Investing in the Next Generation

“We are the next generation,” I recently commented to a friend after the graveside service for his father. While we admired and learned from our parents’ generation, many no longer remain to shape the “boomer” generation. Instead, we baby boomers are the next generation that now has responsibility for preparing those who follow after us to serve Christ’s church more effectively. Colin Marshall and Tony Payne rightly explain, “The gospel will only be guarded and spread as it is passed from one faithful hand to the next, as each generation of faithful preachers pass their sacred trust on to the next generation, who in turn teach and train others” [1]. Historically, a variety of faithful mentors provide good examples for us to train the next generation. 

The early church father Ignatius of Antioch (A.D. 30–107) frequently took along young men when he traveled so that he might invest in their lives. In one of his epistles [2], he referred to two such examples, Philo and Rheus Agothopus, who had followed him in the cause of Christ and consequently served as models for life and ministry. He left the imprint of his walk with Christ and gospel ministry in their lives. Likewise, “Ariston and the presbyter John, [and] the disciples of the Lord” mentored a young Papias (A.D. 70–155), later the respected bishop of the church at Hierapolis [3]. His personal relationship with these early leaders in the church shaped his future gospel work.

Although Valentine Tschudi (1499–1555) studied under celebrated scholars in Vienna and Basel, he found more rewarding the mentoring of Huldrych Zwingli (1484–1531). He wrote to the reformer, “You have offered me not only books but yourself also” [4]. His statement captures well the work of pastoral mentoring. The work of training and mentoring ministers for gospel work—church planting, missions, pastorates—proved so remarkable in sixteenth century Geneva that one writer quipped, “Geneva’s main export was ministers, principally heading for France” [5]. But the work through Geneva might not have taken place had Martin Bucer failed to speak into young John Calvin’s life as a mentor during his days in Strassburg, correcting attitudes and behavior unbecoming a servant of Christ.

Nineteenth century historian David Benedict considered the colonial Baptist John Gano as “one of the most eminent ministers in his day,” explaining that his itinerant gifts in gospel preaching were exceeded only by George Whitefield [6]. Yet Gano’s impact as pastor of First Baptist Church New York City and evangelist were due in no small part to the early mentoring by his pastor Isaac Eaton, and two other notable Baptist pastors that took him under their wing, Benjamin Miller, and John Thomas.

Behind the extraordinary missionary work of William Carey and the pastoral labors of Andrew Fuller lay the mentoring of Robert Hall Sr., pastor of a small congregation in Arnsby. Carey considered Hall “a jewel I could not too highly prize” [7]. Fuller considered Hall to be a spiritual father and friend, regarding his counsel more valuable than that of all of his other friends.

In a word, pastoral mentoring means investing in the spiritual and pastoral development of future leaders. I first heard the term “investing” used with reference to mentoring back in the late 1990s. One of our elders and I were riding with a missionary in France when he said that he needed to stop and “invest” in a particular man in his congregation. We glanced at each other with puzzled looks at what he meant. However, after traveling with him around his community for a few days we decided that “investing” in others spoke volumes about mentoring. 

Such investment involves several things.

First, investing (mentoring) in others carries risks. Success does not always accompany mentoring but the future fruit is worth the risk. Just think about the lowly Robert Hall Sr. who sacrificed to mentor Carey and Fuller whose ministries remain models in our day.

Second, investing (mentoring) in others requires patience. A quick course on Christian living or pastoral work lacks the ability to penetrate the mentee’s life. Mentors learn to layer truth and experience in their mentees.

Third, investing (mentoring) in others demands your life. Like Zwingli with Valentine Tschudi, we must give more than books; we must give our lives to shape our mentees.

A pastoral mentor does not need to be famous, serve a large church, or hold advanced degrees. Like many of the historical examples, he just needs to faithfully invest life and ministry in the younger generation to help prepare them to passionately serve Christ’s church.

Phil Newton


[1] The Trellis and the Vine: The Ministry Mind-Shift that Changes Everything (Kingsford, Australia: Matthias Media, 2009), 147.

[2] Ign. Smyrn. 11.

[3] Fragments of Papias 1.

[4] J. H. M. d’Aubigné, For God and His People: Ulrich Zwingli and the Swiss Reformation (Henry White, trans.; Mark Sidwell, ed.; Greenville, S.C.: BJU Press, 2000), 14.

[5] Karin Maag, Seminary or University? The Genevan Academy and Reformed Higher Education 1560–1620 (Aldershot, Hants, U.K.: Scolar Press, 1995), 23.

[6] A General History of the Baptist Denominations in America and Other Parts of the World (2 vols.; Boston: Manning & Loring, 1813), 2:306.

[7] quoted by Michael Haykin, One Heart and One Soul: John Sutcliff of Olney, his Friends and his Times (Durham, England: Evangelical Press, 1994), 193.
Phil planted South Woods Baptist Church in Memphis, Tennessee in 1987 and continues to serve as senior pastor of that congregation. He previously pastored churches in Mississippi and Alabama. He received his education at the University of Mobile (B.A.), New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (M.Div.), Fuller Theological Seminary (D.Min.), and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (Ph.D.). Phil and his wife Karen married in 1975, and have five children and seven grandchildren.
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