A Mentor, a Coach, or a Discipler?

By the Rev. Dr. Jon Shuler, PhD–

It is a truism in modern business that “no one makes it without a mentor,” and the saying has gained some currency in Christian circles. In business it usually means a successful career will not be achieved without someone, already successful, helping you to be distinguished from the cohort of your peers. Students in graduate school programs are taught this, and encouraged to find such a mentor. It is also widely imitated in graduate schools of theology, at least in America. Superficially, it resembles the principle of “disciples making disciples” – but only superficially. In practice it is almost always a pathway to learning practical skills and behaviors for worldly success. Sadly, this is sometimes true when the concept is embraced by leaders in the church. This is not discipling. There may be good things learned, and some true wisdom imparted, but this is not discipling. A mentor may not be a discipler.

Coaching is an honorable skill, and may be a calling for some. A good coach understands the “game.” He knows the strengths and weaknesses of various approaches to victory. He may or may not have been a good player himself but he loves the game, and gives himself to it. Here again, in recent years, some in the world of business have championed this approach to leadership. Significant careers have been helped by some professional “business coaches,” and the concept of “life coaches” has made its way into many fields of endeavor, even at church. Throughout North America many aspiring church planters have been urged to find and hire a “church planting coach,” and trained to expect this relationship to be one of the keys to success. But this is not discipling. A coach may indeed be helpful with some of the so-called “nuts and bolts” of establishing a new congregation, but this is not discipling.

Discipling means to be helped to follow Jesus Christ. Discipling means to be set on the road that leads to everlasting life, whether this world’s “prizes” come to us or not. Discipling helps us to beware when men praise us, to beware when the world applauds us, to beware when institutional authority is offered to us – lest we settle for the rewards that are earthly and transient, and forfeit the rewards laid up in heaven for those who love the Lord. Discipling means to be helped to follow Jesus Christ with such singleness of purpose, that anyone who comes in turn to be discipled by you can one day say to others: “Imitate me, as I imitate Christ.” (I Cor.11:1)

There can be little doubt that some who have been mentors, and some who have been coaches, will one day knock on a door that will not be opened (Luke 13:25). But those who have been discipled will enter by the true door, and “will go in and out and find pasture.” (John 10:9) A true discipler leads those he disciples to the only Good Shepherd.


Watch Jon’s video, “Planting Mission Groups,” one of the basics of gathering disciples into a community of faith,http://en.cross.tv/93745?channel_id=4639.

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