Without a doubt, the most important part of my development as a pastor has been the mentors that God surrounded me with. These were men that He strategically placed in my life at various times and in various contexts, who served as older, wiser, and experienced influencers. They made opportunities for me to work beside them, allowed me to be involved in their personal life, and took time to sit down with me and give specific guidance or instruction. My pastoral training became a mixture of real-life experience (filled with both fruitfulness and errors), sage advice, and examples to watch and consider.
Training in the Church
The older I get the more I realize how very rare this actually is and the more I am thankful for the path God let me travel. I think formal training can be very helpful for those who desire to be a ministry leader. But in all actuality, the academic classroom is not the environment that can teach you the full counsel of God on these matters. I am convinced that God’s design is for older, wiser leaders to mentor and train those who are younger and less experienced. I have met so many pastors who have simply never had this type of mentoring relationship in their life. It is far more uncommon than it should be. Even many churches today have become accustomed to looking for those who have been trained to come lead them, instead of recognizing the calling on people within their church and seeking to prepare them. I do not mean that as a broad-brush criticism, as it is certainly not true of every local church. Even those that believe we should be training others are not perfect at it. But I do believe this is the course the church should be on.
Remember Your Leaders
I have been pondering the characteristics of the men who have meant the most to my growth and development as a child of God, husband, father, and as a pastor. The Bible tells us this is something we should do:
I believe this text invites us to consider how our leaders have lived and conducted themselves. In doing so, we will hopefully find a life worth imitating and we can then pursue living in a similar way. The following six traits are ones that I recognize as being prominent among the men God put in my life to aid in my discipleship. This is not to say that each leader excelled in every one of these characteristics. Some traits were more prominent in one leader than another. But each one was present in them to some degree. I share these in hopes of helping us to consider what kind of people we should be if we hope to impact, mentor, and disciple those God places in our lives.
Six Traits of Godly Mentors
The people that have meant the most to my spiritual development made significant investments in me of time, energy, and even finances. They would often give up what was rightfully theirs in order to build up me or my family. Our relationships were initially defined by their desire to help me, rather than what I could do for them. One older pastor, who has since gone to be with the LORD, would make time to meet me for lunch, take interest in my life, give me counsel, and then at the end, he would buy the meal. A few days after one of these meetings, in which he was encouraging me to take time to enrich my marriage, I received a card in the mail with money to take my wife out for a nice meal and a show at a local theatre. In all of these men, I can see that their generosity was a means to an end. They wanted to be used by Jesus to make a difference in my life and it was their sacrificial availability that made this possible.
In our times together these men would listen more than talk. It would have been easy for them to dominate the conversations in order to teach this young, naïve, sometimes arrogant young man all they knew. But what stands out to me is their patience to ask genuine questions, give me time to respond, and then share their advice. And it was their follow-up days or weeks later, specific to the things we discussed, that would truly demonstrate the vested interest and care they had for me.
There was always a strong foundation from which these men made decisions and gave counsel. They were men of God’s word who, not only sought to derive their positions from scripture, but would take the time to explain how they arrived at their conclusions. One of these men in particular was the first leader I had been around that did not dodge hard questions about faith or doctrine. Rather than give me an answer based on tradition, denominational thought, or the winds of culture, He was willing to ask what God’s word said and refuse to go beyond it. If he was giving you an opinion or wise counsel, he would make that clear. It was only with God’s word that he took an authoritative position.
Sometimes deeply principled people can take on a stubborn, almost unmovable disposition. But these men all understood that they were still growing as children of God and learning as disciples of Jesus. I remember one of these men pointedly telling me that the day I stopped being willing to learn, thinking no one could teach me anything else, would be the day I was no longer qualified to pastor. Still another one of these men allowed me to become counsel to them. They opened up their life and ministry to me, asking my advice and being willing to consider my own admonitions given in love. No matter how much experience they had, they did not want to stop learning from Jesus through others.
God was so kind to surround me with mentors who were willing to be transparent about their own faults and sin struggles. We live in a time where many church leaders are put on pedestals and given no room to be able to admit their temptations or wrestlings. Since they are the ones who lead others, people rationalize that they should have perfected a walk with Christ. But that is not only a position foreign to scripture, it is one that is deadly to the leader and the people. These men I speak of did not glorify sin or bring attention to themselves for sympathy. But they were self-aware, willing to admit their frailties, and to listen when others brought them warnings. By their example, the people they led were encouraged to pursue holiness by confessing sin and admitting their need for help from Christ and His people.
In 2 Corinthians 6, Paul says that one of the ways the church could know the validity of the apostle’s ministry was their steadfastness in spite of great “afflictions, hardships, and calamities”. These were often difficulties that came upon them because of their service to God’s people. And while the men God placed in my life did not suffer beatings or imprisonments for their faith, I did watch them endure many trials because of their position. Some were personal in nature and others were ministerial. Far from being people who used the church for their own benefit, these men were willing to be weakened in order to see others strengthened. They lost sleep, money, time with their family, and even suffered criticism or slander. But even when it would have been easier to walk away due to these hardships, they continued ahead unwavering in love for God and for the people He had entrusted to them.
In the final analysis, we know that Jesus alone is the shepherd of His people. But I am thankful for those He entrusts as leaders in His church and those who He specifically gave to me. What a gift they were! Each one pointed me to Christ by the character and behavior of their lives. May the LORD raise up more and more godly leaders – even us—to love and serve others as disciple-makers.
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