“For we know … that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction … You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with joy given by the Holy Spirit.” (1 Thessalonians 1:4-6, TNIV).
As I walked into the white block building, I could feel the butterflies churning my stomach. I swallowed hard and entered a room to find a young, pale, skinny 15-year-old boy with a shaved head. I was there to visit this young delinquent at the request of the preaching minister. Going to a juvenile prison was a new and not so welcomed experience for me. During this visit the boy seemed cold and distant. I could feel his eyes weighing my intensions.
Once a week for almost two years, I spent an hour with this boy. We talked about God, his family, life in prison, and his friends. I brought him pictures of his friends. I played basketball with him. We read the Bible and prayed together. We shared stories about music and movies. This young man changed. I changed. He became a friend. What began with reluctance and reservation became a weekly highlight for both of us.
Those weekly meetings happened more than 10 years ago. We have both gone our separate ways and have not kept in touch. However, those divine sessions are still close to my heart. I have often said, “I never felt more like Jesus than during those times.” I felt like I was doing what Jesus would have been doing.
This has reminded me that spirituality is “more caught than taught.” Spiritual formation takes place within relationships more often than in a classroom or an auditorium. That’s why parents are supposed to pass on the faith to their children. That’s why Jesus called apprentices to follow Him for three years. That’s why Paul asked Timothy to go on a missionary trip with him.
When I look back on my own life, I can see those who mentored me. My youth minister passed on a passion for God and a desire to be a minister. My mom transferred her unselfishness and hospitality to me. I was formed more by example than by ritual. Spiritual formation happened in the daily routines of life—eating together and playing.
There is however an inherit weakness to this model. While certain aspects of spirituality were readily available for me to imitate, others were not. No one lived out before me an evangelistic spirit. It would have been so beneficial to witness evangelistic conversations, prayers, victories and relationships.
So be a mentor. Volunteer with Big Brothers or Big Sisters. Interact with teens through Youth for Christ. Coach a kids sports team. Live a life that others would like to imitate. Make a difference. Leave an impact. Encourage others to imitate Jesus.
1 Timothy 6:11-21
1 Thessalonians 1:4-10