Many pastors feel isolated and helpless, especially those just starting out in pastoral ministry. However, it helps to have a trusted friend who has traveled the road and can be a guide for navigating the journey. In their new book, Shepherding the Pastor: Help for the Early Years of Ministry, Phil Newton and Rich Shadden share the benefits they have gained from pastoral mentoring.
In this interview with Phil and Rich, we learn more about their relationship and the importance of mentorship for pastors.
Q: Shepherding the Pastor is largely based on your own mentor/mentee relationship. How did the two of you meet and begin work in ministry together?
Phil: We met around 2009 when I pastored South Woods Baptist Church in Memphis. Rich was a seminary student whom I met while visiting the seminary. He and Kristy visited our church one Sunday and soon joined. During that process of attending and showing interest in membership, I asked him to become part of our pastoral internship where I mentored and trained men for eldership, pastoring, missions, etc.
Q: You both have seen the need for a resource such as yours for a number of years, so why did you wait so long to write Shepherding the Pastor?
Phil: Maybe we needed a nudge! Rich posed the idea to me, maybe two years ago, as he had finished up his ninth year of pastoral work at Audubon Park Baptist Church in Memphis. We discussed it and it seemed a good resource for pastors.
Rich: I began reflecting on how much of an influence Phil had on my life and ministry as I approached ten years at Audubon Park. It was clear to me that God used Phil to help me stay the course at APBC, and I was deeply thankful for our friendship. I also considered how so many young pastors don’t have mentors who can walk with them through the various seasons of ministry. So I talked with Phil about the idea of writing a book that could help young pastors as they faced similar challenges, and also encourage younger and older pastors to develop mentoring relationships.
Q: Why is it important for a young pastor to find a mentor for the beginning years of his work in ministry? Why should more experienced pastors find the time to take a younger man under his wing?
Phil: As for young pastors, the reality is that you don’t know what you don’t know. I reflect on when I began serving as pastor for a church in March 1978. I had been on a couple of church staff teams and had a good bit of experience preaching, but shepherding a congregation and preaching twice each Sunday and leading the midweek service was new to me. There’s a weightiness to preaching every week that one doesn’t understand until faced with the challenge. Plus, dealing with the idiosyncrasies and issues in people’s lives, knowing how to navigate varied personalities, understanding how to pastorally counsel, and getting a grip on leading are all a process. Having a more experienced pastor or pastors come alongside, listening to questions, offering counsel, and especially giving affirmation when on track, prove to be essential in continuing the pastoral work without it overwhelming you.
As for more experienced pastors taking on mentoring/shepherding a younger one, it’s the pattern that is so evident throughout church history. Jonathan Edwards was mentored by his father and grandfather, and he mentored Joseph Bellamy, who in turn mentored a group of pastors in the 18th century. Robert Hall Sr. and John Newton pastorally mentored Andrew Fuller, William Carey, John Sutcliff, and John Ryland Jr., among others, who in turn, became the leading pastoral theologians and mission leaders among English Baptists in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. They mentored their fair share too. I see this as a stewardship entrusted to us by the Lord. If the Lord has invested so much in us, then we have a responsibility to pass it along—not in a domineering way but with humility that comes alongside younger pastors to encourage and point them in the right direction. The more experienced must certainly not try to shape young brothers into their image but seek to show them how Christ is formed in us and how the Good Shepherd works through his undershepherds.
Rich: Young pastors are often full of zeal, energy, and a wealth of biblical knowledge learned in seminary. That combination can lead to a quick firing or a divided church if not tempered with wisdom. Wisdom is cultivated with time and the ongoing application of the Word. Young pastors lack time and experience in pastoral ministry. They haven’t encountered the different ministry challenges that an older pastor has. A young pastor needs a seasoned pastor to come alongside him and be a wise voice helping him discern how to shepherd the church with patience and teaching.
More experienced pastors have a wealth of wisdom to offer but often aren’t sure how to help. They just need to be asked. I have learned through experience that most seasoned pastors really enjoy talking through the challenges and joys of ministry and offering guidance to younger pastors. I want to encourage seasoned pastors to take the initiative and develop relationships with younger pastors to encourage them. Help channel their energy and zeal in a God-honoring direction. Most young pastors are like sponges and will soak up any time with you they can have.
Q: What are some of the biggest challenges facing young pastors in the early years?
Phil: Sunday keeps coming every week! The challenge of preparing fresh sermons each week, properly feeding the flock on the Word, being pastorally sensitive to how to lead and counsel the members, keeping an eye on wandering sheep, all collapses into intense pressure from the early months. A young pastor may be enamored with preaching—and that’s understandable—but there’s more to preaching. He will discover that the weight of pastoral work will often stymie his well-laid plans for sermon preparation. He must be ready, though, when he steps into the pulpit. He cannot make excuses for why he’s not ready. That’s just part of the work. Yet in this weekly challenge, the young pastor learns that he must trust the Lord, exercise wise discipline, walk in humility, and continue to be teachable.
Rich: I think learning how to manage time as a pastor is crucial. Ministry needs never cease, and a young pastor can find himself suffocating under the weight of ministry responsibilities. It is important to learn from Scripture what exactly a pastor is supposed to do, and then schedule time around those priorities. Preaching the Word, praying for the congregation, training the church for ministry, counseling, and administration all need to be factored into the schedule.
I would also say that patience is critical to faithful pastoral ministry. Young pastors often want to see things move at a pace the church isn’t ready to embrace. Be patient. Guard your life and your doctrine and let the Word do the work!
Q: Can you tell us some of the situations that are discussed in Shepherding the Pastor?
Phil: I remember telling Rich once he began serving as pastor at Audubon Park, that about six months in, he would ask himself, “What have I done?” I laugh to note that he said that happened much sooner, more like six to eight weeks into the pastorate. We talk through how to deal with pastor shock. Another important issue he faced, as many do, was learning how to navigate power groups or the old guard or turf shepherds—whatever one wants to call them. It’s when there are a few people who think they are the church, and nothing can happen without their consent. Most of the time they lack biblical insight and humble leadership when asserting their ways. How do you walk through that kind of setting? We spend time discussing it.
Rich: Here is one example. On Wednesday evenings, our church had a prayer meeting. The only problem is that we spent about five minutes praying. We ate together, I taught the Word, and then we prayed. So, I decided, without praying about it, and without seeking wisdom from Phil or other mentors, to change the prayer meeting to an actual prayer meeting. The move was met with resistance. Not because the people didn’t want to pray, but because I charged ahead without patience and teaching. Attendance dropped significantly, and I learned a valuable lesson about pastoral care during that time. Layer teaching with more teaching before making any significant changes. Talk with people. Hear from them. Learn and be patient.
Q: There are many expectations put on a pastor by his congregation, and there is a learning curve for young pastors as they settle into their position. What tasks are absolutely necessary for the pastor, and what can be delegated? How can you communicate boundaries to church members?
Phil: I must admit that communicating boundaries is not always easy. I tell one story in the book about how I tried to do this with my study time and how the congregation reacted. They were not accustomed to having a pastor who preached expositionally instead of topically, requiring diligent study before getting into the pulpit. I think I fought that battle for almost five years. Some boundaries you attempt to set upfront but sometimes you must return to them here and there. People learn by layering, so you learn to layer these positions to get them ingrained into the thinking of the congregation.
As far as absolutes, I think the wise pastor follows Acts 6:4, “But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (ESV). These two disciplines of prayer and the Word, seeking the Lord on behalf of the church and shepherding through the exposition of Holy Scripture must not be given over to lesser things. But there’s generally a battle at this point. Administrative issues, while certainly important, often squeeze prayer and Word out. Pastors must learn to set boundaries with their schedules and daily disciplines on this point. There are a lot of things that I found I would jump to take care of, robbing myself of time in the Word and prayer, only because I wanted them handled my way. There’s a pride issue at this point. It’s hard to let things go. Yet after forty-four years of pastoring, I don’t look back and say, “I wish that I had spent more time doing administration.” Others might do a better job with administration than you do, but you have to be willing to let go to focus on your priorities. Give counsel for what you want, have discussions, but turn others loose so that you will be a man of God who faithfully shepherds the flock.
I would add, a pastor must never neglect his own devotion life with the Lord. Setting time apart each day to nurture his soul will enable the time in prayer and the Word to be rich and satisfying. He’s got to give attention to soul-care, without which he fails to mirror Christ’s life being lived out of him.
Rich: What Phil said is excellent. The only thing I would add is to equip the church to care for one another. Yes, pastors need to be available and (gladly) willing to shepherd the people entrusted to our care. But why are there so many “one another” passages in Scripture? It is because the church is to fulfill the “one another” commands in Scripture. The body will care well for itself if trained to do so. Brothers and sisters in the congregation should build one another up in the faith. Not every situation needs pastoral care from a pastor. Training a congregation to live this way will create a healthier church and healthier pastors.
Q: Talk to us about how regardless of the situation he encounters, a pastor must learn to rely only on the Word and on God.
Phil: It is only the work of God through the Word and Spirit that brings about anything truly spiritual and lasting. If we believe the gospel of Jesus is the foundation of life and eternity, then we’re reminded that it’s not our power and might, not our education and theological acumen, not our personality and gravitas that transforms lives. It’s only the work of grace through the gospel applied that forms Christ in a people. Pastors use the means of grace which they lead (Word, prayer, the Lord’s Supper, worship, etc.) to help effect these transformations, but they cannot make them happen. If they can make them happen, then someone else can unravel them. Plus, if we think that we’re the change agent for the church, we will grow in arrogance rather than humble God-dependence.
Rich: I just can’t imagine standing before the Lord and him asking, “Why didn’t you build my church the way I told you to in my Word?” We aren’t going to be held accountable for our creativity or ingenuity (I suppose these things do have some degree of value). But we will be held accountable for our faithfulness to exemplify and teach the Word. God accomplishes his purposes through the Word, and we must trust that he is working even when the results aren’t what we hope to see.
Q: What one piece of encouragement would you like to leave with any pastor, young or old, who reads Shepherding the Pastor?
Phil: You might do pastoral mentoring differently than we do, which is fine. There’s no one right way to make this happen. But realize that when you as an experienced pastor invest in a younger pastor, you become part of his ministry, although in the shadows. You will find joy in seeing what the Lord is doing and how he is shaping the younger pastor and transforming his congregation. Even when a younger pastor faces extreme challenges and sees that it’s time to move on, the experienced pastor will have the joy of walking alongside him in transition, caring for his soul, and learning more about the ministry and soul-care for himself, too.
Rich: I hope this book will encourage you that in whatever season of ministry you are in at the moment, to endure with joy, whether you glean some help directly from the book or are encouraged to find and establish a relationship with a mentor. Pastoral longevity is the aim! One overarching emphasis of Scripture in regard to pastoral ministry seems to be teamwork. Jesus doesn’t intend for his undershepherds to do this work alone. In his goodness, he provides co-laborers to come alongside and help. That’s a principle that operates among pastor/elder teams and as young pastors are mentored by seasoned pastors. Jesus cares about the spiritual health of his undershepherds. We are sheep first! Then shepherds. So pursue what he wants you to have: Christ-centered relationships.
Shepherding the Pastor: help for the Early Years of Ministry
Many pastors feel isolated and helpless, especially those beginning pastoral ministry. Phil Newton and Rich Shadden know what this road is like, and they want to share what they have gained from pastoral mentoring—Rich, a young pastor receiving support and guidance from Phil, an older, more experienced shepherd.