Why Every Young Pastor Needs an Old Mentor

“Sometimes the being is more important than the doing.”

My mentor shared this wisdom at our last meeting. He’s in his late-80s, almost 50 years ahead of me. He retired from a church in Indiana and moved to Bradenton several years ago. I inherited him with my church when I was called as pastor a few years ago. Unfortunately, he recently moved back to Indiana to be closer to family.

God gave me a spiritual heavyweight of encouragement with him. He sat a few rows from the back—prayerfully listening every week. He held no formal leadership position in our church. He did not need it because his prayers moved mountains.

Every young pastor needs an older mentor. I know that’s not a new thought. I press the point because it’s hard to overstate the value of wisdom from someone 50 years older than you. Unfortunately, young pastors tend to dismiss the oldest generation of leaders. Not overtly, of course. Few would explicitly state they don’t want to hear from someone older. The dismissal comes more in the form of time.

Our ears can only listen to so much before words start melting together. Podcasts, meetings, texts, phone calls, blogs, sermons—how many of them come from the oldest generation? If you’re like me, you tend to listen to people your age, maybe ten years older. Listening to the oldest generation takes effort. It’s not efficient. My mentor talks slowly, with careful nostalgia. But, if I pay attention, what I hear is the greatest hits album of his ministry. It should be played over and over again.

My old mentor brings hope. He got through the tough stuff and knows the way! He’s already taken the machete and blazed a trail. I need to follow his path.

My old mentor connects me to a significant generation. He helps me understand the oldest in my congregation. I can ask him questions without fear of offending him.

My old mentor forces humility. He has my permission to knock me down if necessary. But, usually, he gently picks me up.

My old mentor focuses my perspective. I want to major on the majors and minor on the minors. But what are the majors and minors?! He helps discern them for me.

My old mentor teaches friendship. It’s incredibly healthy to have friends who are much older (or younger) than you.

My old mentor reveals the value of prayer. If you were to ask him how he did it, he’d simply respond, “Prayer.” His one-word answers are usually accompanied by a story of God’s provision. These stories are worth the time of a thousand podcasts.

They are in your church, sitting near the back, quietly listening. Inside of them is decades of wisdom. Befriend one of them and strike gold. Sometimes the being is more important than the doing.

Posted on May 4, 2022

As President of Church Answers, Sam Rainer wears many hats. From podcast co-host to full-time Pastor at West Bradenton Baptist Church, Sam’s heart for ministry and revitalization are evident in all he does.
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  • One thing that I think is important to say as well is that “young” pastors do not exclusively mean chronological age. People can be called to ministry at any age. Those that start in ministry later in life are not chronologically young but ministerially they are young and need older, wiser mentors just as much as pastors that are both chronologically young and ministerially young.

    This raises the question about having chronologically younger but ministerially older pastors as mentors. Sam’s blog here focuses on both chronological and ministerial tenure. What about having a mentor with more ministerial experience than you but that is chronologically younger than you? It is important to remember that chronologically older and ministerially older are not synonymous. As an aspiring pastor, I have learned much from pastor friends that are chronologically younger than me but have been in vocational ministry longer. There is much to learn from such pastors as there are from those that are chronologically and ministerially older. Older doesn’t necessarily mean wiser either, but that is a separate discussion.

  • Rick Hassell says on

    Sam, I took have been blessed with older mentors thru my years in ministry. They’re individual and collective inputs in my life have been more valuable than I can fully describe. I’m now “the old man”, in my 48th year of ministry. I’m blessed to have a few men that trust me and share their ministry with me. I hope to be a blessing to them, but they bring joy to me.

  • Kevin Wilson says on

    I graduated Bible college 30 years ago with a degree in Bible with an emphasis in pastoral ministry. In that time, I have served the local church in every way imaginable, with the exception of baptizing someone. Now, at age 53, I have only served as senior pastor 1 year, back when I was 30 years old. Mentoring is definitely important, but where do you find a mentor? In my mind, just as important is having a place of ministry. I have often wondered why there isn’t a database set up that connects ministers to open churches or even appoints them. I’m not referring to lists of open churches to which one can send a resume. I am envisioning connection, a situation where we also have a list of available ministers, and someone available to introduce potential pastors to potential churches. I hear of churches needing pastors or even closing their doors, and I know there are many people like me who would pour out our hearts in these places, but there needs to be a point of connection initiated by each denomination. The church has vast resources we often do not tap into. Christ has a team waiting on the bench that’s ready to get in the game, but somehow they never see time on the floor. The church could change the world even more if we intentionally connected people to mentoring and ministry opportunities. We need to pave the way for ministry. More can be done.

    • Not Sam.
      A couple practical issues with regard to churches that need pastors. Not every pastor can serve at every church (at least as the different denominations and faith communities are constituted) – oh, that this fact would be different. Having a list of churches in need might not be helpful either because there is a question of administration and maintenance of the list and the profile for the churches searching for pastors.

      An opportunity for mentors has to come from connection. When I started in ministry I was “given” a mentor from my area. While it wasn’t bad, there was little added in the “relationship.” But fast forward, one of the new ministers in our community, who is not in my denomination, and established a mentoring relationship. I would argue mentoring can occur from within a denomination or faith community, but there is also a need for practical ministry mentoring in context. The person I connected with was serving in his first church (Methodist) and was overwhelmed with the minutia of ministry and was losing sight or pastoring.

      There should be a list but there are limitations on the long-term effectiveness of a list because a minister’s skills cannot be distilled to paper.

  • As a mentor, I love your message. We need more of them.