Starting out in any field is not easy, but ministry has its own challenges. Most congregations expect that their new pastor or staff member will “hit the ground running” and be ready to deal with both the routine and the unexpected tasks encountered. Too often, our ministers’ preparation has not taught them how to reach out to others for support, guidance, or collegial relationships.
My recent experiences with young ministers indicate that most ministers in their first call—whether to a church as solo pastor or to a staff position—not only want but are eager for someone to become their mentor. Although the young minister may not use that term, he or she would welcome a relationship with a more experienced clergy person who would give them good feedback and even suggestions about their work.
When a church calls a new minister to staff, especially if that person is right out of seminary, the senior pastor or head of staff should expect to become a mentor for that person. I am sure that some pastor is reading this and saying, “Just what I need: another thing on my plate!” I will grant that being a mentor takes time, but it also takes patience, a teacher’s heart, and the ability to listen well. The reward for the mentor is helping a brother or sister in Christ become established and competent in ministry. If for no other reason, good mentoring can increase staff retention and health.
What about a young minister who is the solo pastor in his or her congregation? If the denomination does not provide a mentoring program, the young minister may need to seek out a mentor. This person might be the pastor of a local church, a retired minister, or a judicatory leader. This support is also available through organizations such as Pinnacle Leadership Associates that provide coaching for ministers at each stage of their profession or ministry. Seminaries are taking a more proactive role to meet this need and developing programs to support the minister in his or her first call.
A mentoring relationship can benefit both the protégé and the mentor, but the greatest benefit is to the congregation that the young minister serves. Congregations would do well to give thought to ways to provide this type of support. There are a number of freshly minted minister who are looking for a Barnabas to walk alongside them.