Leadership Mentoring: It Matters!

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It was Serve week in Whitinsville, Massachusetts.

Our church had never hosted a high school Serve before, and it had been over a decade since our church had experienced anything like it. Host team members were exhausted, congregation members were just starting to really understand what Serve was all about, our Senior Pastor was on sabbatical, and I, the glutton for punishment that had signed our church on for this in the first place, felt raw and vulnerable in a time and place when everyone was looking to me to lead.

And it was only Wednesday.

I found myself crying in the office. The devil had his foothold. I was feeling insecure, incapable, and unsure.

But I did not sit alone. Because there (hundreds of miles from their jobs, homes, and families)—sat Bob Grussing and Jolene DeHeer—listening to me, understanding me, reassuring me, praying with me, and praying for me.

That scene is only one of the dozens of similar scenes from over ten years of being mentored by Bob and Jolene; but it is the freshest as is it was only a few short months ago.

From the time I was in college and first started hearing God’s call into full time ministry till now, Bob and Jolene have made themselves readily available to me – and it has made all the difference.

It’s pretty common to hear youth workers talking about the importance of mentorship; but we usually just talk about it in terms of the students we work with.

We work to find prayer partners for students. We make sure we have handwritten notes of encouragement for each teen before we head off on a mission’s trip. We talk to our small group leaders about the significance of checking in with the students in their groups.

But how much time, and how much of our church’s resources, are we willing to spend on being mentored ourselves?

When we’re close to burn out, or the rug is pulled out from under us, or we’re working to hear what it is God is saying to us; who are we turning to to listen, understand, assure, pray with and pray for us?

It’s no secret that ministry leadership can be lonely. So how do you enter into a mentoring relationship with someone you can trust?

Here are 5 thoughts:

  1. Find the right fit. Find someone who can offer practical advice that resonates with you, but someone who also encourages you and challenges you personally and spiritually.  Although this sounds difficult, it is probably the easiest step. You are probably thinking of someone right now whom you admire in ministry, and wish you could pick his or her brain on a subject or two. That’s your person.
  2. Make it official. Formally ask someone to serve as your mentor, and define what you are looking for in a mentoring relationship. This may feel weird. It’s ok. (After being in church leadership for a while true, deep vulnerability as to your needs and shortcomings may feel like a luxury that you cannot afford; but that’s why you’re doing this in the first place.) By verbally asking someone to be your mentor you are formally asking someone to commit to bare witness to your vulnerability, and thus you can both be held accountable to that commitment.
  3. Set apart time to be mentored. I live a plane ride away from my mentor. We are not going to bump into each other. I have to, very intentionally, schedule time to meet, or it would never happen. The same concept applies even if you live one town over from your mentor. Schedule it. Make it part of your ministry rhythm. Don’t let it become that “good idea that you once had.”
  4. Reach out. You probably chose your mentor because you think highly of him or her and the work that they are doing in Christ’s kingdom. That means that your mentor is probably a fairly busy guy or gal, especially when it comes to ministry, so take the initiative to reach out and call him or her when you need to chat.  
  5. Encourage your church to invest in you, by investing in your mentoring relationship. Whether you are a volunteer or a paid staff member, ask your church about setting aside funds for your mentoring relationship – whether that means a modest coffee fund, or plane tickets, or perhaps even an honorarium being paid out to your mentor for his or her valuable time. Any money invested into a mentoring relationship will pay dividends for years to come. 
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