I am a professional pastor. I have been in vocational ministry since I was 19 years old. My undergraduate degree is in Christian Education, my masters is in divinity, and my Ph. D. is in missions and evangelism. I have been educated in institutions and in the laboratory of the local church. And yet, I was never able to take a class called, “Handling Lawsuits 101,” “Managing Building Projects,” or “Ministering to Sexual Predators.”
I have been in ministry all of my adult life, but try as I might, I’ve still been blindsided by issues for which I was little prepared. Some of the issues have been extraordinary, others have been mundane. Issues like caring for my family without losing my ministry or managing my time for personal spiritual disciplines or leading a church business meeting. Being a young pastor is not easy. It’s tougher if you don’t know what you’re doing.
Mentors are invaluable when navigating new ministry terrain. I have many mentors, but not all of them even know that they are my mentors. I have very few men with whom I have a “traditional” mentoring relationship. Most of the pastors to whom I turn for direction and guidance do not meet with me weekly. Instead, they meet with me as needed and as life permits.
Some of my mentors are former pastors with whom I have met regularly. Some have been seminary professors. Some are men with whom I don’t speak more often than eight or ten times per year. I count their impact in my life in years of relationship, not days or hours. These mentors in my life are the people I call when life is hard and seminary has not prepared me.
You need a mentor. If you are reading this you know you need a mentor, but you may not know how to find one. Here are a few steps I’ve used to find mentors through the years.
- Be thankful for who you have. A young pastor sat in my office recently and told me about the kind of man he wanted to mentor him. He wanted a strong leader and an effective pastor. He wanted someone who had made a difference. He wanted a home run mentor. That young pastor needed guidance. Pastors are called to be faithful, not famous. A man who has served faithfully in the same single-staff rural church for the past 20 years has something to teach you. Don’t despise the men that God has put into your life because you want a mega-church pastor to invest in your life.
- Be thankful for what you get. Some of my mentors would not think of themselves that way at all. They do not spend excessive amounts of time with me. They have no idea how I value the time they spend with me. These men do not give me two hours a week. I’m OK with that. I’m thankful for what I can learn from them when I get the chance.
- Be in the right place. I tried cold-call lunches when I moved into my first pastorate. None of them worked out. When I went to meetings with other pastors and got involved in denominational work, I discovered men who could and would help me. Mentors are not going to come find you, go to the meetings that you perceive to be a waste of your time and watch God bring helpful men into your life.
- Don’t be weird. In your romantic view of the world, it may be acceptable to walk up to a man you barely know and ask him to mentor you. You will do better taking him to lunch first. Develop a friendship and see where the relationship goes. Be patient and refer back to point 2. If it doesn’t work out for a mentoring relationship, be thankful for what you get out of lunch.
- Listen more, talk less. If you want a mentor, then act like you need one. Ask questions and take notes when you get answers.
- Don’t abuse the relationship. Even pastors can use others as stepping stones to move up in life. Make sure you see another pastor as a valuable mentor and not as a valuable contact. There is a difference. Look for men who can make you a better pastor, not men you can use to attain a more desirable pastorate.
- Pray. Pray first. It is last on the list only because I want you to remember it most of all. Pray for God to give you people who will make you more like him and more able to care for his people. Pray that God would give you all kinds of mentors. Those who can help you navigate building programs and lawsuits as well as those who can teach you to do pastoral care well and to love your wife first.
Mentors have proven to be invaluable to me. They fill in the gaps that seminary and college miss. They encourage me and rebuke me when necessary. You need other pastors to shape you. Go find them.