Over the last decade or so the concept of mentoring has taken a deep hold in leadership theory, including the church. The idea is leaders need someone with more experience than they to provide insight and counsel. In a perfect world, one’s mentor would prepare you for each and every eventuality you could face. We all know this is not probable.
As an older-teen and young man, my primary mentor was a truck-driver and deacon named Al Autry. When Al died, his funeral was attended by dozens of men my age and younger, all of whom counted Al as a primary mentor—if not the primary mentor—in their younger days. Al mentored me spiritually during a time when my own father was not yet a follower of Jesus.
In my early ministry, I didn’t need to talk to Bill Hybels, Rick Warren, or John Piper. But I did need to talk to someone who had more pastoral experience than I did. Two of my former pastors, an denominational employee, and a couple of pastors in my new locale fit that bill. While only one of them would I consider a mentor in the traditional sense, all of them filled the role in the aggregate.
When I moved to serve on a church staff, all the other staff members had more experience that I did, and at churches requiring greater responsibility. Every staff meeting was a mentoring session as was ministry together.
As I’ve grown older in ministry, younger pastors sometimes ask if I can mentor them, even if for a limited period of time. These relationships are always a blessing. But, there are mistakes pastors make when seeking a mentor. Three such mistakes are 1) thinking your mentor has to be a celebrity pastor, 2) that mentoring is always one person teaching the other, and 3) that only young pastors need mentors.
Your mentor does not need to be well-known.
Some think only a “name” individual could be a good mentor. Sometimes pastors attend conferences with high-profile, high-powered speakers and think, “If I could just bend his ear for a few minutes” or “If he could mentor me.” For most, such connections never happen apart from an email exchange or quick “hello” after his session.
The good news is, God uses mentors of all shapes and sizes, from churches and ministries all over the world. An unknown, but faithful pastor with 25 years of experience, and to whom you have ready access, is a much better option than a bottle-rocket of ministry who finds it a bother to respond to emails. A godly businessman who understands the times and knows what Israel ought to do is better than a guy who cannot seem to make time for you unless it includes 18-holes and a clubhouse lunch. That which works in practice is better than that which only looks good on a resume.
Mentoring flows back and forth in a relationship.
Mentoring is less one person dumping information into the brain-pan of another than it is mutual learning. It is not one person lording over another, but both walking side by side. In some cases the mentor will know the best path to take, and at other times the learner will know the best path. As such, the roles of mentor and learner will constantly shift.
The best mentoring relationships I have ever experienced are filled with questions rather than lectures, conversations rather than scoldings. As we talk through spiritual challenges, church challenges, marriage relationships, and the like, I learn as well as lead.
One American general noted, “Respect flows up and down the chain of command.” The same is true of mentoring. No one knows everything.
The older you get in ministry, the more you need a younger mentor.
Some older pastors may bristle at this idea, but I believe it is more important for older pastors to have younger mentors than vice-versa. Younger pastors are typically hungry for more information, hungry for a mentor, hungry to grow. They are hungry because they know they need help. They are in the middle of What They Didn’t Teach Me in Seminary 101.
We who are older are tempted with the spiritual and emotional equivalent of slowing metabolism: we can be less curious, less lean, less sharp. If we are not vigilant, our passion for personal growth will wane. Without a younger mentor we can become the USS Tenured Pastor, losing direction and adrift in the sea of ministry.
Some older pastors feel left-out if no one seeks them out for mentorship. Don’t sit on the sidelines waiting for someone to throw you a pass. Seek out a younger pastor who can mentor you. Ask them questions. Hear their heart. Seek to understand before seeking to be understood. It’s the best cup of single-source, locally-roasted, freshly brewed coffee you’ll ever buy.