Mentoring is ministry (Matthew 10:2-4)

Overwhelmed? Focus on the few.

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Open Matthew 10:2-4.

I was dying to try out all the things I’d learned in 5 years of Bible College. My first church was well-established, a mature-aged congregation willing to wait for me to get over my youthful excitement. I couldn’t move them, so in my second year I focused outside the church on reaching needy people in the wider community. In my third year, I realized there were some of the congregation who really did want to grow, so I prayerfully selected people to pour my life into. I’d stumbled on what Jesus knew — that discipling a few people was the most fruitful form of ministry.

Matthew has been telling us about the crowds pressing for Jesus’ attention (4:25; 5:1; 7:28; 8:1, 9; 9:8, 23-25, 33, 36). Jesus saw the crowds as sheep with no shepherd, and he felt for them (9:36). He saw them as a vast harvest that he alone could not reap. He needed to develop some workers to help him restore Israel’s lost sheep (10:6).

The heart of ministry is mentoring.

Jesus chose twelve — three groups of two pairs. The word and in Matthew 10:2-4 shows the pairings. To see the groupings, compare the four lists in the New Testament: the names move within a group but not between groups, and the same person heads up each group:

Mt 10:2–4 Mk 3:16–19 Lk 6:14–16 Acts 1:13
Simon Peter,
Andrew,
James,
John
Simon Peter,
James,
John,
Andrew
Simon Peter,
Andrew,
James,
John
Peter,
John,
James,
Andrew
Philip,
Bartholomew,
Thomas,
Matthew
Philip,
Bartholomew,
Matthew,
Thomas
Philip,
Bartholomew,
Matthew,
Thomas
Philip,
Thomas,
Bartholomew,
Matthew
James 2,
Thaddaeus,
Simon 2,
Judas Iscariot
James 2,
Thaddaeus,
Simon 2,
Judas Iscariot
James 2,
Simon 2,
Judas 2,
Judas Iscariot
James 2,
Simon 2,
Judas 2

The first group are Jesus’ closest friends. Peter is always first. James and John are inseparable brothers. These three are central figures of the story (e.g. Mark 5:37; 9:2; 13:3; 14:33). When we hear of Andrew, he’s introducing people to Jesus (John 1:41; 12:22).

The second group is led by Philip. He features in John’s Gospel (1:43-48; 6:5-7; 12:21-22; 14:8-9), but this is not Philip the evangelist of Acts 8. Matthew the tax collector was in this group. Appointing a tax collector to his kingdom leadership team was a radical move, since tax collectors were “sinners” (i.e. supporting Israel’s oppression). Thomas is remembered as a doubter, but I like his emotional honesty (John 11:16; 14:5; 20:24-29). We know nothing about Bartholomew (though some equate him with Nathanael).

The final group is headed up by the other James, son of Alphaeus. This is not James the brother of John who died in Acts 12:2, nor the James who headed the Jerusalem conference in Acts 15. He may be the “little James” of Mark 15:40. Thaddaeus is probably a nickname for the other Judas (son of James). There’s also another Simon, identified as a zealot — someone committed to re-establishing the kingdom of God by violent means (terrorism). Judas Iscariot is always listed last, and noted as the traitor. He’s omitted from Acts 1:13, since he had already taken his life.

So how successful was Jesus at training this eclectic bunch? Peter went on to do some amazing things, as did James and John. For Andrew, introducing his brother to Jesus was a highlight of his life. We know a little Philip, Matthew, and Thomas, but nothing about Bartholomew, Thaddaeus, the other James, or the other Simon. And Judas Iscariot was the most disappointing failure of the twelve: instead of helping to build the kingdom, he proved to be “the son of destruction” (John 17:12).

If you’ve tried mentoring people, you know what hard work it is. Some run with the training you give them, while others are less productive, and some break your heart.

Jesus’ “success” with these guys might look rather mediocre, but we’re all here following Jesus 2000 years later, aren’t we? Roughly a third of the world’s population acknowledges the name of Jesus today. Jesus only had 3 or 4 years of ministry, and he used them to pour his life into a handful of people. His strategy worked.

So when you see how the harvest is plentiful and the workers are few, don’t desperately try to bring in the harvest on your own. Instead, seek the Lord of the harvest for workers. Then pour your life into mentoring them, empowering them to harvest (9:37-38).

It can be frustrating, but mentorship works.

 

What others are saying

Regi Campbell, Richard Chancy, Mentor like Jesus electronic edition (Nashville: B&H, 2009):

Jesus’ choice of mentoring a small group of followers to effect His mission was a brilliant decision. Just do the math: twelve disciples, multiplying themselves over and over, and the number of people getting the message is overwhelming. … What’s really cool is that today, even with all that technology, individual influence, word of mouth, multiplication is still the most powerful way to communicate a message.

Roger L. Hahn, Matthew: A Commentary for Bible Students (Indianapolis, IN: Wesleyan, 2007), 136:

Perhaps most amazing is the listing of Simon the Zealot and Matthew the tax collector together. Tax collectors were collaborators with the Romans. They worked for and with the Romans against their fellow Jews. Zealots hated collaborators and were as violent against them as against the Romans. That Matthew and Simon coexisted in the same group is testimony to Jesus’ leadership and the power of the gospel to unite people of radically different political persuasions.

Michael J. Wilkins, Matthew, NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004), 384:

Jesus’ mission is now well established. He has announced his central message (4:17), called his first coworkers (4:18–22), articulated his programmatic standard of discipleship (chs. 5–7), and demonstrated his authoritative power (chs. 8–9). Now is the time to expand his influence by sending out his disciples with the same message and power.

[previous: Why no women among Jesus’ apostles?]

[next: How the Shepherd gathers his sheep]

Author: Allen Browne

Seeking to understand Jesus in the terms he chose to describe himself: son of man (his identity), and kingdom of God (his mission). Discipleship Trainer • Riverview Church

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