You Need More than a Mentor

After 13 years of ministry I was fortunate to jump on a start-up rocket ship and fly all over the U.S. consulting in churches. I was probably in four hundred churches over the five+ years. I don’t want to exaggerate here, but I believe I heard over two hundreds times “please help us find a _______” youth pastor, kids pastor, worship leader, executive, tech director, etc. Size of church, denomination, and region of the country did not matter.

I also came to realize that churches and church leaders of all types are still isolated and alone most of the time. Despite the conferences, blogs, tweets, and more, most feel as though they have no one to talk to and no one would ‘understand.’

This is acutely a problem in the first years of ministry. New church leaders who are just beginning need a coach more than ever. I define a ‘coach’ to our graduates as someone who is five years ahead of them in a ministry that appears to be something of which they would want to be a part.  One hour a month on a Skype, or a call, the newbie brings the questions and the coach is there to…well…coach.

I like the definition of coaching as one who supports a learner in achieving a specific professional goal. It’s not discipleship, or even mentoring. We all need these things, too. Coaching is the act of helping a new pastor stay in the game, to realize they aren’t alone, to overcome obstacles, and avoid the future ones.

I had this in my first three years of ministry. I sought it out, and I didn’t even know what I was doing. I could tell you their names and they are friends to this day: Glenn, Greg, Bart…when one didn’t have time I sucked the life out of another one. They took me to conferences, they had ideas I could steal, and they had leadership tools I could borrow until I developed my own. Most days I was lost, and many times felt like giving up. They gave me the confidence to know that they had lived through it, and I would as well.

A year in I knew that ministry was hard! Two decades + later I now know the truth: doing anything that is ‘awesome’ is pretty difficult.Why do I take on really difficult and seemingly impossible things? Well, it’s the way God wired me: Walk in to a mess, start cleaning, tear down what’s left, cast a vision, people begin to follow it, they make it their own, and something gets built that is bigger than all of us.

Surely I heard in college that this would be hard, but wasn’t listening. I am sure that I’ve been to countless conferences, and sat through sessions about these topics, as well. But it cemented into me in my first few years of ministry with Glenn, Greg, and Bart. I was fortunate. I was lucky.

WE have to stop allowing men and women to wander into the wrong place, all alone, get beat up, and then quit within the first three years. For those of us who are guiding and encouraging the next generation of leaders we should require them to have a coach as they walk in to ministry. A lot of us should be doing this, too. This should be normal. This should not be luck. Let’s work to make it so.


helpsDave Miller