Three Helpful Ways for Older Pastors to Mentor Younger Pastors

January 13, 2021

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.

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9 Comments

  • Youssef Eric says on

    Hello pastor .
    God bless you and bless your ministry.
    I want to share with you about an other kind of pastors.
    Arabic Pastors CBB or MBB.
    Arabic pastors are just like Arabic Presidents and kings.
    Hope that you can help us to make for them training about the leadership.

  • Richard Lee Wall says on

    Good article! Every pastor needs a good mentor. My first and only mentor Journeyed with me through-out my ministry career. When I graduated from seminary and began my ministry, Dr. Mike Procter was there in providing encouragement and guidance as I attempted to ministry to the Lord’s church. He provided guidance during a difficulty time in our ministry when we were asked by our church members to leave. We were devastated, and decided to leave the ministry. However; with the encouragement and prayers from our mentor, we stayed in the ministry. We are still serving the Lord’s Church and will continue to do so, till the Lord allows us to retire. I am 68 years old. I appreciate my mentor and good friend, Dr. Mike Procter!

  • What do you think about having a mentor outside your tradition? I have found it worthwhile to both mentor to and be mentored by clergy who are not in my denomination but who minister in my societal context. As a small church minister in a semi-rural community there are no other churches nearby within my denomination. But there are many other denominations and non-denominational churches close by. While I’m not a long serving veteran minister (only 10 years in my church and community) I have made more than my fair share of trips around the sun.

    I have found it helpful to work with a couple Methodist ministers who are fresh out of seminary and are working in their first church and with little to no experience with the community dynamics of our village. I can help them not be overwhelmed by a “do everything” attitude and also to navigate the final stages of their full ordination process.

    Is this something you’ve seen before and do you consider it helpful mentoring?

    • Sam Rainer says on

      Yes! An outside perspective is usually helpful, especially if they understand your tradition and want to help you where you are (rather than persuading you away from your tradition).

  • Joel Burkholder says on

    Thanks, Sam! Being an older pastor (67 yrs. old), I sometimes wonder if there is any way for me to offer what I’ve discovered over 40 years of ordained ministry when I retire from active parish ministry. And there is!!! These were some great helps in how I can offer experience and my faith-life to those who will do what I do now and in the future.

  • “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.” This sounds good and right, but what would or could or does this look like for an older pastor to receive accountability? From whom? Thanks for your thoughts.

    • Sam Rainer says on

      Every church will have a different politity, so there is no one-size-fits-all answer. The main thing older pastors can teach is a willingness to be held accountable. This willingness means seeking out accountability within the church (and from trusted people outside the church). In my case, we have deacons at my church. I have invited them to speak into my life at any time and address any concerns they see. I asked them to do this proactively, which is better than reactive accountability (after you’ve already messed up). The point I was making was to get ahead of any problems. Older pastors often know their weaknesses far better than younger pastors and can model proactive accountability.

  • Tom Gibson says on

    Totally agree. After 42 years i may be “retired” in status but not in my love for the church or its leaders. I wear on my back the scars of him who died, but passionate about guiding young pastors in faithful service.

  • Kiely Young says on

    I have tried to accomplish this through my 50+ years of ministry. I have found a few that will listen, some who consider “old” ideas to be outdated and no longer valid. I have learned some new things from some of them.