Mentoring strengthens us all

Posted Mar 27, 2014 | Pastoral Excellence Network


By George Mason

George MasonThe headline in The Dallas Morning News sports story read: “Mentor role was not good fit for Kinsler.” The article went on to report on a story from ESPN The Magazine that second baseman Ian Kinsler had blanched at the request of Texas Rangers’ management to give leadership to younger players on the baseball team. He was subsequently traded to the Detroit Tigers and let his feelings be known. Kinsler said, “They wanted me to lead these young players, teach them the way to compete, when the only thing I should be worried about is how I’m performing in the game.”

Key veteran players had mentored Kinsler on his way up, but when his turn came, he impeded rather than speeded the progress of younger players by his unwillingness to take up that task. The team’s general manager expressed what one young player and the team missed out on when Kinsler passed on mentoring: “Ultimately [the young player] is responsible for his performance. But a workplace environment and team leadership … affects all of us whatever your walk of life is. I don’t know that it hindered [the young player], but I’m sure it didn’t help.” A nurturing workplace environment and good team leadership are critical.

Excellence in ministry is a team game. The whole congregation is the workplace environment. The older pastoral team, especially the senior pastor, provides leadership not only to the congregation generally, but also to younger and/or newer clergy.

Human beings are inveterate imitators. We learn from what others model for us. We develop habits of being that way. We are not born to our practices; we are modeled and mentored into them. Then those practices mold and shape us.

Pastors can see themselves as lone agents of spiritual care, acting singly to provide religious services like preaching, teaching, pastoral care, and administration to the congregation. They can read about and reflect upon their work in order to improve their own performance. But for the church to be at its best from generation to generation, something more is required.

Young clergy profit greatly when experienced ministers walk alongside them, especially in the early years of ministry. Reliable guides, who have walked the same path and have wisdom to share, prevent young ministers from stumbling unnecessarily. They help them learn the hills and valleys to expect on the road, to navigate the sharp turns, to fight fatigue in the journey, and to keep perspective along the way.

Inexperienced ministers do not know what they do not know. Experienced ministers often know more than they know they know. Mentoring relationships create occasions for senior ministers to plumb their vast experience and share their learnings with younger colleagues.

The bonus of reflective practice is that it makes an enormous difference in the mentee and mentor both. Practitioners learn by doing, but they learn more and learn better by reflecting on what they are doing with colleagues.

Mentoring also strengthens the church. The congregation becomes a learning community that takes seriously its commitment to quality ministry. It begins to see staff as partners in ministry more than providers of it. And that bridges the gap that often exists between clergy and laity.

Many ask these days about the prospects for the renewal of the church over time. While many factors will play a part in the vitality of churches in the years ahead, clearly the health and competence of clergy leadership will play a key role. Effective mentoring will aid that end.

George Mason has been senior pastor of Wilshire Baptist Church (Cooperative Baptist Fellowship) in Dallas since 1989. He has directed a pastoral residency program since 2002 that has produced about 20 pastors thus far nationwide. He is the author of Preparing the Pastors We Need: Reclaiming the Congregation’s Role in Training Clergy (Alban, 2012).

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