Membership, movies, mentoring
Thoughts on Membership
Since moving to Boise, my wife and I have tried a variety of churches. While we're still "shopping around" so to speak, there has been one church in particular that has got me thinking. At this church, they have no official membership. At first, this was a little unsettling to hear, especially being a seminary student. I admit to feeling smugly self-satisfied when people hear that and it opens up doors for getting involved in ministries. At this particular church though, their attitude is "If you want to get involved, get involved." That's it - plain and simple, no fancy titles.
This got me to thinking, what is the purpose of membership? One church I went to, that made a big impact in my life during college, had two levels of membership. It required going through a basic 18 week Biblical foundations class just to become a provisional member, whereas voting on church decisions required full membership. I'm not knocking this system. It was refreshing actually, to be challenged to grow spiritually for a change, rather than just be a warm body occupying a pew. It sort of made you look at yourself and prioritize things: "Where does God come in my list of priorities, is this time investment worth the trade-off?"
Yet, as I see this other Boise church growing and thriving, I wonder - is the title of Member really even necessary? Is not the Christian life itself supposed to be a call to be peculiar? It seems to me that if a church is encouraging its congregation to grow, and really instilling in them Biblical values, membership should be unnecessary. Now, don't get me wrong, I do think that those who have a say in how the church is governed should have been around for awhile. I simply don't see the point in differentiating on paper between those who are in the club and those who are not. As far as I can tell, a membership to Blockbuster gets you more privledges than membership to most churches. I mean yeah, everyone likes seeing their cheesy Olan Mills photo in the church directory, but is that all this is?
I would propose that more important than being a member of a church is being mentored by a church. In college, I had the opportunity to work with and be trained by several guys who were pouring their lives into my spiritual well-being. When I enrolled for my first classes in seminary, I was excited to see the class Mentoring listed. I signed up, only to have the class be cancelled, because the pastor would've had to take reduced pay because the minimum ten students had not signed up. After some time passed, I again enrolled in the class, this time with a different professor. Same result - only nine students signed up, so the class was not offered. Suffice it to say, the United Methodist mentoring system is a joke. Again, don't get me wrong, I had plenty of great professors, some of which I still keep in touch with. I just think the denominational system itself is flawed.
So, I'll give some practical everyday examples of how mentoring relationships could work. We're all pretty up to snuff on our movie trivia, so I'll start there, and then give a Biblical example of good mentoring. First off, you might recall the movie The Incredibles. In this movie, we see the superhero protagonist in his daily routine of saving people and defending the city. At one point, he pulls over to save a cat that is stuck up a tree, and when he gets back in his car, there's a kid in the passenger seat. Buddy, aptly named, fancies himself the side-kick of Mr. Incredible, like Robin was to Batman.
In a comical series of events, they argue back and forth until finally Buddy is literally ejected from the high-tech car. Later on in the movie, Mr. Incredible is nearly beaten by a large mechanical beast, down for the count and vulnerable to the inevitable final blow. At this dramatic point, the super-villian flies in, and we recognize him as that same boy, now grown, obsessed with killing off superheroes. This anger is fueled by his childhood rejection by Mr. Incredible. While this is of course a comical, fictional example, it poignantly illustrates how missed or ignored mentoring opportunities can affect a person's life, both of the mentor and mentee.
Alrighty, so cartoons aren't your thing. Fine, I'll give an example with a little more weight. Let's look at how the arrogance and impatience of a mentee can have dire consequences. In a galaxy far, far away, there was a mentoring relationship between Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker. Starting with Episode I, we see young Anakin with great potential. He has the ability to sense through premonition what is about to happen in the near future. Due to this, he is an incredible aviator, even as a boy. This potential is recognized, and to make a long story short, Obi-Wan trains him throughout his lifetime. He grows up to be a powerful young man, intelligent and idealistic.
However, he was also very ambitious, a fact that a villianous politician exploits by seeding his mind with doubt and suspicion towards his mentor. This is a good analogy of how Satan softly whispers in our ears that which we long to hear. In the end of Episode III, Anakin turns to the dark side, and follows his own selfish desires. He duels with his mentor, but ends up losing. Despite his natural giftings, he is no match for the seasoned veteran.
After this, Anakin's bitterness fuels his murderous actions, and he goes on a killing spree for decades. In Episode VI, the story finally does end up well, with Anakin earning his redemption by thwarting the evil one who had poisoned his mind since childhood. Yet, it is not without the deaths of countless innocent people, including his former mentor. It goes to show that it is important to be mentored for the appropriate amount of time, by the right people, rather than be ruled by our passions.
What, fictional examples don't cut it? Fine, here's one based on a true story. Donnie Brasco was an undercover cop, posing as a shady jewelry store owner. He put himself in a position to be noticed by "Lefty" Ruggiero, a middle-management crime boss. Initially, Donnie is an upstanding police officer, seeking to do good. Subtly though, as Lefty accepts and mentors him, by treating him like a son, Donnie does more than just look the part.
He becomes that which he is trying to stop. He is reduced to stealing a large sum of cash, after which his wife confronts him about it. The climax of the movie is when he punches his wife and says "There is no 'them' - I am them!" In the end, the FBI intervenes and brings Donnie back to his senses. Lefty is executed by his mob cronies, and Donnie is given a medal for his service to the country, all the while feeling guilty for the mentor he betrayed, even though he accomplished the goal he set out to do.
Okay, so cinema isn't your thing, fair enough. I'll give a Biblical example of mentoring gone right. In first and second Kings, we see the story of Elijah, a prophet of the Lord, standing up against all odds in order to speak the truth to those too religious to hear it. There are several other prophets, who are not of God, that call Elijah a liar. A dispatch of fifty men is sent to bring him in (overkill, in my opinion). Yet, not even this brigade of trained soldiers can tame the tongue of this wily man.
Elijah answered and said to the captain of fifty, "If I be a man of God, let fire come down from heaven, and consume thee and thy fifty." And there came down fire from heaven, and consumed him and his fifty.
— 2 Kings 1:10 (ASV)
Nothing could stop this guy, because he had his priorities set straight and solid. He had a direct relationship with the God Almighty, and didn't so much as blink an eyelash in the face of certain danger. Elijah had a protégé, named Elisha strangely enough, which no doubt made for some confusing conversations amongst their mutual friends!
Anyway, Elisha followed in his mentor's footsteps, learning to be equally as fearless and effective in preaching the message of repentance and revival. Needless to say, they went through some tough times together. Like two guys who have fought side by side in the trenches, there was a bond formed between them. Yet, they knew that God was going to bring their time to a close. I suppose that no detail sneaks by a prophet! The actual text details the series of events best:
And the sons of the prophets that were at Jericho came near to Elisha, and said unto him, "Knowest thou that Jehovah will take away thy master from thy head to-day?" And he answered, "Yea, I know it; hold ye your peace." And Elijah said unto him, "Tarry here, I pray thee; for Jehovah hath sent me to the Jordan." And he said, "As Jehovah liveth, and as thy soul liveth, I will not leave thee." And they two went on. And fifty men of the sons of the prophets went, and stood over against them afar off: and they two stood by the Jordan. And Elijah took his mantle, and wrapped it together, and smote the waters, and they were divided hither and thither, so that they two went over on dry ground…
— 2 Kings 2:5-8 (ASV)
And it came to pass, when they were gone over, that Elijah said unto Elisha, "Ask what I shall do for thee, before I am taken from thee." And Elisha said, "I pray thee, let a double portion of thy spirit be upon me." And he said, "Thou hast asked a hard thing: nevertheless, if thou see me when I am taken from thee, it shall be so unto thee; but if not, it shall not be so." And it came to pass, as they still went on, and talked, that, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, which parted them both asunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.
— 2 Kings 2:9-11 (ASV)
It should be noted here that Elisha asks for a double-portion of the Spirit that is upon Elijah. This is not motivated out of greed, but of his realization that he will have some big shoes to fill once Elijah is gone. It's like the saying "I'm not half the man he is," showing that it will take double whatever he has to continue the work.
A common misconception is that the chariot of fire came down from heaven to take Elijah back up. We've even got a song that reinforces it, "Swing low, sweet chariot, coming for to carry me home!" As we see from this context though, it is clear that the chariot of fire comes down solely to seperate the mentee from his mentor so that God could take him with the whirlwind.
This is an odd happening, for sure, but the main point is that the bond of between the two prophets was like father and son, so strong that it took supernatural intervention to seperate them. While some might call this an off-the-wall case of codependency, I think that this is the way a mentoring relationship should be.
Thanks for suffering through this long article. If you skipped here without reading the whole thing (tisk tisk), here's the abbreviated version: Church membership today doesn't mean much. We need more mentoring. We've also covered examples of the following mentoring scenarios:
Missed mentoring opportunity - Incredibles
Good mentor, bad mentee - Star Wars
Bad mentor, good mentee - Donnie Brasco
Good mentor, good mentee - Elijah & Elisha
It is only when there is both a willing mentor and willing mentee, both with pure intentions, that true mentoring can happen. As we saw in the first example, there was missed opportunity. In the second example, it was motivated by ambition. In the third example, it was motivated by greed. At seminary, it is motivated by money. In the Bible, it was motivated by God.
So, what does this mean for you and I today? I would encourage you, share your knowledge, give of yourself to someone who needs to learn what you know. It doesn't have to be a church setting. Teach your trade. Likewise, think back on your own journey. Who made a difference in your life? Why don't you drop them a quick email or give them a call and thank them?