On the subject of discipleship, there is no example better than the letters from Paul to Timothy. Through his letters, we glimpse the premiere apostolic standard of mentorship and spiritual fathering.
2And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.
2 Timothy 2:2
What a remarkable command! Let’s look at this deeper.
Paul gives us a glimpse at a four generational approach to mentoring. Paul mentors Timothy, then instructs him to teach reliable men who not only will learn and receive his instruction, but who will ALSO be qualified to teach others.
Do you remember that famous cliche:
Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.
Paul takes this wisdom a step further: Teach men to teach OTHER men how to fish and you feed an entire people group.
If we teach other men, we equip a single generation to live well. If we teach those men how to teach, they not only learn how to live, but they learn how to replicate. Then those people they teach will teach others, who will in turn teach others, until the end of time.
This is true discipleship. We need a multi-generational view of the Christian life. If your vision ends with your children or your immediate disciples, your vision is too small.
Moses discipled Joshua. We read throughout the Scriptures how Joshua was present day and night. He learned from “the man.” But the one thing he didn’t learn was to teach other men. Take a look at Judges 2:7 and 10-12:
7 The people served the LORD throughout the lifetime of Joshua and of the elders who outlived him and who had seen all the great things the LORD had done for Israel.
10 After that whole generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation grew up, who knew neither the LORD nor what he had done for Israel. 11 Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD and served the Baals. 12 They forsook the LORD, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshiped various gods of the peoples around them.
Where Joshua had been discipled, the generation after Joshua apparently had not. They knew not God or His mighty acts on their behalf. Moses taught Joshua to fish, so to speak, but it doesn’t look like he taught Joshua how to teach other men to fish. So the discipleship dies out after a generation.
Let us adjust our vision and embrace the multi-generational view of discipleship which God intended when He told us to teach our children and our children’s children about His goodness, His character, and His mighty deeds.