I wish I could tell you that it was my earliest pastors who taught me to pastor.
Yet my earliest mentors in my home church were several godly couples. The
pastor himself was decidedly a-theological, more concerned with denominational
programs than teaching the Bible or engaging people with the gospel. He didn't
offer any example even after several friends and I declared our interest in
When I began my first church staff position as a college sophomore, I had
little understanding of biblical ministry. My new pastor offered no help either.
The Lord gave me enough discernment to see that something wasn't quite right
about his evangelistic methodology, along with his lack of pastoral care. I
learned what not to do rather than what to do in ministry.
The next staff position was better since it provided many opportunities for
fruitful service. The pastor gave me plenty of time with him and chances to
preach and teach. Yet his work ethic and pulpit ministry left something to
be desired. Again, I saw things modeled that I knew should not follow
me into pastoral ministry.
A BURDEN FOR MENTORING OTHERS
My own poor experiences left me burdened to help biblically shape others,
once I got on solid footing myself. The Lord brought godly men at various points
to encourage me and shape my thinking. I also found help for mentoring in the
lives of the prophets, the ministry of Christ with his disciples, 2 Timothy
2:2, and the Pauline missionary journeys. Each example nudged me toward serving
my younger fellow ministers.
I am now in my fourth pastorate, and each one has helped me learn things that
I could have been taught through good mentoring. Along the way, I have talked
with older pastors to get counsel. They patiently mentored me. In my third
pastorate, a retired pastor joined our church and became a confidant and guide
through many difficult times. His friendship and sage advice gave me an increased
desire to do the same for younger men.
In my present pastorate at South Woods Baptist Church, I approach my own practice
of pastoral mentoring both formally and informally. Formal mentoring has two
branches. First, we offer pastoral internships. The ministry student begins
by spending one summer with our church, which sometimes branches out to spending
over a year with us.
An intern's syllabus includes
- writing reviews and papers on the various aspects of ministry,
- developing an expositional series through an epistle,
- preaching two or three times with critique by the elders,
- meeting with pastor/staff and elders,
- observing the church's teaching ministry,
- attending committee meetings,
- sitting in on pastoral counseling,
- and making pastoral calls.
Upon completion of phase one, the intern might be invited back for a more
intensive summer focusing on ten weeks of expositional preaching, teaching,
critiquing, ministry dialogue, and the regular demands of pastoral work.
I also do formal mentoring with staff members. I remember serving on church
staffs hoping one day to work as a senior pastor. I trust the same is true
of some of my present staff. Therefore, I should always model pastoral ministry
for them. Every decision made, person engaged, sermon preached, and attitude
displayed sets the tone for the future ministry of those under my charge. Even
in casual conversation, I realize that I must give no cause for offense or
discredit the high calling of pastoral work.
Along with modeling pastoral ministry, I also try to assign men with tasks
that will prepare them for the demands that they will face as a senior pastor.
That might involve particular preaching assignments or administrative duties
that will teach them how to take care of the details of ministry. When a staff
member preaches, my fellow elders or I discuss the sermon with him to help
strengthen areas that need refining. I also try to include staff in my discussions
involving plans and people, especially giving attention to honing rough edges
in handling relationships.
One of the most important things that I can do for staff is to help them understand
the diversity in the body of Christ and how to work patiently with all sorts
of people. If I can model servant-ministry to them, I think it sticks in their
minds as they move to serving beyond our congregation.
Informal mentoring takes place throughout the week by phone, email, and face-to-face
conversations. A number of young men in our church have indicated a call to
ministry. They are in preparation stage, with some attending seminary while
remaining active in our church. Though my interactions with them includes formal
discussions about preaching, hermeneutics, pastoral work, and so forth, most
of my instructive interaction with them is spontaneous, as I try to seize appropriate
moments to teach, instruct, counsel, and give direction.
These opportunities abound! Maybe it's taking a few moments to instruct a
brother on how to lead the Lord's Supper. Maybe it's talking about publicly
reading Scripture and then giving someone a chance to do so. Or maybe it's
an email on resources for sermons or interpretation questions.
INVEST IN PEOPLE
One missionary friend calls this "investing in people." At first, I thought
this was a strange term to use for people. But the more I observed him and
thought about my own ministry, the more I realized that "investing" is what
we're doing by helping others prepare for ministry. The yield isn't immediate
or even direct, but it will come.
Phil Newton is the pastor of South Woods Baptist Church in Memphis,
Tennessee and the author of Elders in Congregational Life (Kregel).
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