Chapter One Mentoring in the First Century

Aurelius Augustinus (354-430) lived well, and his legacy lives on today. His thought—carefully preserved in books, sermons, and letters—has impacted theologians such as John Calvin (1509-1564), the Arab historian Ibn Khaldoun (1332-1406), and virtually every amateur and professional philosopher of the last 1,500 years. His contribution continues to stimulate scholarship today in those fields of study. He was a prolific writer who authored more than 100 books, most of which were composed after a long day at work as the bishop of the church of Hippo Regius (present-day Annaba, Algeria). His genius is even more significant because he grew up in a family of modest resources in Tagaste (Souk Ahras, Algeria), a rather insignificant town in Roman Africa far from the cultivated learning centers of the Roman Empire.

Although his thought and eloquence are well lauded, I find his person, character, and ministry even more remarkable. He had a sincere faith that remained consistent and passionate from the time of his conversion in Italy in 386 until his death in Hippo some 44 years later. Yet, unlike the eremitic monks who fled the world for the solitude of the desert, this African pastor was always in the company of friends. He made his profession of faith, something regarded in the present day as highly personal, in the presence of a close friend. At the monastery in Hippo, where he and other clergy and laymen lived, he deliberately left his door open to visitors, and his table was set with extra places. In short, his life was characterized by friendship.

My particular interest relates to the impact Augustine had on other spiritual leaders of his day. Robert Clinton defines a spiritual leader as "a person with a God-given capacity and a God-given responsibility to influence a specific group of God's people toward His purposes for the group. " In Augustine's day spiritual leaders included bishops, priests, and deacons as well as subdeacons, acolytes, and readers. As leaders they were men set apart to serve the people of God and carry out the responsibilities of the church. The present inquiry will consider how Augustine influenced these leaders in their training and preparation for ministry. My contention is that Augustine effectively mentored spiritual leaders and set them apart for needed ministries in the church and that many aspects of his mentoring will serve as instructive for the modern mentor. While he did not leave behind a particular manual for how to be a spiritual leader, his example and writings provide significant evidence toward understanding his principles of mentoring.

I am primarily writing for modern-day pastors and spiritual leaders who want to mentor and equip others. In evangelical Christian circles, where I tend most to frequent, mentoring and training has gained increased importance in recent years. The large number of books, seminars, stadium events, prayer breakfasts, and fishing trips testify to an increased emphasis on mentoring. The present generation of pastors seems to be more interested in matters of the heart like integrity, humility, faithfulness, personal holiness, spiritual hunger, and service than the skills normally associated with ministry—preaching, evangelizing, teaching, administrating, and visiting. As a vast store of wisdom and insight lies preserved in the story of the early Christian movement, I believe that Augustine has something to offer modern ministers pursuing authenticity and longing to practice what they preach. Through his thought, practice, success, and even failures, my hope is that today's mentors will find hope, inspiration, and practical suggestions for how to mentor an emerging generation of spiritual leaders.

I should note what I will and will not address. First, I only intend to focus on Augustine's spiritual formation of men who were spiritual leaders occupying a clerical office. This does not mean that he did not have an edifying impact on women, particularly the nuns and virgins. Though women who serve as spiritual leaders will find points of relevant application, the case studies will be limited to Augustine's relationship with men.

A second limit is that this study will not address how Augustine discipled the general congregation in Hippo—a ministry that is clear through his recorded sermons, catechisms, letters, legal judgments, and advice. Besides his congregation Augustine also influenced other laymen through his correspondence, including letters to "servants of God"—religious men and women who had abandoned the secular world to become servants of God.

The evidence surrounding Augustine's life reveals a deeply personal and passionate man who was committed to people and friendship. As a servant of the church, his thoughts, which were dictated into books and letters and formulated into sermons, served to edify the church in Hippo, Africa, and beyond. In light of what we already know about Augustine, a focused study on his approach to mentoring spiritual leaders is a valuable contribution to the study of mentoring, discipleship, and spiritual formation in the early church that has much relevance for today. So let us begin to consider the life of one we should "emulate and imitate in this world. "

What Is Mentoring?

Though the term itself has only come into vogue in North America in recent years, the concept of mentoring is an ancient one. In certain African cultures, mentoring has referred to a boy becoming a man, a young man learning a skill like playing a drum, or a novice apprenticing under a master in a trade like carpentry. Milavec cites examples in Greek culture of novices being mentored in basket weaving, hunting with a bow, or pottery making. Today in America mentoring has become synonymous with counseling, advising, training, coaching, and apprenticeship while some contexts include trades, sports, education, and the fine arts. Though the contexts and the cultures may vary, mentoring in essence means that a master, expert, or someone with significant experience is imparting knowledge and skill to a novice in an atmosphere of discipline, commitment, and accountability.

In light of the inherent need for mentoring or discipleship in Christianity, it seems best to work toward a model of mentoring by focusing on early texts, mostly from the New Testament, that largely show lesus and Paul mentoring men at the outset of the Christian movement. The remainder of this chapter will be concerned with offering an early Christian model for mentoring that will also provide a historical background for mentoring in the church prior to Augustine's ministry.