By Griffin Gulledge
With youth comes a certain amount of arrogance and a certain amount of pride. As Pastor Matt Chandler has often said, sometimes life just had to beat that out of you. At the end of the day, there are a lot of young seminarians and young pastors—commonly lumped together as “millennials”—that will choose to find landmines by stepping on them.
Many of us, however, would prefer to skip a few explosions. And most older pastors recognize they would have had a healthier start in ministry if they only had a mentor.
Mentoring and apprenticeship programs are popping up all over the Evangelical ministry world. Not long ago, many pastors held to a series of unspoken rules of ministry promotions: start as a youth minister and work your way up. By the time you get to senior pastor, you’ve likely been humbled more than once. With the millennial generation pushing back against the idea that there are “promotions” in ministry, coupled with a serious dearth of veteran pastors to fill the pulpits at hundreds of thousands of churches, many are starting lead pastorates relatively young. Church plants, revitalizations, and a slew of young pastors at large churches has become commonplace.
Many veteran pastors have noticed and have seen the need to help those God is raising up. Most young ministers and seminarians I meet have spoken to me about the hunger to have a godly mentor. Often, however, the veterans go without mentees, and the young men can’t find help.
It seems to me that there is really one main reason for this lack of ministry mentoring: we have no idea what this would look like.
What does it look like for a pastor to mentor a seminarian that isn’t on his church staff? What kind of man should those early in their ministry look for? As one who has been fortunate to have great mentors, I’d like to suggest four features of a healthy mentoring relationship.
1. Veteran pastors, be hospitable to those of us who are freshly into ministry.
After being mentored in a variety of settings by a variety of pastors, I’ve come to the conclusion that the majority of requirements for a pastor set forth in 1 Timothy 3 are better learned in the living room than in the conference room. Early years in ministry can be lonely and discouraging. We young ministers are going to make more mistakes than we could possibly know. One of the most encouraging things an older pastor can do is to invite us into your home. There we can watch you patiently love your wife and kids. A pastor who teaches and models respectability, patience, and self-control while raising submissive children and loving his wife is one of the most beneficial things a young minister will ever see, including the inside of a book. Not only that, a veteran pastor who is empathetic and gracious gives a much needed window for vulnerability and weakness that young pastors so often are denied.
2. Veteran pastors, teach us the things that aren’t on our radar.
If there are any three words that best describe what I’ve learned the most about since being called to the ministry, it is these: my blind spots.
Sarcasm. Pre-loaded shotgun answers to heart-wrenching questions. Impatience. Arrogance. Laziness.
The list could go on and on of problems discovered in my life and the lives of fellow young friends in ministry. We need to be called out. Most veteran pastors I meet can see our mistakes and failings before we confess them like it’s written on our foreheads. Please, speak up. Show us what we can’t see.
Besides that, teach us the things we would never think of. How many young seminarians are thinking about denominational life, how to baptize, marriage counseling, hospital visits, deathbed visitation, writing thank you notes, or how to run a staff/volunteer meeting? Quite frankly, most seminaries don’t cover all the bases on a lot of this. No need to place blame. Most business schools don’t teach young businessmen to match their belt with their shoes. They learn. Likewise, teach us “how to be professionals.”
3. Young men, ask to be taught and then be teachable.
We’ve all seen the clip: kid encounters intimidating animal and is terrified. Their parent says, “Honey, he’s more afraid of you than you are of him.”
I think this is true with veteran and rookie pastors as well. Young, brash pastors who never wear a suit and have strong opinions can be intimidating in their own way to older pastors. It’s easy for them to think the young guy is a know-it-all or will reject anything that seems old-school or traditional. There’s a lot to be learned though.
Step up to the plate and humbly ask the veteran for help. I’d bet a good deal he will agree. If you’re the older pastor, this isn’t an invitation to domineer a young guy. If you’re a young guy, submit yourself to some wisdom. You don’t have to agree, but you should listen and learn. It may just be that you don’t know everything (a lesson I learn regularly).
4. Young men, be vulnerable.
Young pastor, you’ve got a mentor! You’re meeting regularly. The veteran pastor is investing in you with knowledge, time, and hospitality. Do not succumb to the temptation to just impress.
Mentoring is not networking. Mentoring is not for ego-building.
Open up about your failure and your questions. Confess your sins and failures. Ask for prayer. Humility is the way of Christ. Be humble enough to ask questions and admit your failures. Jesus tells us that it is through pruning that we grow. Don’t be afraid to open up to where you need pruning the most. Asking for help is the best way to get it. Be vulnerable.