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Augustine as Mentor


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Book Review Augustine as Mentor: A Model for Preparing Spiritual Leaders

Liberty University CHHI520- Church History Robert Olsen

Edward L. Smither's book entitled Augustine as Mentor: A Model for Preparing Spiritual Leader's was a very eye-opening and very interesting read. The book itself is not just about Augustine himself as a mentor, but it's really somewhat of a user guide on some of the finer points that any leader/mentor (especially in Ministry) can use on their journey in Ministry; it's written almost like a "how to" manual. As far as how the book is written, there's ground work on mentoring in general that's laid and it mixes in some "insights" on Augustine that will be further mentioned as the book progresses. As a matter of fact, it's not until the third chapter where the story really begins on the background and history of Augustine's life and ministry. Through the first chapter, Mr. Smither really goes over the eight main characteristics of mentoring that many spiritual leaders in years past have used (Smither, 13). Those eight are the group, the mentor as disciple, selection, the mentor-disciple relationship, sound teaching, modeling and involving in ministry, releasing to ministry and resourcing leaders. From there they look at several different people who used a very similar style from those who are more "known" (such as Paul and Jesus), to those who aren't like Bishop Basil and the clergy that had he mentored. A better known way that this whole process was described was discipleship. As you go through the third and fourth chapter, you see the beginning stages of his life and ministry all the way through the culmination of his work. The last chapter of the book put a bow on the entire subject in Chapter five. In this chapter, this is actually the first real look at what and how Augustine really thinks of the mentoring process in general. Up until now, most of the talk has been about the things that he's done and learned and taught, but, in this chapter, you really get the understanding of how he dealt with those that he mentored and was close to. Along with those things, you also find one of the more interesting themes in the book, and that's being a "Servant Leader", or a "Mentor as Disciple". The Mentor as Disciple (or Servant Leader) is something that is one of the two main themes that I saw in the book. The idea is centered around the most effective mentors are those that are still willing to learn. One example of that is the fact that like Simplicianus, Augustine continued to grow throughout his time operating in ministry because he would make sure to get the input of others concerning things that he didn't know or understand (Smither, 222). Not only that, he made it a point to constantly enquire of others and try and learn as much as he possibly could. Something else that shows this posture that was mentioned consistently throughout the book is the fact that besides all the accolades and the attention and even the power that he developed over his years in ministry, he still sacrificed by continuing to hold several positions that he wasn't particularly fond of (being over the land that was donated to the church or handling the paying out when people were held for ransom) having to continue to do. The entire backbone of being a Servant Leader is leading by example and this is something that he did throughout the entirety of his ministry; a trait that he picked up from his first and most influential mentor, Monica. Monica was a woman of great distinction and this lead by example theme that is throughout this entire work starts with and is because of her. Other than Mary, Monica has to be one of the most talked about mothers in Christianity and is arguably the most influential. It's hard to measure that but what isn't hard is realizing that her lifestyle and example is largely what helped Augustine become who he became. This was a woman of prayer who even won over her mother-in-law not by words but by actions and the lifestyle that she lead. The same was true for her son. When she found out that her son was involved in "Anti-Christian" sects, she kicked him out of the house immediately. Eventually she let him back in after she received a vision of what his destiny was going to end up being. This holy example was something that helped seal the fate of what Augustine would become. Throughout the early life of Augustine, while he was still experimenting with what he would and wouldn't do and be as he was trying to "find" himself, Monica stayed true to what God was showing her and she stayed constant in what she knew, and what she understood to be true. She didn't let the thoughts and feelings of others, even those closest to her like her own son, persuade her in any way possible. From the beginning of his life, to the turning point when he finally "rededicated" himself to God, Monica continued with the holy examples, practical faith and sound teachings that she had learned, studied, and relied on throughout her life. Everything that she did in her life and the way that she carried herself became the calling card for her son and he became just as steadfast and diligent. One of the strengths argued in this book is the brilliance of Augustine. You would be hard pressed to find any ill words spoken of concerning Augustine. The author even pointed out how the negatives of Augustine's life ultimately ended up being a positive or something that was able to be used in a positive way throughout his ministry. Throughout all of Augustine's works, he is largely considered as the most influential people in the history of Christendom and the reader is strongly reminded of that throughout the book. As a matter of fact, throughout the book to strengthen this argument, Mr. Smither points out the other brilliant scholars who also praise the work and overall brilliance of Augustine. The weaknesses are actually found within the strengths. As mentioned above, the whole book only speaks of how wonderful the man is. Considering that nobody is perfect, someone who would be reading the book may be put off by the constant praise that was presented. Many people who read something like this is looking for facts to be presented in a way that allows them to draw their own conclusions on the matter. The way this manual is written is in a way that portrays this being the way to handle things if you are learning about, or are in a mentoring roll. The only other real critique that I have is the repetitive nature of the book. Although there are only 5 chapters in the book, much of it is essentially saying the same thing in a different way every time. All in all, this book was insightful and it was good to see how powerful one person can become in God when they fully submit.

Smither, Edward, L., Augustine as Mentor: A Model for Preparing Spiritual Leaders. B&H Publishing, 2008.

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