In this episode of Equip, College Park’s Communication Project Manager, Heather Nunn, talks with Pastor of Leadership Development Brad Merchant about biblical mentorship.
Heather Nunn: Hi. I’m Heather Nunn, a host of Equip, a podcast of the College Park Church, and, today, I’m here with Brad Merchant, Pastor of Leadership Development at College Park Church, and we are going to be discussing mentoring.
Brad Merchant: Mentoring.
Heather Nunn: Mentoring.
Brad Merchant: Yes.
Heather Nunn: Brad, I have recently learned you wrote a book called “Mentoring Like Jesus.” How did that come about?
Brad Merchant: Yeah, I get chastised a lot because it’s only 50 pages long, so a lot of people say, “Is it a booklet or a book?” I don’t really know, but I will say here’s the backstory behind it. I became a Christian when I was 17, so I was a junior going into my senior year of high school and became a Christian, and I remember I just wanted to know: what is the Christian life all about?
Brad Merchant: My friend gave me this old FCA Study Bible. He had to dust it off, and he gave me that. He said, “Read your Bible and pray and come to church. That’s how you grow as a Christian.” I thought, “That’s pretty simple,” but then I started opening up the Bible, and I started in Genesis and got to about chapter six and had no idea what I was reading, and I thought, “Man, I just need someone to help me,” and so there was a pastor, I still remember his name, still remember what he looked like, and I remember a pastor of this church, and I just came up to him on a Sunday morning, and I said, “Hey, I just became a Christian about two weeks ago. Can you help me follow Jesus?” and he said, “I would, but I don’t have time for that.”
Brad Merchant: Now, at the time, that was just incredibly scarring, and I didn’t even understand all the weight of what it means to be a pastor like I do now. Right now, if I heard a guy say that, I’d say, “You should just get out of the ministry. What are you getting paid for?” But, at the time, I thought maybe he does have a lot of other things going on and maybe this just isn’t important. Looking back, that’s just ridiculous, and I think for any Christian to even say is a bit ridiculous, not to say that… Obviously, we’re all busy. We all have a ton of things going on, but we should always say no options when it comes to something as important with that.
Brad Merchant: With that being said, it was a huge burden in my heart. I never wanted to tell someone no without options when it comes to discipling and mentoring people, and so, because of that, I got invited to speak at this conference breakout session on mentoring, and I think it was like 15 things I’ve learned being mentored and then mentoring others, and gave those, and the CEO of Warner Press was there, a small children and family publishing company, and he came up to me and he said, “Hey, this is great. We’re coming up with a series of booklets. Would you be interested in putting the content in a book form? We’ll edit it and release in a year or two?”
Brad Merchant: I said, “Sure,” and so that’s where the book came from, “Mentoring Like Jesus, Making Discipleship a Part of Everyday Life.” It’s really just a field guide for how to do that. It is not a theological treatise on what does it mean to mentor. It is more so a 50,000-foot view on what discipleship and mentoring specifically and then how do you do it, because I never had that, so I wanted to give that as a gift to people, so that’s the story.
Heather Nunn: Would you say that, mentoring and discipleship, those two words could be used interchangeably? Are they different? Do they complement one another? How would you define?
Brad Merchant: Great question. There’s been some pushback I’ve gotten where a couple of guys have said to me, “Mentoring isn’t even in the Bible. You can’t find that word. Where’s your verse reference? Where the chapter reference to finding mentoring in the Bible?” I hear that and I say, “Okay, can you give me a verse in reference for the Trinity, because you can’t find that in Bible either, but if you’re a Protestant Evangelical, you better believe the Trinity.”
Brad Merchant: I think what we have to understand is, though the Bible doesn’t use words we use sometimes, it always presents doctrines and ideas and philosophies throughout, and that’s the same with mentoring. I think discipleship is all throughout the Bible, but mentoring is an intensive life-on-life. Here’s how I define it. Mentoring is one Christian helping another Christian grow in Christ. I mean, it’s just that simple. I think, oftentimes, we think mentoring is a big word with maybe presupposed notions that a lot of people have in their minds about it.
Heather Nunn: Okay, so I think sometimes, those of us who’ve lived in that realm, I can intuitively think, “Okay, that’s why that’s important. It’s really important,” But why is that important? Why do we need each other? Why does one Christian need another Christian throughout their life, or is it only when you first become a believer? Help us understand a little bit more why it is important.
Brad Merchant: Yep, great questions. I think maybe three things come to mind. First, Jesus tells us to do it, and so anytime Jesus tells us to do something, we better do it, and the point where I think Jesus is most explicit about we must help other Christians grow in Christ involves personal involvement is in the Great Commission where he tells us to teach basically everything that he’s given to us and baptize everybody in the name of Jesus, and cause them to then go out and share that message with the world. That’s essentially the Great Commission, and it involves mentoring. It involves doing life-on-life with people where you share the truths of Jesus and then commission them to share those truths with others.
Brad Merchant: In other words, we are conduits of God’s grace. We share what we have learned from the Bible to another person and then commission that person to share what they’ve learned from the Bible to another person, and that’s how the church grows, so I think that’s the first thing. Jesus told us to so we better do it.
Brad Merchant: The second thing, I think that mentoring is what it means to be the church. The church is not just a place we go on Sunday. It’s actually a community of people that have been washed by the blood of Christ and now come together in a local fellowship and in the congregation. College Park Church, we are a local congregation of people that have been redeemed by Jesus, that have committed to do life together.
Brad Merchant: When we come together, we don’t just come to hear preaching and to sing songs, so that’s great. We actually come together to help one another grow in our walk with Jesus. In other words, we need one another, and that’s what it means to be the church. Often, Paul talks about throughout the epistles how the church is called to unity. Jesus prayed for unity in the church in his high priestly prayer, and unity I think is… a small expression is mentoring where we’re helping, coming alongside one another and helping us know how to follow Jesus. That’s the second thing.
Brad Merchant: The third thing, maybe most importantly, is we all need it. We never graduate from our need of having someone help us follow Jesus. Never. No matter how old we get, no matter wise we get, no matter how many degrees we have or how many classes we’ve been to or how many sermons we’ve listened to or how many church services we’ve gone to, we never graduate from our need, and the Bible continually talks about it time and time and time and time again, about what happens where you begin to have this lone-man-island theology of the Christian life.
Brad Merchant: Two words from Proverbs that always come to mind is that the proverb says that, “Listen, the one who isolates himself breaks out against all sound judgment.” In other words, here’s my definition why it’s… This is a scholarly commentary, Heather. If you begin to stiff-arm other Christians in your life, speaking into your life, you begin to make stupid decisions, and haven’t we found that to be true?
Brad Merchant: When we just think, “Man, I’m all-wise and I have all the wisdom that I need in myself with my Bible, and I’m not going to listen to what other people have to say,” we begin to do some really stupid things. That’s what the proverbs say it is, and that’s why the proverb tells us that in the abundance of counselors, or we could say, mentors, there is safety. There’s something about having people speak into our lives that help us to have the wisdom of God, to know how to navigate this world, to fall in love with Jesus, and isn’t it true that we just learn so much more about God through other people?
Heather Nunn: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Brad Merchant: Heather, even you and me are so different, the gifts that you have, your personality, my personality, we have something to offer one another if we would just be willing to listen to one another and humble ourselves and realize we don’t know everything and we need each other, so those are three huge reasons I think the Bible gives us on why mentoring is really important.
Heather Nunn: Say, we get that. I understand I need mentors in my life, but then another thing that you pointed on a little bit ago was we also… We are poured into and we also need to pour out, so we have a calling on our lives to do that. Have you found it difficult? What are some of your experiences with the difficulty of that? What do you typically see that holds us back?
Brad Merchant: Yep. Yep. I literally find all the time, when I look at my calendar, my calendar and my checkbook are often just the litmus test for the state of my heart, so, if I want to wonder how am I really following Jesus, I just open up Google Calendar and open up my EveryDollar app that shows what I’m spending and what I’m spending it on, and that goes with time and resources, and when I look at my calendar and I find there’s not much purple, which purple is the nerdy way for me to figure out this is who… When I’m spending time with people, it’s in purple. If I don’t see much purple, there’s a problem, and, often, the problem isn’t someone else. It’s me. When I am self-absorbed in my comforts, my time, my plans, my dreams, I have little time to think about anyone else.
Brad Merchant: Here’s the reality. We’re never going to be John Piper, but you have a better chance than me, but we’re never going to be John Piper. We’re not going to be famous, and that’s okay. Jesus doesn’t call us to be famous. He calls us to be faithful, and one of the ways that we are faithful is by passing the baton of the gospel on to other people. That’s why Paul told Timothy in 2 Timothy 2 that he has to pass on what he has learned from Paul to younger men.
Brad Merchant: Here’s the way I think about it. The greatest fruit of our life will probably be born on someone else’s tree, and so if I think about my life as just helping… or think of… Think of this picture. If my life is just a stepladder for someone else to climb on to, that’s a win, and when I think about my life in that way, my calendar begins to turn to a shade of purple. I begin to spend more time with people, begin to invest in people, begin to pour out God’s grace through me, and here’s the thing, Heather, we have nothing to offer people.
Brad Merchant: All we have are stories of God’s redemptive grace at work in our lives and how we’ve seen him prove himself faithful again and again and again even when we’ve doubted him, and that’s what we have to pass on to people, and I just think oftentimes we think, “I have to have a Ph.D. in theology or go to seminary or be an expert on biblical theology in order to disciple people.” That’s just not true. Everyone has a story and everyone needs to hear your story, and all you have to do is open your mouth. It’s that simple, and so I think that’s why it’s important and why we need to do that in the lives of other people.
Heather Nunn: It’s a good word. One of the things I know that has held me back in the past or I’ve heard other people share is that it almost feels like there has to be this formality to it, and I think, sometimes, those nuggets of truth, it’s really just me initiating. I noticed, I’ve heard something from somebody about somebody being sad or lonely or they’re newly transitioning, and either me taking that initiative to take them out to lunch, take them out to dinner, “Let’s just meet up and have coffee,” or somebody doing that for me, and some of the nuggets of truth and the wisdom and the beauty of the gospel and living that out is just-
Brad Merchant: That’s right.
Heather Nunn: Those are the moments that had happened, so, sure, sometimes it’s formal in a discipleship group, I’m in one now where older women are pouring into us, but the… that one-on-one, isn’t that just life on life?
Brad Merchant: Yeah, it’s huge. Yeah, it’s just so simple, isn’t it?
Heather Nunn: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Brad Merchant: For our listeners or people watching us, what they should do is go home and do a study in their Bibles and the gospel accounts of how many times they find when Jesus shared a meal with someone else.
Brad Merchant: I am a huge advocate of lunch and dinner conversations. Man, this is probably true of you, Heather. I can think of so many times where I just turned a corner in my spiritual life over a meal with someone. We never planned on it. We just said, “Hey, let’s go out to lunch,” and we ended up having a conversation about something that the Lord predestined for us to have that day knowing that I needed to have that conversation. But I didn’t know it. I just went in, had an everyday conversation, and I think what you said is so true. It’s just living everyday life cognizant of the spiritual needs of other people.
Brad Merchant: I know we’ll jump into this a little later, but I think, when we wake up in the morning and we pray, “Lord, give me what I need today,” that’s not a bad prayer, but if that’s where your prayer ends, I think you’ve been tainted by westernized materialism and consumption where it’s all about what I get, satisfying my needs, my wants, my cravings. We need to wake up and say, “Lord, give me what I need today, but give me what I need so that I can give that someone else.” When we do that, those everyday moments are just huge mentoring opportunities, aren’t they?
Heather Nunn: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yes. Absolutely. What are some practical tips you have for listeners that want to be better disciple-makers?
Brad Merchant: Yeah, a couple of things, the first one, and I think we don’t think about this often, is be intentional when you’re at church.
Brad Merchant: I often treat church gatherings the same way I treat brushing my teeth. I promise I brush my teeth even if my brush smells bad. That was a joke, by the way, Heather. It fell flat, but, hopefully, some listeners are laughing. I wake up in the morning. I just go to the sink, pick up my toothbrush, put some toothpaste on it, brush my teeth, and then I’m done, and that’s how we have to treat church. It just comes on Sunday. We go in. We sit in the same spot, everyone does that, and then you leave and you go home. You have lunch. You have a great day.
Brad Merchant: Listen, when you drive in to the parking lot at church every day, you should be praying, “Oh, Lord, speak to me. Oh, Lord, use me today,” because all of our Christian… all the Christian friends that we have, everyone we’re doing fellowship with in this local congregation is in one place for one hour a week here at the church, and I think we just need to be intentional with those times and look for conversations to have with people to pour out God’s grace into their lives.
Brad Merchant: The second thing, we hit it on earlier, just be intentional with your calendar. For me, like I said, I always look at my calendar, and if I don’t see purple, there’s a problem, and I want to make sure that every week I’m spending time with people.
Brad Merchant: Especially for those that are serving in ministry, it is just so easy to put your head down on a computer, knocking out projects. If it weren’t for people we wouldn’t be a ministry, and so I think that’s another one, be intentional, and probably the third and final thing is to have your eyes set on the day when you will die, and the reason why I say that is the day that you die, the thing that you will think about most, and I’ve heard this from people, countless people that I’ve sat bedside with that have literally passed away with me being there, what they talk about is not what they’ve accomplished, it’s the other people in their life that they’ve called dear to them and they’ve poured their lives into.
Brad Merchant: I remember an older friend of mind said that, when he dies, his dream is to have young men that are his pallbearers. I love that, just that picture of this man’s going on the ground, but the gospel is going farther and faster than maybe it ever could with him, and it’s because he poured out his life into people.
Brad Merchant: I think those are the three things. If we did that, we’d be doing all right.
Heather Nunn: Yeah. It’s making an investment…
Brad Merchant: It is.
Heather Nunn: … in people’s lives like we’ve been invested in and/or continue… That’s beautiful. Great. I think that’s it. We’d come away with a lot of good application and really the why, so I know I’ve been challenged, and thank you.
Brad Merchant: Yeah. Thanks, Heather.
Heather Nunn: I appreciate it.
Purchase a copy of Mentoring Like Jesus, by Brad Merchant at https://www.amazon.com/Mentoring-Like-Jesus-Discipleship-Everyday/dp/1593179847.