In the months leading up to my wedding, I discovered something rather unsettling. In expressing to some close friends (all either not married or newly married) my increasing anxiety over how to practically be a good husband to my future wife, it became clear they knew as little about marriage as I did. They could give me some general theory regarding what characteristics a godly husband should exhibit and offer some advice based on what they supposed might work, but none of them were able to give specific guidance and help.
It wasn’t until the Holy Spirit led me to humbly ask an older brother in Christ to have lunch with me, that I found some of the wisdom I so desperately sought. Over the course of a few hours this older saint listened to my fears, shared insight from his experiences and prayed that the Lord would give me wisdom. His personal love for Jesus and his love for his own bride shone through in profound ways as he spoke to me about the joys and trials of over 40 years of marriage. I left this conversation encouraged, refreshed, and better equipped to faithfully love my soon-to-be wife. Thankfully, it was not our last or only conversation. Over the course of my first year of marriage we regularly met together. Looking back today, I cannot overstate the value of this experience or of this man’s investment in my life. I needed the insight of an older, wiser, more experienced man to help me grow and develop into a faithful husband.
This experience as a young husband helped me to learn a vital lesson about being a pastor. Every pastor needs a pastor. I recognize, almost daily, the necessity for older, wiser, more experienced pastors in my life to help me navigate the challenges and demands of ministry. When we as pastors or leaders fall into the trap of surrounding ourselves with only other pastors who are similar to us in age and life stage, we neglect the blessing God intends for us to receive from generationally diversified friendships. There is great value in multi-generational relationships among pastors, both personally and for Kingdom advancement. We see the value of these types of relationships modeled for us in the Scriptures (Jethro and Moses, Elijah and Elisha, Paul and Timothy etc.).
However, many pastors are not presently mentoring or being mentored. This type of generational isolation can lead to the distrust, misrepresentation, and petty squabbling we often see playing out between established and younger leaders. It is far past time that we, as pastors, seek out leaders from a generation different from our own for the sake of gospel unity in our churches and communities.
What does it look like to be a pastor who is also a good mentor or a good mentee? Over the last few years, I’ve had the incredible opportunity to be mentored by an older pastor in my city. This experience has taught me a great deal, and I hope it will spur on other pastors and leaders to seek out mentors in your city to learn from and be encouraged by.
A Good Mentor:
Will identify blind spots in your life and ministry – I had a wise leader once tell me that what ruins most pastor’s lives and ministry is not their weaknesses but their blind spots. A blind spot is exactly what it sounds like, something you cannot see about yourself or your character. Although hidden to us, our blind spots are often evident to others, sometimes painfully so. A good mentor will help to identify character or leadership flaws and will shed light on the sin in our hearts that we are oblivious to.
Will encourage spiritual growth and development – All too often young pastors are missing someone in their life who is investing in their personal growth as a follower of Jesus. The call to the pastorate is not an abandonment of the call to be a disciple. Even as pastors are weekly discipling and leading others to disciple in our churches, they too are in desperate need of being discipled. Who is discipling you? Who is investing in your personal spiritual development? A good mentor is an older brother in Christ who can separate your person from your position for the good of your soul.
Will provide an environment of safety and accountability – Pastors and leaders need a safe harbor. We need a place where we can drop our guard and speak with vulnerability and transparency about the struggles of ministry. A good mentor provides an ear of empathy and a voice of wisdom for our distressed hearts. Not only that, but a good mentor holds us accountable for our personal time spent in the word or in prayer. Every pastor needs a pastor who can gently point their hearts back to Jesus and their hope back to the gospel.
A Good Mentee:
Will ask thoughtful questions – Well-thought-out questions are essential in helping to maximize mentorship. A fellow pastor once gave me one of the most practical pieces of advice on how to receive coaching from an established leader. He encouraged me to write down 10 questions before meeting with a mentor to help keep the conversation on track. Usually I only get through 3 or 4, but writing the questions down beforehand helps to better organize my thoughts and effectively make the best use of the time.
Will give honest responses – As important as it is to ask thoughtful questions, it is even more important to give honest answers. All of us want to be perceived as having it all together but this is rarely the case. A good mentor will ask pointed, probing questions and a good mentee will drop the façade of perfection and answer with honesty, even if the answer is not what you would like it to be. If you aren’t going to be brutally honest about the condition of your heart and the condition of your church, don’t waste an older brother’s time with your performance.
Will be quiet and listen – There is a time for everything. A time to ask thoughtful questions. A time give honest answers. And a time to be quiet and listen. If you’re like me, you are often guilty of not really listening, but simply waiting on your turn to speak. Battle against this temptation. God has given you the opportunity to learn from an established leader, don’t blow it by trying to impress with your wit or wisdom. Rather listen intently to what the Spirit is communicating to you through a faithful minister of the gospel.
If you are not currently mentoring or being mentored, pray that the Spirit would lead you into a mentoring relationship. If you are currently mentoring or being mentored, lean into that relationship. God is using it to make you more like Christ and to advance his kingdom.