The Necessity of Pastoral Mentorship

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.

Comment

David Sons

David Sons serves as the Family & Discipleship Pastor at Lake Murray Baptist Church in Lexington, South Carolina. He graduated in from SEBTS in 2019 with his Master of Divinity degree. He is married to Allyson and they have three children.

Learning to Love the Process

If I could summarize my time at SEBTS, I would say it was both a deeply challenging season and some of the most formative years of my walk with Christ so far.  Coming to SEBTS was never in the plan for me nor did I accept it quickly when the Lord placed it on my heart to come.  Working as a full-time nurse was both enthralling and comfortable at the same time-not because it was an easy job nor was it the wrong career choice. It was my plan and what I knew. For as long as I could, I ran from that plan because it didn’t make sense in my finite mind.  But God, somehow in his mystery and sovereignty, had a plan for SEBTS to be the design for me to become more like His Son Jesus.  Coming to SEBTS revealed a lot of my rebellious heart and at the same time revealed a deep tenderness of the Lord that I had not known previously. 

“Come over for dinner around 6pm,” Tara Dew said.  SEBTS is full of highly intelligent professors and some of the most incredible people I have ever had the privilege of studying under, but the main reason Wake Forest became like home to me was because of the people I found here in this place.  God’s heart and lovingkindness often-times can be learned through studying in a classroom and for that I am so grateful.  The education I received here taught me the counseling concepts of how to weep with those who weep but more than anything the people who were teaching me were exemplifying these same character traits and concepts we were learning in those very books.

Learning to love the process has been a theme of the last 3 years of my life.

In July of 2017, I was coming out of a pretty dark season in my life. Life seemed out of control. It was hard and days seemed long. I would now describe it as a cloud of darkness that seemed to follow me everywhere and as fast or as far as I tried to run, it still towered over me. I prayed to the Lord that he would allow those hard months of trial and uncertainty to one day be used for his glory. Hindsight is 20-20 but I would almost say now, that it is necessary to walk through these kinds of days and months, sometimes years, that we more deeply know the God we read of and learn about in the bible and in textbooks.

These words I wrote in those days are a more accurate description of the really difficult places we may find ourselves intersected with God’s sweet loving-kindness.

“God, sometimes the obstacles in my life seem like chasms and I don’t even know how to move forward; I need you to help me break down walls in my own my own heart to see how you want me to live a Holy life, despite how I feel.” (March 29, 2017)

“Even when my ‘feel box’ doesn’t feel like feeling, point me to your feelings.  Even when I am up and down, lead me to the truth that is steady. Even when I don’t see a reason to be sad/lonely/etc., teach me comfort in you.  And Lord, if I can ask one more thing-help me to know my lifeline is you…”

I have learned that emotions and feelings aren’t always right-they are a thermometer for what’s really going on inside my heart. We can feel those different emotions and still trust the God who gave them to us. And I am continuing to learn the desire for something more than being in control of my life. Control is a delusion and it’s not possible as a mere human. I have experienced un-comfortableness, being in the middle of the will of God and, there is no joy comparable.  It may sound simple- but contentment comes through trust in Christ.

Isn’t that what we long for at the core of who we are? To be content and satisfied in this life. The longings we had as a young person to grow up, go to college, get a degree, get married, have kids and so on.  I believe, as a follower of Christ, there is a desire much deeper than the American dream- much more than being in control. Much more than always knowing the next step of life.  When I’m so focused on being in control, I can’t possibly enjoy the process because my mind is only focused on the end result., not what God is doing in me. 

I’ve found in the abandonment of my own plans, there is Jesus.  His faithful, loving arms wrapped tightly around me, saying, “Daughter, why did you fear and why are you trying to do this thing called life on your own?  I will never leave you.”

Faith in action is living moment by moment in the arms of the Lord that he has given me this day to live in and trust him no matter the circumstances of my day. 

God did lead me to a place away from my home. He did make me uncomfortable. He did make me a grown up in more ways than one. He did move me away from my friends and everything I had ever known. He asked for much sacrifice.  But friends, the reward was and is so much greater than the sacrifice.

He sustained me through dark nights when I couldn’t understand how he could possibly work everything out for my good and his glory.  His faithfulness met me in moments of panic and sheer disbelief.  Jesus gave me himself, and he was enough.  I finally got a glimpse of just a small piece of what Paul says in Philippians 4:19- He supplied every need. He gave me all that I needed exactly when I needed it.

He tore the veil and continues to make a way for me to trust him and daily walk in a manner worthy of His Gospel…only by his grace and mercy.

Ministry is hard work, but if I have learned one thing it is this—It’s God’s work. We are surrendered and submitted to a sovereign God who is working in ways we will never understand, and our part of the story is to be faithful to His work, faithful to His church, and faithful to surrender EVERY SINLGE MOMENT to Him before we ever try to change/love/counsel or minister to His people.Learning God’s word transformed my heart to be more like Christ while I got to see the very word lived out in the lives of the teachers who were teaching me.The Southeastern community has become part of me and I am honored to be alumni.

Comment

Hannah Adkins

Hannah graduated with an MA in biblical counseling from Southeastern Seminary in December 2018. She works as an RN and a part-time session leader at Hope Reins Equine Ranch. She blogs at For the Glory of the King and in her free time, you can find her exploring new food places, playing with her dog Selah, reading a good book or spending time with the people she loves.

Reflections on Law and Grace

Sometimes one may believe things to be true on an intellectual level, but have a difficult time making practical application of those truths. The context that springs to my mind is the Word of God. I would argue many Christians today say they believe God’s Word in its entirety. They may say God’s Word is inerrant, infallible, divinely inspired, and sufficient for all life and practice. They may SAY that, I’m almost sure. The rub occurs, however, when that Word they just described must be applied to real, sometimes difficult, life situations. It is at this crucial moment one unveils to what extent they actually believe God’s Word.

Dr. David Jones, Professor of Christian Ethics at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, once told me an equation that has proven to be frighteningly accurate: Stated belief + Actual practice = Actual belief. In other words, you believe no more of the Bible than you obey. Let that sink in for a moment. If that is true (and I believe it is) then, practically speaking, there would be virtually no Christians on the planet who ultimately believe God’s Word in its entirety. On what basis do I draw that conclusion? Christians do not live out the truth of Scripture in real life situations. This brings me to my reflection on law and grace.

It seems, while one desires desperately to affirm one’s belief in the truth of Scripture, the temptation remains to add one’s own opinions and standards to what God’s Word provides. I would venture to say most of the time this is unintentional, but it is practically unavoidable. Christians read the Bible, they make the effort to understand what it teaches through the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit, and yet they still end up applying principles that may or may not be biblical. Situational ethics become more prevalent when one has not settled in one’s heart and mind that Scripture is the basis for all life and practice.

Here is one example. The Bible teaches salvation by grace through faith in Christ alone. However, in the actual practice of the local church, it may appear an individual may also need to dress a certain way, act a certain way, or speak a certain way in order to “really” be saved. This is the subtle entrance of legalism. It is where believers inadvertently communicate that Christianity is more about new believers being like us than being like Jesus. I don’t know how widespread this concept is. It may just be me, though I don’t think it is. I believe there are churches all over the country filled with well-meaning people trying to be faithful to Scripture who are unwittingly slipping into the mold of modern day Pharisees. The problem is this: the Pharisees killed Jesus.  That’s not really a group with which I want to be identified.

Therefore, I believe we should all exercise a reasonable level of caution. I believe we should all preach the gospel to ourselves each day and be reminded that no one can be saved by becoming more like you or me.  “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). I believe God wants disciples rather than Pharisees.

Comment

Mike McCormick

Dr. McCormick serves as Lead Pastor for Berlin Baptist Church in Salley, SC. He has been a pastor since 2003, following five years of service with the South Carolina Baptist Convention. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Economics from Clemson University (1994) as well as Master of Divinity (2007) and Doctor of Ministry (2015) degrees from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is married to Darlene McCormick (1996) and they have three daughters, Elizabeth (2001), Katelyn (2003), and Sarah (2008). Dr. McCormick maintains a personal blog at https://countryboypastor.home.blog/.

When It's Not What You Thought

I walked across the platform to receive my diploma in Binkley Chapel in the spring of 2014. By the fall of 2017, I found myself on staff at my second church since graduation.

What happened?

We ask ourselves questions like this over the course of our lives, often when things do not go as planned. Check your social media, or if you dare, call around among your old friends from college or seminary. Scattered in the background of the success stories, the booming church plants, the fantastic food in the far-off country, and the Instagram-worthy devotions and hand-lettered quotes, you will find a plethora of upset expectations. The guy in your church history class, the one jazzed about going to an unreached people, his missionary journey misfired when a doctor diagnosed him with melanoma. The Hebrew savant who never missed a niphal received only a few returned communications from all the résumés he sent out—all of them cutting contact after speaking with him one time. The gifted preacher you knew had to go back to secular work because his church could not afford to compensate him as a husband and father of three.

As we rehearsed ancient verb paradigms, wrestled over contextualization issues, and read cinder block-sized books into the night, we never foresaw these challenges. We did not hear these stories at the conferences or even in chapel. We did not sin ourselves out of service, discharging ourselves through disqualification, no. Things just did not go the way we expected.

After graduation, I joined a family member in Louisville, KY working to revitalize a dying church. I knew I would serve bi-vocationally, and the work would bear much in the way of difficulty. We had more than a few irons in the fire at our church. The church property stood in a populated, urban area, a fertile ground for local evangelism. A church of immigrants partnered with us, and we pursued a merger between our two congregations to establish an intercultural church. We began going through our church rolls, visiting dozens of addresses belonging to inactive members, seeking to reintroduce them to the church, perhaps seeing nominal Christians convert to disciples of Jesus. We initiated a homeless ministry, serving hot breakfast and coffee on Saturday mornings while sharing the gospel.

Yet, we baptized no new believers. We saw no returned wayward members. The intercultural church we hoped to pursue became a thing of conflict and a mind-blowing time-drain. I picked up a third job teaching at a small Christian school. I never expected to become the titular character in a superhero story, but I certainly did not see myself as Vain-Hoping Citizen #2, either. Our attending congregation of twenty elderly people dwindled to twelve within a year.

We hosted a summertime Vacation Bible School. We had decent attendance, and a small church plant helped us execute the VBS. None of our attending families would join us on Sunday mornings, and when we invited the church plant to join us for a service one morning, less than five of our normally attending members joined us for worship. We looked and felt just a little silly in front of these people who helped us so much.

Eventually, God led our church into information and through circumstances which revealed the wisest thing to maintain a continuing gospel witness in our part of the city: becoming adopted by another church. A sister church had people, but they were running out of space in their building. We had plenty of building space, and not much in the way of members to gather and worship in it. The other church adopted ours, receiving our staff into theirs and our membership into their own. By a year into the adoption, God moved my family member into a new pulpit in Indiana, and I took a position teaching and discipling teens in South Carolina.

I never pictured my first pastoral position lasting scarcely three years. They felt like ten. We suffered a miscarriage, and God blessed us with our third child. I walked through my first church discipline situation and underwent back surgery.

What happened?

God chose my family to bear faithful witness to the risen Lord Jesus to homeless people and children from beyond broken families. God sent my family to encourage others in a difficult work in a hard place. The Holy Spirit used two young families to shepherd a small, wounded, and dying congregation into the care of other shepherds who will see them to the grave.

Isaiah 55:11 reads:

So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth;

It will not return to Me empty,

Without accomplishing what I desire,

And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.

I am nothing more than a man guided by the Spirit of God. My job was and remains serving as an announcer of the gospel call: come, you thirsty, and drink of the living water! Cease binging on what leaves you empty! (Isaiah 55:1–2 and John 7:38). God appointed my family and I as midnight riders, blowing the trumpet of Christ’s grace. The news fell on the ears God intended. It will accomplish the purpose he put forth. Perhaps we planted seeds only, and another will water them. Perhaps our mouths operated as watering cans, nurturing the seed along until it bears fruit one day. The possibility remains of our words serving as unheeded warnings to which some will bear account before King Jesus on the Final Day.

The years directly following my time in seminary did not go according to my plan, whatever it was. Instead, they conformed to the better plan, the plan of the King. Wherever God put you, remain ready with the gospel you learned, the news you heeded, the call you obeyed. Our disappointments and slips do upend the call of faithfulness where God roots and uproots us. Perhaps you expected different. Remember, if we truly appreciated the depth of our sin, we would expect different from our own eternity. Staying, going, disappointed, or delighted, speak His name and his work that He find you faithful in His sight.

Thank you Dr. & Mrs. Akin!

It has been a joy this month to celebrate Dr. and Mrs. Akin on 15 faithful years of service at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary! In one day, graduates of SEBTS and C@SE gave over $1,200 in honor of the Akins. The stories we have heard from students and graduates alike confirm that many in the Southeastern family have been impacted in some way through the ministry and service of Dr. and Mrs. Akin.

I, personally, am immensely grateful for sweet Charlotte Akin. Prior to coming to SEBTS to finish my degree I followed her and Dr. Akin from afar on social media. Mrs. Akin’s posts were/are centered around others. She is always edifying others, not for her own praise, but to draw others to Jesus. About a year after living in Wake Forest and having a few short interactions with her, I wanted to know more about her life. I crafted an email to her asking to have lunch and then thought “yeah right, like she will actually have time (or honestly, the desire) to go to lunch with me!” To my delightful surprise, she agreed! I was able to learn more about Charlotte, the girl who was miraculously brought to faith through Jesus Christ and who grew into a mature, vibrant warrior for Him. That one move on my part sparked a friendship that I will forever cherish. Mrs. Akin is not only my seminary president’s wife; she is my friend and a woman who I aspire to emulate as she emulates Christ.

I have learned much about leadership from Dr. and Mrs. Akin. One unusual quality that they both share as leaders is accessibility. My first time on campus I was amazed that the President’s Office was so highly visible with a “Welcome, come on in” sign on the door. In previous jobs, I would have never even imagined emailing a president’s wife directly asking for a casual lunch. The Akins are leaders who make others feel comfortable, welcome, and valued no matter who you are or where you come from. I am grateful for how they champion those around them. I join with a host of others who say thank you, Dr. and Mrs. Akin, for how you live, love, and lead others to love the Lord with all we have and to love our neighbor as ourselves.

This month, we are honoring Dr. Akin’s 15 years of ministry and leadership at Southeastern Seminary. If you have a story about his impact on your life please feel free to share it with us at alumni@sebts.edu and we’ll post it to the blog. Additionally, in honor of Dr. Akin, we are asking alumni and current students to contribute $15 in his honor to the For the Mission campaign by clicking here.