Mistakes Were Made – Examples of Mentoring Mistakes in the Bible

At our ATLAS Mentor Workshops we often talk about examples of mentoring found in the Bible. We’ll talk about elements from different relationships like Jesus and his disciples, Paul and Timothy, Jonathan and David, Priscilla and Aquila with Apollos, and others. These are almost always entirely positive examples. 

But I’ve been in the book of Job the past few weeks as part of a Bible reading plan I’m doing. As I‘ve been reading about Job’s friends again, it struck me that not only are there good examples in the Bible of how to help people follow Jesus, but there are also some bad examples. Here are three that come to mind.

Job’s Friends – Don’t Speak Wrongly About God

Of course, Job’s friends are the ones who made me think of this post to begin with so I have to mention them. To be fair, they didn’t do everything wrong in trying to comfort their friend. After Job lost everything – his wealth, his health, and his children, his three friends come to be with him. It says, “they sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great.”(Job 2:13) I’m not sure most people today – myself included – would be able to go seven entire days without giving an opinion.

While just sitting in silence with a hurting friend was a wise and compassionate move, the problem came when they did finally offer their opinions on Job’s suffering. Their misinformation and misapplication of theology didn’t please God. He says to Eliphaz, one of the three friends, in the final chapter of Job that “My anger burns against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right.” (Job 42:7)

God cares tremendously about what is proclaimed and taught about him. This is a truth preachers, teachers, and mentors need to be diligent to heed as they help others follow Jesus. Speak of God what is right.

Paul and Mark – Don’t Be Too Impatient With People

In Acts 15, Paul and Barnabas begin to make plans to return and visit cities where they had previously preached the gospel. Barnabas wanted to take Mark along with them, but Paul didn’t want him to come with since Mark “had withdrawn from them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work.” (Acts 15:38) They disagreed so much that they decided to split and go separate ways. Barnabas took Mark with him while Paul took Silas.

When Christians were still afraid of Paul after his conversion and they did not believe that he was really a disciple, Barnabas was the one that stood up for him and said to the apostles that Paul was indeed useful for ministry (Acts 9:26-27). So it’s no surprise that Barnabas also stood up for Mark and wanted to give him a second chance in ministry when Paul had written him off. Ultimately, Barnabas’s patience proved fruitful. Toward the end of his life, Paul wrote to Timothy and told him to “Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry.” (2 Timothy 4:11)

Since there aren’t many details provide in Scripture to fill in the context of Mark’s withdrawal, it can be tricky to say this was a mistake by Paul. Whether it was a mistake or not, we need to remember that sanctification is a slow, lifelong process. Remember how Christ has been patient with you so you too can be patient with others. Don’t be too quick to cast people aside when they make decisions that frustrate you.

Peter Stops Eating with Gentiles – Practice What You Preach

In Galatians 2, Paul wrote about confronting Peter because “his conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel.” Fearing what certain Jews might think about him for eating with Gentiles, Peter had pulled back from eating and associating with the Gentiles. So Paul confronted him about it. 

We can draw two important lessons here related to discipling others. First, we make disciples for an audience of One. We don’t do it for the praise of men. And we don’t stop doing it because of what others might think about us.

Second, to effectively help someone follow Jesus, our lives need to align with the truth of the message we’re communicating to them. In his sermon at Pentecost, Peter had said, “For the promise is for you [Jews] and for your children and for all who are far off [Gentiles], everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” Yet, his actions later didn’t reflect what he preached. Make sure you practice what you preach.

Mistakes Will Happen

Job’s friends weren’t Jesus. Paul wasn’t Jesus. Peter wasn’t Jesus. You’re not Jesus. And I’m definitely not Jesus. I’ve seen people make mistakes in their mentoring relationships and I’ve made many mistakes with the people I’ve mentored these past several years. I’ve been impatient. I’ve been too quick to write people off at times. I haven’t prayed enough and relied on the Lord enough. And many times I’ve been far too quick to offer an opinion when silence was what was needed.

It’s a mystery to me why God decides to use his mistake-prone children to help lead others to him, but he does. Even when we have the best intentions of trying to help someone follow Jesus, we make mistakes. But God offers us grace. Jesus pointed people to the Father perfectly. Yet in our mistakes, Jesus helps us humble ourselves, recognize our mistakes, and learn from them.

So don’t let the fear of making a mistake keep you from helping someone know and follow Jesus. Know and trust that God is working through you. Turn to him, rely on him, and then give him the glory when someone you’re mentoring does take a step closer to him. 

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