How To Mentor Character Into Others

Teacher and Mentor, Dr. Howard Hendricks talked about the necessity for good mentors this way: “The greatest crisis today is the crisis in leadership. And the greatest crisis in leadership is the crisis of character. Character is the result of four things: 

  1. The choices you make;
  2. The values you embrace;
  3. The crises you experience;
  4. The mentor you choose. ” 1

Do you have a mentor, a mentoree? 

I can't forget the character impacting mentoring I've seen overseas. In an internet letter I read, “These are the times of tall men, and short character.” But not everywhere! I've seen tall character missionaries mentoring others. In Zambia, I traveled with a missionary driving to a village to witness; in the truck seat with him was a “new”" missionary. 

What an experience I had, listening, watching, seeing the modeling of the veteran as he introduced the new guy to a village chief, and modeled how to visit and greet people in each mud house. Later he explained customs affecting cultural values and character assessments the tribe made about accepting a non-tribal person. All week I watched primal mentoring. The air was thickened those days in the bush by questions and discussions on ministry, prayer, and sharing. In the USA I've seen the lasting fruit of pastors with their mentored teams of changed men living holy lives of character. 

What can influence positively and deeply a commitment to godly character in us and to encourage others to whom we minister? There are two things. First, we must get the Word of God into hearts, and secondly, we have to see it modeled, lived out in lives. John describes meeting the greatest mentor: “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory. . . .” Then John hands us a five-word “Polaroid” photo of Jesus' character strengths: “. . . full of grace and truth”(John 1:14). The writer, John, vividly remembers in his old age the impact of seeing “Scripture with legs” — Jesus in action, teaching, caring, standing strong! Jesus tenting, dwelling among them. He writes with freshness and wonder: “From the very first day, we were there, taking it all in – we heard it with our own ears, saw it with our own eyes, verified it with our own hands. The Word of Life appeared right before our eyes; we saw it happen! And now we're telling you in most sober prose that what we witnessed was, incredibly, this: The infinite Life of God himself took shape before us ” (1 John 1:1-2, The Message). Nothing teaches Christ's character faster than seeing it lived out. When the Bible we are learning is fleshed out by parents and other mentors in daily life, it marks us — unforgettable. 

John summarizes two life qualities of Jesus that remained glued to his heart all those decades. Jesus was “full of grace and truth.” What a difficult combination! Jesus was wonderful to be with. He was always sensitive, loving, attentive, thoughtful, forgiving, focused on you. Full of grace. But Jesus was also full of truth. His “yes” was total. His “no” was resolute. His pronouncements were final and eternal. There was no blending error with truth. Truth is pure, demanding, convicting. Some people are gracious, but are flabby and too bending. Others are so legalistic, so iron-fisted and unbending, they hurt us. Grace and truth are hard to mix. “Speaking the truth, in love” is supernatural. These radically different character qualities John could not forget. They are living, combined, balanced perfectly in one man: Christ Jesus! 

Character is the fruit of “abiding in Him,” allowing Christ Jesus to live His life in you, through you. There are key Bible passages that, as they soak into our hearts, the Holy Spirit uses to bring growth and change into Christlikeness. We get convicted about our attitudes, our reactions, and our words. And character solidifies. Consider using these in a sermon series, in your Bible study group, with your family, and in training those whom you mentor. 

Seven Character-sharpening Tools

1. Proverbs. As a young couple with three children, Clemmie and I found Proverbs a fascinating book to use in child-rearing. Among the 50 different topical categories in Proverbs, we studied nine character areas with our kids. We discovered positive and negative qualities, and their consequences. Some of these contrasts are found in a single verse. We found other verses that give a thought which is double-complete — where the second line agrees or underscores the first line. There are many comparative proverbs in which “then” sometimes begins the second line. Using a large concordance, look up the references to each key word or topic, and then read these nuggets of gold cross references. Focus on one word-idea for a week. Discuss how to discover the “fool,” the “wise” in your life. Share ideas on how to apply a verse to our lives. Look up these words to start: “wise/wisdom” contrasted with the “fool;” the “heart;” the “tongue;” “honest/lying,” “friends/neighbors;” “give(ing)/wealth;” “home/parents;” “honor.” 

2. The 10 Commandments — Exodus 20:1-17. The first five commands deal with our relationship with God; the other five emphasize essential earthly relationships. Nine of these ten are commanded in the New Testament, too. We need to memorize these in order and review them regularly. They strike at the heart of the Law, and under gird the stability of any nation, culture, and home. 

3. The Sermon on the Mount — Matthew 5-7. One of the most humble millionaires I've met told about starting a company during the 1930's Depression. He had been encouraged to memorize the Sermon on the Mount. Quoting these verses daily changed his life and business. Mr. Taylor quoted the verses while seeking application to his life for over 30 years. Applying a single verse on dealing with an enemy (Luke 6:27, 28) revolutionized my life and application alertness. Verses on salt, light, and obedience that brought conviction to my life years ago are still alive and working in my heart today. 

4. The Upper Room Discourse — John 14-17. One of the richest passages in the Bible, this section of chapters reveals Christ's invasion into the life and work of every believer. One core theology which is found here: Jesus introduces to us the Holy Spirit. 

5. The Fruit of the Spirit Are Attitudes. Walk in the Spirit — Galatians 5:16-26. Attitude is everything with God, because our attitudes expose the real heart of us. Our works alone cannot reveal what our true motives and intentions are. Why you do what you do is more important than that you do it! 

6. Growth Steps to Fine-tune our Spiritual Life — 2 Peter 1:4-7. The essential building blocks for your spiritual house are unveiled in this text. Like swallowing a daily multi-vitamin to be healthy, use this passage in your devotions. Meditate on one word in this list each day for a week. Ask our Teacher, the Holy Spirit, to show you one truth to apply or one character deficiency. Pray the verse into your life and memorize it. Ask God to build that quality into your life and believe that He will! The power to apply Scripture comes through our surrender to be controlled by the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:18). 

7. Character-building Booklets. For children at three different grade levels, Character Builders is a terrific set of booklets. 2 Their 48 character traits have priceless definitions followed by stories that illustrate each trait. My wife loves these samples: 

   Attentiveness – Listening with the eyes, ears, and heart
   Meekness – Patience without anger

Character Revealed by Contrast

In light of the need to be specific and sensitive about our character growth, I've been encouraged and challenged to pray over a short list that reveals the character of Christ. Alongside each positive characteristic is a contrasting negative trait. 3

  • Accuracy vs. Carelessness
  • Alertness vs. Unawareness
  • Attentiveness vs. Resentment
  • Boldness vs. Fearfulness
  • Compassion vs. Indifference
  • Creativity vs. Underachievement
  • Decisiveness vs. Double-mindedness
  • Diligence vs. Slothfulness
  • Faith vs. Presumption
  • Forgiveness vs. Rejection
  • Joyfulness vs. Frustration
  • Self-control vs. Self-gratification
  • Truthfulness vs. Deception

God Gives Us Models and Mentors

Sometimes good mentors and character models are rare in our lives. There are available, however, 2900 names of different people in the Bible. God recorded the struggles and strengths of multiple persons — these biographies are meant for our observation and meditation. These model walking in truth, running from evil, or the terrible, tragic consequences of sin. Our entertainment culture rarely teaches the sure, terrible judgment that comes to us and to others as well from breaking God's laws. It is essential that we teach and testify to the consequences of our words and actions, as we train our children and mentor others. 

Some Bible biographies are summarized in a sentence. Others fill paragraphs or chapters. Begin your study with shorter biographies such as Hannah, Asa, Timothy and Barnabas. List any good you see that they did. Then list bad decisions they made. Meditate on “why.” Next relate their life actions and the consequences to God. What lessons did you specifically learn? Where will you change your life because of this study? Four Old Testament people flavor many verses in the New Testament: Abraham, Moses, David, and Elijah. They are the most important to study, but require a lengthier analysis. The “clay” of each of these lives will lead us closer to the heart of God and His character. 

1 Message at Xenos Discipleship Conference, Columbus, Ohio, July 17, 2003. 
2 Ron and Rebekah Coriell, Fleming H. Revel by Assoc. of Chr. Schools International, Box 4097, Whittier, CA 90607. 
3 Notes from Institute in Basic Youth Conflicts, Bill Gothard, Tampa, Florida, 1975.