I eagerly prepared to preach after a long delay from in-person worship gatherings with my church family. In God’s providence, the world had shut down from the COVID-19 pandemic. Months later as I sat there preparing, I felt the emotion with which Paul wrote 1 Thessalonians 2:17: “But since we were torn away from you, brothers, for a short time, in person not in heart, we endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face.” I greatly desired to see the saints at Audubon Park Church.
It wasn’t always that way. My early years at Audubon Park were tumultuous. There were times I honestly would have enjoyed long periods away. But in God’s kindness, the fellowship is now full of joy and delight. Approaching a decade of ministry at Audubon Park, I began recounting the journey. I realized that all of the pivotal moments when I needed counsel were covered with my mentor’s fingerprints. Whenever a pastoral challenge arose, I usually talked with Phil Newton. His biblical counsel and years of pastoral experience proved essential to my longevity at Audubon Park and to the church’s health.
Young Pastors Need Mentors
Having a pastoral mentor who has walked in your shoes may be one of the most important yet most neglected pieces of a young pastor’s journey. Too many young pastors plunge into ministry, quickly get overwhelmed, and suffocate under the pressure. On the other end of the pendulum swing, too many seasoned pastors have much wisdom to offer but aren’t sure how to invest in younger pastors. Both need to take the initiative in forming pastoral mentoring relationships. I want to share with you four reasons why forming pastoral mentoring relationships is vital to the health and longevity of a young pastor’s journey.
1. Mentors help young pastors apply sound doctrine with wise pastoral skill.
One of the essential responsibilities of a pastor is to feed the flock of God. Seminary often places a high emphasis on the right preaching of the Word. And rightly so! Knowledge of the biblical languages, proper exegesis, correct hermeneutical methods, and the development of homiletic skills are foundational tools for pastors. But pastoral ministry is relational. Whether you are preaching to the congregation or counseling a married couple, the application of the Word to the lives of God’s people takes pastoral skill—skill that is learned by personal experience but can be better cultivated in a healthy way by a pastoral mentor as you go through experiences.
As an example, many pastors have walked into a hospital room to comfort a dying saint for the first time. Certainly, God gives grace in these moments. But what if a young pastor went with a mentor to visit the sick before ever going on his own? He could observe how to apply the Word in those situations. Or at minimum, what if he had the opportunity to call his mentor and ask, “How should I approach this visit?” Would that not be beneficial? I think the answer is obvious. While young pastors may be sharp theologically, sometimes (more times than not) we lack the wisdom gleaned from years of experience that a pastoral mentor can provide.
2. Mentors help refocus a young pastor’s near-sightedness.
Youthful zeal is both a strength and a weakness. Young pastors typically have the motivation and energy to lead a church toward biblical transformation. But sometimes young pastors want to move churches in a particular direction at a pace that matches their own zeal. Before they know it, no one is following. This can lead to an early firing, or worse yet, a divided church. Churches are made up of people from different ages, backgrounds, and seasons of life. A pastoral mentor can help provide perspective that encourages a young pastor to set a reasonable pace.
If a young pastor wants to have a Word-centered ministry where the Word of God shapes the life of the church, he must let the Word do the work. This requires patience. Mentors who have walked the road before can help young pastors properly assess the health of a congregation and look for evidences of God’s grace. This will help him find encouragement when he will be tempted to grow discouraged because the church isn’t embracing his own personal pace.
3. Mentors reiterate the importance of a young pastor’s personal walk with Christ.
Particularly when starting out in ministry, a young pastor feels the need to prove himself as an effective pastor. Often he can become ensnared by ministry success, to the neglect of his own personal relationship with the Lord. Over the last decade of my pastoral journey, Phil reiterated the importance of my walk with Christ more than anything. I am indebted to him for this constant encouragement. Knowing the Christ I preach is of first importance before preaching the Christ I know.
When we stand before the Lord on that final day, we will be judged according to faithfulness to Jesus, not “ministry success.” A mentor who has experienced those same temptations can encourage a young pastor to focus on faithfulness to Christ, not the demands of sinners.
4. Mentors become friends.
Typically, the difference in age and experience defines a mentoring relationship. One has walked the road before, and the other learns. But true mentoring relationship should be defined by friendship, not usefulness. I am deeply thankful to the Lord for Phil. And admittedly, I’ve pulled much more from him than he ever has from me. But Phil has the heart attitude reflected by the apostle Paul toward the church at Rome in Romans 1:12, “that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith.”
Yes, young pastors need an older, wiser pastor’s counsel. But both he and his mentor need a friend. Someone you can share your burdens with who cares for you, and will pray for you. But you should care for your pastoral mentor too, even if the investment is small in comparison.
Find a Mentor
Young pastor, I hope you see the need to have a pastoral mentor. You might think, How do I find a pastor who will mentor me? Don’t feel overwhelmed. Just begin by forming a relationship and be intentional. Reach out to someone you think you can learn from. Ask questions about life, godliness, and ministry. Many pastors are eager to share what they’ve learned from experience, but just need someone to ask.
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.