Mentoring for God’s Glory


This morning I had the pleasure of hearing Leighton Ford cast a vision for mentoring the next generation of Christian leaders for God’s glory. He developed a poignant metaphor which I would like to share. It started with a story involving Paul Hebert, a veteran missionary in India, who said, “We’ve got a lot of banyan tree leadership in India.” What he meant by that — like the great spreading banyan tree that’s in India and Florida and other places — it takes up so much space that it doesn’t let the sunlight through, to filter through, to nurture little seedlings. So not much grows under the banyan tree. He said, “We’ve had a lot of leadership like that in India.” And, of course, in other parts of the world too.

Leighton explained how he reflected on that concept and concluded, “Yeah, there are a lot of big leaders that take up a lot of oxygen and space when they walk into a room, and they’ve got a very important place.”

In contrast to the banyan, Leighton developed another image: the aspen tree. One can’t help but wonder how the aspen can grow to the heavens and yet live for only one hundred years. In view of its enormous size, such a life span is relatively brief. The reason for such brevity is due to the tree’s origin. Instead of starting with a seed, the aspen begins with a simple limb. This limb grows down under the soil and eventually takes on a life of its own. The process of sending out limbs continues from one tree to another until a single aspen spawns thousands of other trees. Looking at the forest, the various trees appear to stand independently of one another, but in fact all of them are organically derived from the initial one. The original limb decays in obscurity among its children who continue to pass on life for thousands of years.

The aspen life cycle illustrates how an immediate, tangible object (such as trees or mentors) share life with what precedes. Although the original aspen has actually died, it lives on through successive generations. This, according to Leighton, is the great delight and enduring value of mentoring… to see God’s grace extend through us to energize the lives and ministries of others.

In conclusion, let me mention how personal all of this is to me. One of the stars in Leighton’s constellation of pupils is named Lon Allison. Lon, as you may know, has been the Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center (BGC) for the last fifteen years. But Lon has been much more than my boss at BGC. He is a friend and mentor who has graciously nurtured my spiritual and professional growth.

This week, when I meet with the young men whom I have the privilege of mentoring, I will think of the aspen tree, giving thanks for mentors such as Lon and thanks for the privilege of participating in the gospel life cycle which extends an intentional and personalized form of discipleship to others.  

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