Senior Pastor – Are You Mentoring Your Associates? by Martin Hawkins

22 May

The Role of Mentoring Among Pastors

Perhaps the greatest contribution a senior pastor can make to the assistant position is to consistently disciple and mentor. He should mentor not only the intern who wants to learn how to become a senior pastor, or the intentional associate and unintentional pastor who will need to understand and tangibly fulfill his vision, but also the leadership in the church and the young men and women who will rise up to become disciple makers themselves one day. One of the greatest ways to find an associate who will fit in your church is to spend time mentoring and getting to know the young people with a heart for ministry.

As Paul stated to young Timothy, “And the things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, these entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2). Good ministry—good leadership—involves multiplying one’s effectiveness through raising up new leaders to proclaim the gospel. The time that it takes to invest in the spiritual growth and training of others will be returned as they become able to carry some of the burden themselves.

Dennis Fields writes, “Training an associate is a learning experience for the senior pastor as well. He strengthens his communication skills as he teaches by word and example. The pastor may have forgotten some of the traits that served to make him successful, but as he imparts his knowledge and experience to the associate, he may rekindle fires of zeal. ‘as Iron sharpens iron; so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend’” (Prov. 27:17).

Senior pastors must make time to disciple their assistants. Some of the proof of Moses’ mentoring skills can be seen in Joshua’s success as he transitioned from assistant to leader. Evidently, in the first chapter of Joshua, Joshua was scared. God told him at least three times in chapter 1 to be strong and of good courage, indicating that Joshua was weak or faint of heart and God needed to encourage him. Perhaps Joshua didn’t feel up to the task. (Remember Moses’ earlier fear and protestations in this same situation?) We can imagine Joshua thinking, I don’t want to follow this man. He was a great leader. How can I measure up?

But Joshua had learned from his mentor. He didn’t question God’s appointment. And God responded favorably by bolstering him with words indicating that He would be in charge and would always be with Joshua.

Because Joshua recognized the magnitude of his responsibility toward God and his people, he came into this job with total dependence on God. He had no choice. And that’s what made him a great leader. He learned from Moses the necessity of depending on God, first as an assistant, yet even more so as the person in charge.

The other characteristic that shows both Moses’ mentoring skills and Joshua’s own leadership skills is Joshua’s understanding of his own design. Although he watched Moses, although he did everything that Moses showed him to do, he never tried to become Moses. And therefore, Joshua became just what God made him. He was the warrior, the military man, when the Israelites needed a warrior. Where Moses had been a theologian of sorts, Joshua was strictly a military man. We don’t see him coming up with much strong theology of any sort except at the end of his tenure when he told the people to make a choice. But “as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Josh. 24:15).

Although Joshua learned from Moses, they were different leaders. Joshua was quiet and reserved. He didn’t seem to get mad at the people for anything or get angry. He just took them through a military campaign. He was the leader whom God wanted for that particular time in Israel’s history.

The Art of Mentoring

The book of Acts gives us a detailed view of how Barnabas and Paul related in the ministry. Because of Paul’s great legacy through Scripture, Barnabas is often dismissed as a minor character in comparison. But, as I mentioned previously, he was an important person who mentored Paul and knew when to step aside to allow God’s plan to take effect.

Special note should be given to the name Barnabas. Known as “the Son of Encouragement,” Barnabas was used by God to befriend Paul, who was looked upon with skepticism by other believers. Paul needed the touch of a leader who could mentor or uphold him after his conversion. Barnabas, the consummate encourager, provided that touch.

For all practical purposes Barnabas became Saul’s mentor. Howard and William Hendricks describe special qualities one must have to be a mentor:

(1) He promotes genuine growth and change. The goal of every mentor should be the emotional, social, and spiritual growth of his protégé or the person he mentors.

(2) A mentor provides a model to follow.

(3) A mentor helps you to reach your goals more efficiently.

(4) A mentor plays a key role in God’s pattern for your growth.

(5) A mentor’s influence benefits others in your life.

Barnabas fulfilled every one of these characteristics as he groomed Paul for the ministry.

When Paul left Damascus for Jerusalem after his conversion, he struggled to reach the disciples. Barnabas did not stand idly by observing, but he found out about Paul, “took hold of him and brought him to the apostles” (Acts 9:27). Barnabas stepped in and mediated the relationship between Paul and the apostles, moving it along to a relationship of trust sooner than Paul could have done by himself. Certainly Paul had a strength that defied all resistance to his preaching the gospel of Christ, but can you imagine how Barnabas’s actions and belief in his sincerity bolstered Paul’s spirit and resolve?

Barnabas seems to have always kept his eyes open for a ministry slot that would fit God’s calling on Paul’s life. After Barnabas had ministered in Antioch and discovered the environment, he didn’t stay and pine for a helper, and he didn’t pray for God to give Paul a similar ministry; instead, he left his post and sought out Paul in Tarsus (Acts 11:25). Barnabas had a special insight into Paul’s strengths, and he helped him to define and refine his gift of teaching by developing those who were in Antioch.

The Holy Spirit validated Barnabas’s insight into Paul’s calling by commissioning Barnabas and Paul to go on the first missionary journey (Acts 13:1–2). During that trip, the leadership transfer occurred. The text begins to refer to Paul as Paul instead of Saul, and it is after Paul’s mighty sermon at Paphos that the text begins to refer to the pair as “Paul and Barnabas” rather than “Barnabas and Paul.” Paul gained top billing. He came into his own senior pastorate role.

Mentoring with Intimacy

Paul learned the importance of mentoring with a personal touch. Soon after splitting from Barnabas, Paul chose to guide young Timothy (Acts 16:1–3).

Throughout his ministry Paul discipled several assistant leaders, yet Scripture shows us in detail the personal touch of his communication with Timothy. In Acts 16:1–3, Paul is introduced to Timothy, who had a unique set of circumstances. Timothy’s mother was Jewish, but his father was Greek. Since Timothy was so well spoken of by the people in the area, Paul insisted that he be circumcised. Paul was intuitive to the Spirit’s leading by seeing in Timothy that he would be used in the gospel ministry. This relationship became more evident as he wrote to Timothy in his epistles known as the Pastoral Epistles.

Paul spoke as a father in 1 Timothy 1:2: “To Timothy, my true child in the faith: Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.” The term of endearment used here implies that Paul was responsible for mentoring Timothy in his spiritual growth and development. Verse 18 follows with Paul mentoring Timothy and using the term “my son,” which indicated the spiritual leadership role Paul assumed in Timothy’s life. As a father who expected refinement in his son, Paul knew Timothy, a spiritual baby, required this nurturing. Later in the same book, Paul is clear about his intent and lets Timothy know of his desire to be with him.

It is imperative for the future growth of the kingdom of God that senior pastors have a fond affection for young assistants in their congregations. A spiritual model must be seen long before it can be heard. Paul’s model of fatherly affection allowed him to grow Timothy in every area of his personality and character.

In 1 Timothy 1:2, Paul’s intimacy increased. He was in prison, and his words were weighted with a sense of urgency. Paul greeted Timothy as “my beloved son: Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord” (2 Tim. 1:2). In the second chapter he continued, “You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 2:1). Paul also reaffirmed Timothy by stating, “I am mindful of the sincere faith within you, which first dwelt in your grandmother Lois, and your mother Eunice, and I am sure that it is in you as well” (2 Tim. 1:5).

Senior pastors would do well to be specific yet personal in their affirmation of their assistants. Too often we hear horror stories about the division among staff ministers because of lack of proper personal attention. Paul’s lessons of encouragement, discipleship, fathering, mentoring, teaching, and admonishing is a dynamic model for senior pastors and assistant pastors to study.

I thank God for a relationship with Dr. Evans, my senior pastor, that allowed for my growth in literally every area of my life. Though I am chronologically older, Dr. Evans’s model of leadership inspires me to greater heights in Christ. This can be achieved only through an openness, at times, to be vulnerable with each other. Senior pastors need not stop to talk about it, but let the modeling emerge through daily events. Hospital visits, weddings, communion, funerals, speaking engagements, counseling couples, encouraging singles, Bible study preparation, and many other events provide natural times to mentor assistants. Though laborious, these times are laboratories and are also God’s cameos of what the assistant can do to lighten the load of the senior pastor. Pastors can seize these moments as God-structured times to train and mentor.

Mentoring with Humility

The senior pastor should mentor even the intern who is after his job. Even if a young assistant or a young intern bad-mouths you or says things about you that are not true, you still have the responsibility of making that person effective.

Look at Peter. The fallen one among Jesus’ disciples, Peter took the leadership of the church after the crisis. Even in death, Christ was discipling. And Peter began to espouse God’s plan. Do you see who Christ left at the head? The one who always had his foot in his mouth. He left the one who always appeared to be in the center of controversy. But Jesus recognized Peter’s potential and guided him to it.

Barnabas understood this concept. Following his heated discussion with Paul about John Mark’s dedication, Barnabas chose to leave Paul and take John Mark under his wing. Barnabas’s mentoring duties to Paul had been fulfilled. Now John Mark needed his special touch. Barnabas’s willingness to risk his reputation on the development of a young minister provided for John Mark the needed affirmation to ignite him into the responsibility of the gospel ministry. Once again, Barnabas fulfilled his name—Encourager.

Senior pastors must be able to see what God sees in developing the assistant. There are times when this is the only transmitter God uses to aid in the development of others. Barnabas’s approach to ministry was rare, yet needed. Vision for God’s kingdom must always include the discipling of those closest to you.

A Bountiful Journey

Assistant pastors are often forgotten as God’s people who need special attention. As a senior pastor, you are mentoring and discipling your congregation. You are ministering to your congregation’s needs and arranging for help to be available. Consider whether you are also exhibiting these qualities in how you relate to your staff.

A respondent to a survey about assistant pastors a few years ago wrote:

I believe I am just about in the best case scenario. The relationship and affinity of purpose-driven direction between the senior pastor and myself are paramount to creating this environment we enjoy. We are a perfect match. Second, the congregation’s high view of pastoral leadership has helped the environment. Third, when pastors who are competent leaders, who model biblical servant/ God direct ministry that is backed up by people accepting Christ and discipling people to become fully devoted followers of Christ, Satan will have problems getting a foothold.

The senior pastor should be an example of serving others, realizing that Philippians 2:3–5 requires him to see the quality of the associate’s position before God. Within the local body, most recognize that the senior pastor is often the higher person of authority. But from God’s viewpoint the persons are equal, with differing gifts and responsibilities expressed through serving one another and the congregation. Senior pastors who fail to see assistants as gifted servants will often tilt the vision of the congregation to misunderstand the pastoral support staff. On the other hand, openness about their respective callings can begin the journey of a fruitful relationship

Article excerpted and adapted from Hawkins, M. E., & Sallman, K. The Associate Pastor: Second Chair, Not Second Best. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2005 (110–115).


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