The Marks of a Christian Mentor: A Vocational Description (Part Three)

“By guiding attention we take in our hands the key to the formation and the development of personality and character.” Lev Semyonovich Vygotsky[2]

“Teacher,” Part One (here), “Scholar,” Part Two (here)

My first stint as an educator was chosen by a four letter word: time.

My training was in pastoral studies.  But I was being offered a position as a high school teacher in a Christian school. Should I become a teacher, something for which I was not trained?  I made my decision based on time.

I asked myself how much influence could I have within a certain amount of time?  Teaching five times a week for 45 minutes a day over 180 days a year equals 135 hours per year.

But mentoring was the key to my decision.  I added to the amount of class time going to student concerts, games, plays, and graduations.  On top of watching student performances, I became involved in taking stats for basketball teams, weight-lifting with athletes, personal counseling, and parties at my home. Being with people was crucial in making my decision to teach.[3]  Mentoring is allowing people to be with us in our teaching, in our lives.  Discipleship is allowing time for imitation.[4]

Albert Bandura, following the behaviorists, introduced “new” ideas of cognitive repetition with his “bobo doll studies.”  Bandura had children watch a video of other children repeatedly knocking down a rubber bounce-back doll.  The result of observation was imitation which moved to changed behavior. The children immediately went into the next room to do what they had just seen.  Bandura’s observations (attention, retention, reproduction, motivation) emphasized that imitation causes people to demonstrate what they have learned, not to cause learning in and of itself.[5]  Bandura concluded, as a good humanist should, that the focus is on self. Response to imitation should be self-regulation, self-determination, self-control, even contractual obligations begun with oneself.

The biblical model, however, forces us to acknowledge that what our students emulate us because of The One we follow (1 Co 11:1 “be imitators of me as I am of Christ”). 2 Thessalonians 3:7, 9 takes us yet another step. Paul commands (“must”) that the church follow his leadership. Essentially, no teaching can ever be effective outside of the personal lifestyle pattern of the teacher.

Imitating positive role models has ancient roots with philosophers, rabbis, and teachers. But Scripture points to more: Timothy the modeler becomes the model for others (1 Co 4:17). Paul was not asking the Corinthians to practice anything different from what was done elsewhere “everywhere in every church” (cf. 1 Co 7:17; 11:16; 14:33, 36). The Corinthians were to become what the Thessalonians had become already—the developmental model which was now the model for others: imitation.

The imitators were imitated, leaving an “example” for others to follow (1 Th 1:6). The Greek for “example” is “type.” Originally the word meant a mark that left a blow or a design stamped on a coin, leaving a pattern—something to be copied and followed (cf. Titus 2:7; 1 Peter 5:3). The word order emphasizes “a result reached.”[6]

No where else does Paul mark a church as an example to follow as he does with Thessalonica (1 Th 1:8). Paul puts developmental theory on notice that in order to model we must “give ourselves” to others (1 Th 2:8). Scripture is clear about sanctification—it is more difficult to “take affect” unless a discipleship lifestyle accompanies the teaching (cf. Gal 4:12; Phil 3:17).


There are other words which further elucidate the model of modeling. “Walk the line” (Rom 4:12; Acts 21:24; Gal 5:25), “follow in his footsteps or tracks” (2 Co 12:18; 1 Pet 2:21), and “devotion” (1 Tim 5:10, 24) are metaphors which authenticate (cf. Mark 16:20) the talk with the walk. It is possible to follow the wrong behavior (2 Peter 2:2, 15) which is the reason why Bandura’s “operational learning” must submit to The Personal Eternal Triune Creator.

The mentor has a role to play. It behooves us as professors to know Whose disciples we are.  The developmentalists can theorize about the process of imitated behavior but have no basis for its authority.  We live our lives as mentor-disciplers because people “read” us (2 Cor 3:2). 

May our students know Whom we imitate.

My our students find us worthy of imitation.

May our students experience our discipleship inside and outside the classroom.

May our students mimic the traits they find in us because these traits are found in Scripture.

And most of all, may our students know that we always have time to spend with them.

Dr. Eckel has served the Christian educational community for over 30 years; teaching junior high through graduate school.  Mark now spends time with students at The Comenius Institute (website). Find our 1 minute video here. This article was first published for The Emerging Scholars Network (site). Photos: Snappy Goat and Wikipedia Commons.

[2] Vygotsky, L.S. 1997. Educational psychology. Reprint, Boca Raton, FL: St. Lucie Press, 133.

[3] Mark Eckel, “Time,” 11 June 2013,

[4] The connection between developmental psychology and Scriptural precedent is found in Paul’s words, “I urge you to imitate me” (1 Co 4:16, see 4:14-21 for the whole context). Every time the noun form of “mimic” is used in the New Testament (we get our English word directly from the Greek; cf. 1 Co 11:1; Eph 5:1; 1 Th 1:6; 2:14, etc.) the verb ginomai gives the action–“to become.” The present imperative drives the imitator to develop character based on the given model. In short, the biblical framework informs every developmentalist’s model.

[5] Anthony, Michael J. 2001. Albert Bandura. In Evangelical dictionary of Christian education. Edited by Michael J. Anthony, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 63-64.

[6] Morris, Leon. 1979. The first and second epistles to the Thessalonians. Reprint, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans (page references are to the reprint edition), 59-60. We have an expectation for results but know that results are left up to God so our ministries are not “results-oriented.”


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The Comenius Institute is a Christian educational institute that will engage in the teaching-learning craft. In doing so, the organization will encourage study, discussion, research, and collaboration of students and scholars in the pursuit of theological truth with academic excellence. The Institute may present relevant materials for discussion through lecturers, guest speakers, authors, resident scholars, and students. It may facilitate the learning process through small group dynamics, mentoring relationships, and open forum discussion. It is the hope of Comenius to provide a place for learners to engage in spiritual-intellectual growth in an environment that encourages study, reflection, curiosity, discourse and collaboration through the in-depth pursuit of wisdom.

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