In the last several decades, resources for pastors have proliferated. When religious research is conducted, pastors tend to be the focus. When I look at my office shelves, there are rows of books for pastoral leadership. Conferences, seminary degrees, and boutique consulting firms target pastors for leadership development. But none of these things can replace mentoring. Every pastor needs a mentor. I am deeply indebted to my mentor, Bryant Wright. I am a better pastor because of him.
The fifty-year veteran of shepherding has much to offer the newbie through mentoring. Unfortunately, I’ve seen more haphazard mentoring than fruitful mentoring. I’ve witnessed over-structured, formal mentoring programs scare away younger pastors. It doesn’t have to be this way.
What can the younger generation of pastors learn from the older generation of pastors? How can older pastors mentor younger pastors in a way that is helpful for the congregation?
Older pastors can show what honor looks like to younger pastors. When a younger person “aspires” to be a pastor, this person is desiring something “honorable” according to 1 Timothy 3. This passage also reveals the way a person proves this honor is through living with self-control, wisdom, and prioritizing the home. A pastor with decades of service likely has experienced numerous dark days in the church. Younger pastors will experience their own difficulties while serving. Older pastors can walk with younger pastors and remind them of how God honors commitment and loyalty, even in the valleys.
Older pastors can guide younger pastors through the unknown. I’ve noticed younger pastors can freeze when they encounter something unknown. It makes sense. When you don’t have knowledge or experience, you tend to hesitate. Older pastors can help younger pastors navigate the unknown. In many cases, older pastors have already been down the path that is unknown to the younger pastor.
Older pastors can demonstrate true accountability for younger pastors. A good reputation is earned over time with a lot of hard work. Faithful older pastors know good reputations don’t last without a willingness to be held accountable. True accountability occurs when people ask for it, rather than waiting until they are found out. Older pastors can mentor younger pastors by demonstrating what a willingness to receive accountability looks like.
Mentoring doesn’t have to be haphazard. Nor does mentoring have to be a formal program with rigorous weekly meetings. Mentoring can simply be older pastors seizing opportunities to model behavior for younger pastors. Younger pastors need to hear stories of battle scars from older pastors. Younger pastors need to see sacrificial giving lived out by older pastors. Younger pastors need to learn initiative from older pastors. And younger pastors will not likely learn true accountability unless older pastors model it.