Smither, Edward L. Augustine as Mentor: A Model for Preparing Spiritual Leaders. Nashville, TN: B&H Academic: 2008.
Augustine as Mentor: A Model for Preparing Spiritual Leaders written by Edward Smither is a very through, well-documented undertaking that discovers what Augustine of Hippo thought about mentoring, as well as revealing who mentored him and how he mentored others. The purpose of the book is to glean methods of discipleship from Augustine and other church fathers. The book repetitively summarizes and offers clusters and nuggets of information about discipleship in the 4th and 5th Century. The book could have offered more about how Christians should apply this information in modern church.
Edward Smithers is an assistant professor of Church History and Intercultural Studies at Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary. The book originally began as a doctoral thesis. He believes “many pastors today . . . are struggling in isolation without a pastor to nurture their souls ” If this spiritual isolation impacts church leaders today then what is the solution to escape the dilemma? Augustine as Mentor attempts to address this issue looking back at the beginning of the Church (including Jesus and Paul) and focuses in on another one of its giants (Augustine) as a leader and mentor.
The book is five chapters long plus a preface, 2-page epilogue and nice index. The first two chapters deals with mentoring and discipleship in general, and specifically of mentoring in the first century among the early church. Then the book focuses in on Augustine. First by looking at who mentored him. Then looking at who and how Augustine himself mentored. This chapter was the longest, at 88 pages. It examined forty years of ministry evaluating numerous letters, books and preaching and supervisory method as examples of how Augustine discipled both subordinates and fellow bishops. Then in chapter five, looking at what Augustine thought about mentoring in both a personal and general level. The epilogue was useful, but was quite short. It is a little odd and inappropriate to have over two-hundred and fifty pages of facts and details about the matter of mentoring and discipleship then only leave two pages for reflective application. Although on Smither’s behalf, the facts do speak for themselves in many ways. The book is so detailed and well-researched clustered with so many facts about how these great men discipled and mentored, most readers find practical application through-out the book as they read. For Jesus, Paul, Augustine and his mentors and mentees all modeled the practical application through-out history. Smither is encouraging the reader to make use of their examples.
As one might assume, Smither’s greatest points deal with the principles of mentoring and discipleship. For one, Augustine believed that there was a direct correlation between sound teaching and correct living. Sound teaching is the center of discipling direction. The Word of God fits in the discipleship relationship. Smither believes that a mentor is always a learning disciple. Mentors some have a lifelong commitment to growing as a disciple through demonstrating humility and transparency. Augustine did this by his own example. While he was Bishop and a mentor; he stayed committed to ascetic living in the context of community. He demonstrated humility by inviting others’ input. His pride was continually killed.
As a theologian he was more concerned with giving others a “living faith” versus “religious propositions.” As seen in his works, Augustine had continuous theological development. A mentor must be a committed mature disciple to the Lord and committed to making the discipleship relationship a priority.
When mentoring others a key component for success is the group context. Jesus mentored primarily 12 men. Among those 12 he focused in on three in particular. The context of the group and group size will play a role in how these men should be mentored. Augustine sent letters and books to councils (a small group) of men months/weeks before the council was to meet. The material he provided gave these men a resource to engage them on the topic in advance. Other times Augustine meet with his disciples one-on-one with a personal visit. And many occasions a personal letter was an appropriate form of communication.
The selection of a disciple is usually based on an existing relationship. I agree with this point in real life application, although Jesus Christ pulled off an immediate discipleship relationship with his twelve disciples without their knowledge of any previous relationship. Only Jesus Christ could successfully defy that principle.
As suggested through-out the book another principle is that the discipler is a model fit for imitation by his disciple. Not only does the mentor model but he even should look for opportunities to involve his disciple in practical ministry this is important because the discipler is aware that he will release the disciple to lead ministry. Even after the disciple is released into ministry, the mentor is a continual resource to the released disciple.
The only part of the book that delved into any kind of emotion from Smither, was the epilogue. Smither points out that in America, Christianity is unfortunately becoming Bibleless. This country is so rushed to be productive and get everything else done that the Bible and spiritual faith is neglected. Smither is emotional here because he is passionate about this topic. This is what all of his research boils down to. He realizes that the early church and the church fathers spent time together in their process of making disciples. They spent time studying the Word together in a community setting. They prayed together and ate together. Smither realizes that Western Christians need to slow down and put emphasizes on the Body of Christ (which needs each other to survive) and the Word of God which tells us to “make disciples.” These things require time but time that must be made for discipleship.