I hope to challenge you to be mentored and to teach you how to mentor others.


First, what is mentoring? The first time the word “mentor” was used was in Homer’s Odyssey.  In the book, Mentor is a wise man asked to oversee Ulysses’ house while he is away fighting.  Mentor is specially tasked with taking care of Ulysses’ son Telemachus.  Mentor and Telemachus develop a lasting relationship through which Telemachus matures, grows, and succeeds.  This illustration from ancient literature gives us some insight into the significance of the word.

The word “mentor” is both a noun and a verb.  The dictionary definition is “an experienced and trusted adviser” or “to advise or train.”  Here are some ways that other people have defined mentoring:

  • “A relational process between an older, more mature, more knowledgeable, or more skilled person and another person who learns in some intentional way.” (G. C. Newton)
  • “A relational experience in which one person, called the mentor, empowers another person called the mentee, by the transfer of resources (such as insights, skills, values, connections to people who can help, finances, other materials).” (R Roberts)
  • Mentoring is a concept and process that every responsible Christian who is serious about passing on the faith should be involved in at some point. It is a critical component of parenting as a parent guides, nurtures, and prepares a child for life. As believers, we should be committed to the process of mentoring another in order to ensure the ongoing success of the church. (M. J. Anthony)

Mentoring is one of the most exciting and effective ways to prepare people for life and leaders for ministry.

Jethro & Moses

One of the first instances of mentoring in the Old Testament is the example of Jethro and Moses.  Notice several things we can learn about mentoring for their relationship in Exodus 18.

First, the foundation of mentoring is a close relationship (Exodus 18:1-8).  

In these verses, we see the closeness of these men.  They greeted one another.  They were concerned about each other’s welfare.  They spent time together talking.  They told each other about what was going on.  No doubt, this relationship had been cultivated over the forty-year period that Moses was a shepherd in the wilderness (Exodus 3:1).

Often, we focus too much on the mentoring and not enough on the relationship.  Without a close relationship built by trust, love, and mutual commitment, mentoring will not work.

Second, the only way a mentoring relationship will work is for there to be transparency (Exodus 18:8).

Moses had a willingness to tell what was going on (“Moses told his father in law all that the Lord had done…”). Moses was willing to be vulnerable.  He was willing to admit fears, weaknesses, mistakes, and concerns. I have no doubt the Jethro was just as transparent as Moses.

Third, the mentor must genuinely desire the best for his protégé (Exodus 18:9-12).

Jethro was very excited about how God blessed and used Moses.  Moses’ victory was Jethro’s victory.  He was happy when things were going well for Moses.  He was just as excited if not more excited than Moses over what God had done for him.  He threw a big feast for Moses, Aaron, and all the elders of Israel.

We need to learn to celebrate the successes of those we are mentoring.  We should be their biggest cheerleader.  Instead of bragging on our accomplishments, we should brag on how God uses them.

Fourth, mentors make positive investments in the lives of those they are mentoring (Exodus 18:13-23).

    1. Moses’ leadership lacked.  He was a fairly new leader.  He led Israel well in times of crisis, but he was not so good at overseeing the day-to-day affairs of the people.  Moses had to learn that different seasons of leadership require different leadership skills.  A mentor is there to help continue developing those he is training.Moses tried to do everything himself (18:13).  He did all the judging.  We are not sure why.  Maybe it was a lack of trust.  Maybe it was ignorance or perhaps he overestimated his own importance.  Whatever the reason, he thought he was doing right (18:15-16).  Like we often do, he made many spiritual excuses for why he was not training and mentoring others.
    2. Jethro helped Moses develop as a leader and trainer of others. He questioned Moses’ method (18:14).   He then pointed out why his method was not good (18:17-18).  It was not good for Moses because he was going to wear away.  It was not good for the people because they had to wait all day.  It was not good for the work of God because his trying to do everything was actually hindering the effectiveness of God’s people.Jethro offered wise counsel (18:19-23).  He did not suggest that Moses stop judging, stop being a representative of the people to God, stop being God’s spokesman to the people, or stop teaching the people God’s laws and how to live (v.19-20).  Jethro came up with a very helpful, practical solution (v.21-22).  He told him to choose out of the people able men of character who could help and to let these men help with the judging. As a result of Jethro’s counsel, things were easier for Moses and the people were better served (v.22-23).

If we are going to mentor others, we must be committed to positively investing in others.  It is not about using people to build our ministry; it is about using our ministry to build people.  Mentoring only works that way.

Fifth, mentoring is only possible if we are teachable (Exodus 18:24-26).

Moses hearkened to the voice of his father-in-law!  There were many reasons, he might have not listened:

      • Moses had already been greatly used by God.
      • Moses was already leading a huge amount of people.
      • Moses could have thought, “You are just my father-in-law, what do you know?”
      • Moses could resist letting others get involved and losing his “control”.

Moses was known for his meekness and humility (Numbers 2:3).  The fact that he listened to his father-in-law and took his advice shows teachability.  Moses did not think he had arrived or that he did not need any help.

Moses followed Jethro’s advice to the letter.  He hearkened and did all that Jethro said.  He chose able men out of Israel and set up heads over the people.

Often we complain about not having a mentor, but mentoring will only work if someone is willing to be taught!

About the author

Travis has been a church planter to the United Kingdom since 2002 and also serves as the Europe Field Director for Vision Baptist Missions.
6 Responses
  1. Kanon Bloom

    What are practical ways Travis that you focused on building a close relationship with people that you are trying to mentor? For example when training a pastor what are things that you did aside from Bible teaching times to build a close relationship?

  2. Thank you, Canon, for your comment and question. Here are a few ideas that might help you:
    1) Pray for them regularly. This will keep them in your heart, causing you to think of them often and to think of ways to be a blessing to them.
    2) Withness is key. Spend as much time together as you can. Whatever you are doing in the ministry, do as much of it together as you can. Even have them over to your house for fun, relaxing times. Go to conferences together.
    3) Communicate and talk. If you are away, text, email, and call them. Ask them questions and find out how things are going.
    4) Invest in them. Let them know that they are important to you. Find out what they want and what is important to them, and try to help them achieve those goals.

    Hope that helps.

    1. You start winning people to the Lord. Then get them in church. Then you can see who is interested in serving and invite them to discipleship. then you will see who wants to go further.

  3. robert becker

    What a challenge to remember that I need to both mentor someone and yet still be mentored.
    What is a way to stay teachable?

    1. I would suggest:

      1) Stay under the authority of God’s Word and let it teach you every day. Psalm 139:23 23 Search me, O God, and know my heart: Try me, and know my thoughts:

      2) Start with the basic premise that you will always need guidance, direction and counsel. Proverbs 1:5 5 A wise man will hear, and will increase learning; And a man of understanding shall attain unto wise counsels: Proverbs 15:22 22 Without counsel purposes are disappointed: But in the multitude of counsellers they are established.

      3) Learn to be grateful for the trials that break you and humble your pride. James 1:2–4 2 My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; 3 Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. 4 But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.

      4) Trust the Lord to do the work in you. You are His child. He has a plan and a purpose, and wants to make you like Jesus far more than you may want it for yourself. Philippians 1:6 6 Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ: 1 Thessalonians 5:24 24 Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it.

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