Smither writes for those who want to mentor spiritual leaders, especially those pursuing authenticity and longing to practice what they preach. He studies the ministry of Aurelius Augustine (AD 354-430), a.k.a. Augustine of Hippo, as an example of a fifth century mentor for the twenty-first century ministry. This book is limited to Augustine’s spiritual formation of men who were spiritual leaders occupying clerical office. Women may find points of relevant application but the case study is limited to Augustine’s relationship with men. The author also does not address how Augustine may have instructed the general congregation in Hippo, developing its leaders.
With plenty of references to Augustine’s letters, books and documented records, the author, by his own admission, does not take issue with any of Augustine’s views that divide the Christian Church today such as predestination, sacramental grace, baptismal regeneration, church polity, papal authority, clerical celibacy, monasticism, relics, miracles, and the Donatist controversy.
According to the author, Scripture lays the formation of discipleship as one who believes in the identity of Jesus as the Christ – the one who would atone for sins through his death, burial and resurrection – and cognitively accepts and seeks to obey the moral and ethical teachings of Jesus within the context of the community of faith (12). Mentoring as observed in the Scriptures has the following eight characteristics: a) it happens in the context of a group; b) the mentor is himself a disciple; c) the mentor selects the disciple to be mentored; d) the mentor-disciple relationship is a caring personal relationship; e) sound teaching conforms to the words of Jesus based on the Hebrew Scriptures and documented scripture; f) the mentor models ministry and involves the disciple in the ministry as well; g) there comes a time when the mentor releases the disciple from the relationship for ministry; and h) the mentor remains available as a resource and consultant (13-23).
The stage is set for Augustine’s mentoring of spiritual leaders by examining four different men and the mentoring that took place in the church during the third and fourth centuries. They were Cyprian of Carthage (195-258), the Egyptian monk Pachomius (290-346), Basil of Caesarea (329-379), Ambrose of Milan (340-397). Written communication and the church councils were essential to the mentoring process, especially as it involved these men in the developing model of mentoring.
But who mentored Augustine? The author describes a mosaic of influences that made him the mentor that he was. First and foremost, even in Augustine’s own Confessions, is his mother, Monica: “My mother did all she could to see that you, my God, should be more truly my father than he [Patricius] was” (93). Monica’s efforts were simple: she provided a holy example, shared a practical faith, remained sound in doctrine and provided a Christian education.
Next came the notable influence of his friends: Alypius was his peer and confidant; Nebridius rebuked him for his strange ideas about Manicheanism and astrology; Evodius began a dialogue with Augustine that became his discourse On Free Will; Ambrose showed him the kindness of a father, opened the Scripture to him for the first time, communicated with him in the preaching medium in which he excelled, and probably personally oversaw his initiation into the church; Simplicianus was available for intellectual discourse and impressed upon Augustine the necessity of the church while demonstrating the posture of a lifelong disciple; and Valerius brought Augustine to succeed him as bishop of Hippo (124).
The author has given a historical perspective of mentoring as a model for preparing spiritual leaders and has provided a primer for those who would like to sharpen their skills. He could not have chosen a better example for a mentor than Augustine. In “Augustine’s approach on mentoring” (chapter 4), there is prolific documentation of original sources as the author makes his way through each of the eight characteristics of mentoring as applied by Augustine. One might even observe that it is to the point of distraction. Yet the reader, the Augustine scholar, and the Lutheran pastor will have gained a new perspective under the tutelage of this church father.
The timeliness of this book can be appreciated from the experience of our own fellowship in the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod. New teacher induction was added to the post-graduate studies of Martin Luther College in 2014 with the goal of providing a mentor for every graduate for the first two years of teaching; mentoring new graduates from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary began recently with the “Pastor Partners” initiative. Certainly, there have always been those pastors and teachers who coached, counseled, and mentored other pastors and teachers who sought it. If this book emphasizes anything it is that “we are treading where the saints have trod.” May there be many more who are willing to be engaged in life-long mentoring relationships.
Augustine left a threefold legacy according to Smither: a numerous clergy, albeit celibate; many monasteries as centers for teaching the clergy (38 in North Africa by the end of the fifth century) (255); his books and letters continued to be read and impacted such men as Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther (himself an Augustinian monk) and John Calvin (256). We could add mentoring itself to this list.
Aurelius Augustine asserted that a minister should always be a student in the school of Christ and said, “the sweetness of truth should invite us to learn, the necessities of charity should force us to teach,” (225). One will learn much about the man and the mentor in Augustine as Mentor and again give thanks to God for the leadership of this Christian man. You will be mentored by him in the course of this book.
Edward L. Smither, Ph. D., is associate professor of Church History and Intercultural Studies at Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary in Lynchburg, Virginia.