One of the great needs of churches today is to raise up young leadership. One of the ways this must be done is through intentional mentoring. I’m growing to understand this more all the time, and it is actually quite a paradigm shift. The fact is, almost all of my life and ministry I’ve thought my “job” was the task of ministry in front of me that I was doing. Either teaching, preaching, leading, etc. However, over the last few years I’ve come to realize something new. I shouldn’t think of my “job” as the ministry task in front of me. I should think of my “job” as developing others to do the ministry who will also in turn see themselves as developing others.
I don’t want to minimize the priority of preaching for the church, but I would say there is at least as much if not a greater need for developing other leaders. Someone like me may shy away from saying something like that. I think preaching is massively important to the church–in fact, central. However, developing leaders is what Jesus commissioned us to do. The Great Commission of Matthew 28:18-20 says that we are to “make disciples.” So on that basis, I believe that it is also a central duty of pastoral ministry that I must reproduce myself in others. This takes place through intentional mentoring.
As I said, this is the need of the hour. In fact, it is an overwhelming need. It is a need that I have only had partially filled for myself. In my own ministry pilgrimage, I got most of my training in a classroom. I did pastor a church my last year in college, and I had my professors that I could go to with questions, but I don’t know that I had the kind of mentoring experience that I longed for. Then I served as a youth pastor for about a year and a half during my M.Div. studies. Maybe this was the best mentoring I had. The pastor took me with him on some hospital visits, and he did help and encourage me, but still from my perspective something seemed to be lacking. The next place I served, I was the pastor. I was a recent seminary graduate, and I thought I had what I needed to be a pastor. Boy was I wrong! I won’t go into the gory details, but I’ll just admit that I made a lot of serious mistakes very quickly that undermined people’s trust in me. I was completely at fault, and I only lasted there six months. The truth was, I didn’t need to be in the position of a senior pastor at that time in my life. I still needed a lot of personal development, and that is best gained through intentional mentoring.
In my next church ministry I was a bi-vocational youth pastor. I served with good men, but whether it was time, or some other factor, I still longed for mentoring, but my longing went unfulfilled. What I have found, is that there are a lot more young men who want to be mentored in pastoral ministry than there are pastors who are willing and have the time to do it.
Then, I went to work on a PhD, and ended up in a church where the pastor did prioritize intentional mentoring. Since I was in a PhD program, I was very pressed for time. The pastor there was sensitive to the fact that as a PhD student, I needed to focus on my studies, yet he made time to meet with me regularly. For a while it was weekly, and it was kind of weened down the longer I was there. I didn’t realize how much I was soaking in, but I would say I gained more from my experience in that church with that pastor than I did in the classroom. I never finished the PhD program, but I learned the most important things from being in a church where mentoring was so prized.
When I left there, I began to pastor here in Illinois. First at Woburn Baptist Church, and now also at Redeemer, I have been on the lookout for young men to meet with for intentional mentoring. So far I’ve had about 7 young men that I’ve met with on one level or another. Not every experience has panned out. Some begin to be promising and have ended up heartbreaking, but others are growing and thriving. Mentoring is also a risk. We only have 24 hours in a day, and we have to choose how to spend our time. Sometimes we may invest many hours in discipling one person, and we want those hours to count. It is worth the risk. Jesus warned that not all soil was good, but the sower sows the seed on all kinds of soil regardless. If we are so afraid that some of the seeds will end up on rocky or thorny soil that we refuse to sow, we will never reap a harvest. But if we do not grow weary in doing good, and if we keep on taking the risk to invest in people, we will reap a harvest of blessing.