Starting out in ministry I felt certain I could make it on my own. Who needed a mentor? Armed with my fresh Master of Divinity degree, I oozed confidence. In a few short weeks I realized I was oozing blood not confidence. And if the bleeding didn’t stop, my ability to minister would soon die.
What I needed was someone in ministry to come along side of me. I needed a friend. I needed a mentor. But I never found one. I limped along. My ministry felt anemic. It wasn’t pretty but somehow I survived.
In reflecting on those days of ministry I realize how much I missed by failing to find a mentor. Many of the scars on my ministerial back would not exist if I had the guidance of a seasoned guide.
Finding a mentor, especially in this culture, is vital for young pastors and associates. If I could offer only one piece of advice to young clergy and associates it would be this: find a mentor.
Consider these 10 reasons every minister needs a mentor.
1. A mentor has learned life lessons only taught by time.
Degrees are great. I have several. But a formal education cannot prepare you for the rough and tumble world of ministry. There are some lessons you can only learn over time. The old saying is still true: “Experience is the best teacher.”
When you partner with a ministry mentor you tap into her experience. Your mentor can suggest and guide based on decades of experiences. Why would you want to learn the hard way when a mentor could serve as a resource?
2. A mentor can provide fresh eyes on your situation.
Have you ever explained a tough situation to a friend, only to have them shoot back with a way out? Why did this happen? Is your friend smarter than you? No. They brought a pair of fresh eyes to the situation.
It is so easy to get bogged down in the mire of details that you just can’t see your way out. You feel trapped. And the more your frustration grows, the more convinced you become there is no solution. A mentor comes to your situation with fresh ideas. He isn’t bogged down with your defeated attitude. The answers are there. You just need a mentor to help you uncover them.
3. A mentor can be your sounding board.
The plumber in the bathroom carried on an intense conversation about what needed to be done. An argument ensued. But there was something odd: only one voice could be heard. Upon further inspection it turned out he was alone. He needed a sounding board but, since he was alone, could only talk to himself.
Every minister needs a mentor to provide a sounding board from which to bounce ideas. Without one, you are only bouncing ideas off yourself. That’s ok but it is far better to dialogue about ideas with someone else.
4. A mentor brings the opportunity for connecting resources and people.
When starting out in ministry you have few connections. Even if you graduated from a college or seminary you still lack the depth of connections found in a mentor.
You need someone to connect you to resources which have proven to be helpful in ministry. You need to be connected to other ministers starting out on their journey who are willing to share their expertise. You need to connect with a mentor who can help in each of these areas.
5. A mentor can complement your weaknesses.
Here’s one of the secrets of effective ministry: you don’t need to be good at everything. The truth is you CAN’T be good at everything. So what do you do? You surround yourself with good people who complement your weaknesses. (This is one of the keys in hiring staff. But we’ll save that discussion for another time.)
Find a mentor who is strong in the areas in which you are weak. If you are not good at administration, find one who excels in that area. Are you weak in preaching skills? Find a mentor who can compliment you in this area and learn from him.
6. A mentor can help you see the big picture.
In my first pastorate the congregation had 24 people. During those early years I worked the hardest I’e ever worked. I was a visitation super star. Every week I wrote a sermon for the morning service, one for the evening service, a bible study for Wednesday night, and prepped to teach my Sunday School class. My full plate kept me from seeing the big picture.
You focus on the daily and weekly details. The big picture eludes you because you can’t take time from keeping the ball rolling. You need a mentor to help you see the big picture.
7. A mentor can encourage you to persevere.
How long were you in ministry before you wanted to quit? In my first pastorate we unloaded the truck with the help of a few people from the church. By the time they all left, I wondered what I had gotten myself into. Two hours into my ministry, I wanted to load the truck back up and leave in the midnight hours.
The weight of ministry is so crushing you will want to quit every Monday morning. You need a mentor to come long side of you to encourage you when the weight gets too heavy. Your mentor will know what to say because they have walked the trail of discouragement ahead of you.
8. A mentor can provide accountability.
If you haven’t discovered already, there is little accountability in ministry. Of course you will give a monthly report to the church board. But that isn’t much accountability. Every minister needs a method to be accountable for how they spend their time and how they do ministry.
Can we be honest? There are many opportunities to coast in ministry. You can fake it and make it look good, at least for a while. You need someone who can provide accountability. Find a mentor or a trusted friend with whom you can be accountable.
9. A mentor can help shoulder your load.
If you are serving in a ministry setting, you don’t need me to tell you that the demands on you are many. The expectation level of your congregants is high. You need to be calling, planning, counseling, writing sermons, and driving up to the hospital to hold Mrs. Trumble’s hand before bunion surgery.
A mentor can lighten your load. They can save you time by pointing you in the right direction. Why spend days sorting through a thorny problem when a mentor can cut those days into hours?
10. A mentor can be your friend.
There is no more lonely job than being in ministry. After seminary I took my first ministerial assignment in a small church in a small town. One day I was visiting in a home with a congregant who had stopped coming. She asked me how I liked being the pastor. I replied, “It’s fine, but I have no friends.” And in the middle of that sentence I broke down in tears.
A mentor does more than guide you in ministry. They also become your friend. Trust me. You need a friend in ministry.
If you don’t reach out and find a mentor, you can do what I did. You can limp along and learn every lesson by trial and error. But be prepared for the accumulation of hurts, discouragements, and the fight to keep on going.
Whether you reach out to me or another seasoned minister, do yourself a favor and find a mentor. There’s zero doubt in my mind you will be glad you did!