One of the many great joys in leading college students is seeing God work in the lives of those who are beginning a journey into vocational ministry. While it is certainly rewarding to see God glorified by those entering fields like business, education, or health care, ministers often develop a special relationship with students who are pursuing God’s call to ministry leadership as pastors, ministers, and missionaries.
As we consider these specific mentoring opportunities, it is typical to think of Paul and Timothy. Read through 1st and 2nd Timothy and observe how Paul nurtured their relationship, how he combined inspiration, encouragement, instruction, and application. What are some specific steps Paul took that we can model with our students? While it’s not an exhaustive list, here are three:
- Paul had the mindset of a father, calling Timothy “my son” several times. Whether “older sibling” or “parent” is the appropriate image to describe the relationship with a student, in either case there is the concept of family, of being close enough to discuss not just ministry but all aspects of life. That connection can be life-giving to both you and the student. Just as a parent might do, help them remember the past and help them dream of the future. Remind them of what God has done in the past in His word, in your own life, and in their life. Share your story, as Paul did with Timothy. I have found that my call to ministry, and the questions I had during that time, resonates with students wrestling with that decision. Most will find it encouraging to be assured that handwriting in the sky, burning bushes, or fire falling from heaven are neither normal nor required to discern God’s direction.
- Paul created the expectation of leadership. By design and by necessity, Paul equipped Timothy by giving him opportunities to lead and make decisions. Maybe Timothy felt inadequate when Paul gave him responsibilities in Ephesus, just as our students may feel—and may actually be!—inadequate to lead in the positions we place them. In those leadership moments, character is revealed and shaped. We (along with the student) get a glimpse of how God might be equipping and gifting them. With experience and insight, we can identify their strengths and abilities and point them out, helping them to interpret their experiences and giftedness and discover His calling.
- Paul was present in Timothy’s life even when they were not together. He prayed for Timothy—and told him that he was doing so. He encouraged him with his letters and words of affirmation and instruction. It’s easy to imagine that if Paul and Timothy were alive today they would have a long text thread, or stay in touch by phone or email. Spend quality time with students and you will earn their trust. The best ability you can offer is your availability.
As God continues to grant us the privilege of training and encouraging younger leaders for a lifetime in ministry, may we find—and in turn provide—inspiration, encouragement, and instruction to help students as they follow God’s call.