You've heard of identity theft. It's a plague that has festered in the pre-internet years and spread like wildfire with each new potential technology offers. Your identity can be stolen over the internet, by mail, and over the telephone, all in situations that place you in a compromising position, often without even knowing it. In these cases, you are left innocently giving out sensitive information to a stranger with ideas in mind that do not include your well-being. This form of fraud terrifies many, forcing some to live in fear of the potential of theft. It is ironic then, that your identity is the very thing younger people need today.
Paul started out now fewer than seven of his letters informing the recipient that he and Timothy (Silvanus and Sosthenes also in a few of the letters) were writing them. That means that Paul's protégé had been a part of over half of Paul's letters. Why did he do this? What drove him to add another name to the salutation when scholars around the world agree he actually did the writing? I believe the answer is simple and yet very profound. Paul was loaning his identity to Timothy. It's this same authority that you as a senior Christian need to loan by your name to those younger than you.
Unfortunately, mentoring and discipleship are often no more than buzzwords in churches today. Christians believe that an older person (some even forgo this step) can simply take a younger man or woman aside and hear about his or her day over a cup of coffee. While that would be a great way to initiate a mentoring relationship, one must understand that, Biblically, mentoring is meant to be a relationship of action. And what is one of the biggest complaints from young people today? That no one takes them seriously! Sounds a lot like a catch-22, doesn't it?
That is exactly where my navy chaplain came in to play in my life. When I arrived on board my first sea assignment in Japan, I was ripe with desire but had little experience in a place where experience counted. Though I didn't know it at the time, he ran behind the scenes to get me in a position to minister, handing over a lay service to me and supporting it until I had my own “congregation.” When senior people had a problem with it, he redirected tension away from my ministry and allowed me to pursue what God had placed in my hands. For weeks, he would meet with me a day or two before the service and go over my sermon notes, worship plans, and additional ministry ideas (we introduced a prayer service a few months after I took over and began meeting with missionaries in foreign ports). Because of this strategy, he was always able to say that he had things under control, even though he offered me a great deal of autonomy and individualism. During this time, he also molded my desires until they fit realistically within the scope of ministry. I was able to define my goals for the group of men I led so much so that, at any given point, everyone associated with the ministry knew what was going on. What I became was a far cry from the unorganized kid that he had started with.
Even if you are not able to provide your protégé with full-time ministry opportunities, you can provide them the in-depth type of mentoring required to raise up a future generation of ministers, which all Christians are in essence called to be. For example, while meeting over coffee and learning about your protégé, introduce him or her to ministry opportunities. Of course, I would never recommend a man mentoring a woman, nor a woman mentoring a young man. Then, just like Christ when he developed a very detailed ministry opportunity for his followers in Matthew chapter ten, you can compose and direct an opportunity for your protégé as well. Most importantly, however, might be what Paul did for Timothy, copied to a large extent by my mentoring chaplain. Once you’ve engineered, or joined, a ministry with your protégé, lend your identity to the ministry. No youth will be ignored if it has the backing of an experience Christian.
It is unfortunate that ID theft is such a devastating plague racing through America like a wildfire. Aside from the financial damage it can do, it’s unfortunate because it is this very identity that the younger generation of ministers need. It’s important, however, for you to know that you have as much potential to affect future ministry in this country as identity you are willing to loan to a young person.