By Michael A. Rowe
Before I retired last summer after more than four decades of full-time pastoral ministry, my wife Maggie and I faced many unknowns.
Would we stay in our home or relocate? Could we afford to live on social security and our modest retirement account or would we need to supplement our income? Should we move closer to the kids and grandkids?
While we opted to relocate, one of the biggest decisions—how to invest at least part of our time—had already been made.
Long before we moved, we began to pray God would allow us to come alongside younger ministry professionals in our new location. We assumed that would primarily be in the context of encouraging the lead pastor and staff wherever we found a church home.
Maggie and I both feel strongly about the need to encourage younger pastors and their spouses wherever we live. We had been fortunate to serve three churches we loved, but one thing was lacking in each ministry location: a mentor.
What I would have given to have an older man to sit down with occasionally who didn’t have a “dog in the race” when it came to my pastorates.
While we have certainly found opportunities to do that, God has also quickly led us into relationships with several young pastors in our region. When we invited them for a casual supper in our home, we discovered that each one was well acquainted with the loneliness and isolation of full-time ministry.
Yes, they can attend conferences, read books and network with colleagues, but few churches are able to provide a staff member or lay leader whose primary purpose is to care for the soul of the pastor.
I asked pastors Jason, Timothy, Stephen, and James to suggest ways mature believers can serve as mentors for younger pastors. Here are three.
1. Be available to be a confidante
“Many congregants have no idea how isolated a pastor can feel,” says Pastor Stephen Buys, Campus Leader at Lake Hills Church in Haywood County, North Carolina.
“Most pastors answer to a board of elders or deacons, human resource team, or denominational hierarchy. While spiritual accountability is the honest intention of this structure, its success is dependent on the people who serve within it.
“Pastors fear being unfairly evaluated or judged by those whose primary concern is not their spiritual health. Young ministers are seeking a safe place where they can let their guard down and express their struggles. An experienced pastor who is willing to be that safe space without casting judgment is a treasure most young pastors will never know.”
Another young man I meet with regularly is James Dager, director of worship media at Biltmore Church in Asheville, North Carolina. James oversees the technical staff and over 100 volunteers on six campuses with nearly 8,000 weekly attendees.
“After being in full-time ministry for close to ten years, I realized unless I began to seek counsel from others, my time in ministry would be short-lived,” James says.
“It’s imperative to confide in others who have walked in our shoes. We need to remind ourselves that we are just as lost and broken as those we are counseling.”
2. Love them like they’re your own kids
“Being a pastor who was raised by a single mom, a mentoring relationship with a seasoned pastor is just one way God restores the dynamic of fatherhood that so many of us missed growing up,” writes Jason Speier, pastor of Haywood Community Church.
“When I preach a message to my congregation about the love of the Heavenly Father, I’m able to do so knowing I’ve experienced a fatherly love through adopted dads God has placed in my life. This leaves me with a real sense of practical grace in my life and ministry.”
Adds Buys, “Our religious culture has created an expectation that the pastor is to be the mentor, not have mentors. He’s supposed to be the disciple-maker, not seek out discipleship. If a young pastor seeks those things, he could be seen as having a problem or a secret he doesn’t want anyone to know about.”
I think more of us would be willing to step forward to mentor younger people in ministry if we realize what they need most is to be listened to and loved unconditionally, just like our own kids.
Maggie and I have also made ourselves available to help with childcare so that our younger friends in ministry can have nights out without the financial burden of hiring babysitters.
3. Find ways to bring young pastors together
When Maggie and I were in the pastorate, free nights were rare but we appreciated invitations to congregants’ homes. Occasionally, though, conversations would steer towards debatable church matters, leaving me feeling as if I’d never left the office.
One of our goals in our retirement years is to regularly bring young pastors together, sometimes with their families, for a night out with no expectations.
To simply let them enjoy putting their feet under a table with others who don’t know the people or the issues in their congregations but can empathize regardless.
Timothy Brown, Sr. Pastor at First Baptist Church of Arden, North Carolina, suggests it would help to have mentor assistance establishing support groups.
“An older pastor might have substantial resources and people to call upon. Mentors could help us pair up for sharing, support, prayer, and friendship. They might suggest a book we could read together or a video that would strengthen us spiritually.
“Most importantly,” says Brown, “Young pastors should commit to ‘paying forward’ what they learn, building into the life of another as an expression of appreciation for what was done for them.”
Michael A. Rowe
Michael, along with his wife Maggie, served three congregations in New England and the Midwest over 42 years of pastoral ministry. One of their goals in their retirement years is to come alongside younger pastors with assistance and encouragement. The Rowes live and write from Peace Ridge, their home in western North Carolina.