Every pastor needs a mentor. No matter what stage you are in your ministry, you need someone to coach you.
All sorts of organizations use the mentoring process to make people better at what they do. In medicine, doctors mentor younger doctors. In music, musicians mentor other musicians. Why? It works. We learn best when we have people who can speak into our lives and ministry. Proverbs 19:20 says, “Get all the advice you can and be wise the rest of your life.”
I will always need a coach—no matter how old I get or how successful I become. Lebron James is one of the best basketball players on the planet. He still needs a coach. You will never get to a point in your life when you can say, “I’ve learned it all. I don’t need anybody else to help me.”
A mentor brings out the best in you in three areas: your roles, your goals, and your soul. Mentors give us perspective. They help us look at ourselves and our ministry from the outside. We don’t always see what we’re doing outside of our own perspective. We see from our own limited focus. We need somebody else in our life to say, “Have you thought about…? What about this? What about that?”
Saddleback would not be where it is today without men who’ve poured their lives into me—people who’ve made me look at my ministry in a different light. Proverbs 15:22 says, “Plans fail for lack of counsel but with many advisors they succeed.” What God has done through Saddleback over the past 30 years hasn’t happened because I’m smart. It’s because I’ve had great mentors and advisors. They are people I’ve bounced ideas off of and gotten feedback from.
What do you look for in a mentor? Let me suggest three qualities.
1. Someone who has the character and values you admire.
You want to find a mentor who is the kind of person you want to be.
2. Someone with the skills and experience you want.
Look for another pastor who has the particular ministry skills you want to improve upon. Maybe it’s preaching. Maybe it’s leadership. Maybe it’s a pastor who has successfully navigated through a building campaign. Find someone who is good at something you want to be good at.
3. Someone you trust.
If you don’t trust your mentor, you’re not going to learn anything from him. Just because a mentor has a lot of knowledge doesn’t mean you’ll click with him. To make a good mentoring experience, in time you’ll need to be able to open up to the person you choose.
Ask good questions. Once you pick the right mentor, you’ll need to make the most of the time you have with that person. Neither you nor your mentor have unlimited time. What can you do to maximize your time with your mentor? Ask questions. Before you meet with your mentor, spend some time thinking about questions you want to ask. Think about what issues you’re dealing with in your ministry. Think about what areas of your mentor’s ministry you’d like to learn from. Be specific.
One of my mentors was a guy named Billy, who had a mentor himself. Billy went to a large church in Texas and put himself under the pastor. At the end of six months, Billy went to him and said, “I’ve watched your teaching for six months and I’ve never heard you preach a dud. God speaks through everything you teach. Every time you teach there’s power, practical information, and good insight. I would like to know how you stay fresh. What’s your secret?”
The man told Billy, “About 35 to 40 years ago, I made a commitment to stay fresh, so I could feed other people. To do that, I read through the New Testament once a week.” Billy sat there dumbfounded, trying to think up an intelligent follow-up question to ask. “What translation do you read it in?” Billy asked. The Texas pastor said, “Usually in the original Greek.”
Billy later told me that he could have been with the guy for five or six years and never found out the secret to his freshness and spiritual depth if he hadn’t asked the question. Anyone—at any time—can be a mentor if you learn to ask questions. Everyone has a reservoir of knowledge, skills, and experience they can share. A wise person will learn to draw them out.
If I were to sit down with you, I’d learn some things that would make me a better pastor. I’m sure of it. You’ve had experiences that I haven’t had – and vice versa. Be prepared with standard questions to ask every time you get around someone you might learn from. Questions like…
- How do you handle stress?
- What have been the greatest successes in your life?
- What were the causes of those successes?
- What were the greatest failures in your life?
- What would you do differently if you were starting over?
- What kind of books do you read?
- How do you manage your time?
- How do you manage your money?
- What have been the greatest lessons you’ve learned?
- What have been the greatest surprises in your life?
Successful people give off clues. Look for those clues. Pull them out and learn from them.
Welcome feedback. Getting feedback from mentors is absolutely critical. If you don’t get feedback, you’re going to get off course. During all the Apollo trips to the moon, those spaceships had to do constant course corrections. The earth was turning, and the moon was turning. To make it, the astronauts had to change the course of their ship, and the only way they could do that was to get feedback.
You need to make course corrections from time to time in ministry as well. To make those corrections, you’ll need someone on the outside of your ministry to give you feedback. If you’re not open to feedback from a mentor, you’re not going to learn and you’re not going to grow. Pastor, you need a mentor in your ministry. Whether you’re 25, 35, 55, or 75, there is someone you can learn from. Find someone with character. Find someone with skills you desire. Find someone you trust. Find a mentor.