For a young minister, finding a good mentor to guide you in your ministry journey is essential. A mentor is more than a friend, more than a teacher, but a unique combination of both. A mentor helps you celebrate your successes and calls you out on your mistakes. A mentor leads by example. They are more action than talk. A good mentor can be the difference between success and failure in ministry. They also can be the difference between continuing to fight the good fight or giving up in despair.
Scripture speaks to the power of mentorship. 1 Peter 5:5-7 reads:
“Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’ Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.”
But what should a young minister look for in a mentor? In this article, I will offer 6 qualities that I believe a mentor should possess.
There is no substitute for experience in ministry. Seminary classes and books are helpful, but they cannot replicate the real work done with real people in the real world that ministry involves. Experience is the best teacher, and experienced ministers are the best teachers. Experienced ministers have been in your shoes. They know what it is like to just be starting out in ministry. They have lived through church controversy. They have seen what works. And they can pass that knowledge on to you! They have made the mistakes so you don’t have to!
A mentor should operate in grace toward those who are just learning how to lead. This does not mean a mentor never points out faults or disagrees with his or her mentee. In fact, a mentor should do those things! However, a mentor understands that the journey of ministry is about growth and adaptation. It is a constant learning experience. A gracious mentor will not tell you to give up when you make a mistake. They will help turn that mistake into a valuable learning experience.
Not only should a mentor be someone who respects you, but they should be someone who is respected by others. It takes years to build up a good reputation, and we should pay attention to the qualities in a person who has earned one. You want a mentor who has a positive relationship with his or her congregation. This does not mean that everyone has to like your mentor. Nobody likes everybody. But your mentor should be a leader who comes by their title honestly and who can lead you in a spiritual and professional manner.
A mentor should maintain a rich prayer and devotional life. Nobody can pour from an empty cup. This is probably the most important thing to look for in a mentor. A person cannot guide you in Christ if he or she is not following Christ themselves. Look for a mentor who seeks Christ with all of their heart and surrenders to Him in every aspect of their life, not just on Sundays or in the Pulpit.
A good mentor is not stuck in the past. A good mentor is open to growth and change that is based in Scripture when circumstances call for it. You do not want a mentor who is going to tell you to do things the way they have always been done to keep everyone happy. You want a mentor who can teach you how to lead people into following Christ faithfully in the culture and times we are living in. A good mentor can help to infuse your vision with wisdom and discernment without killing your vision altogether.
Nobody is perfect, and beware the man who thinks he is! A good mentor is open about their struggles just as they are willing to share their strengths. They will remind you that while they can help guide you, the only perfect man who has ever lived is Christ and ultimately it is Him you should follow, and not your mentor.
When looking for a mentor, it is tempting to look for someone who looks like us, wants what we want, and leads in a congregation similar to the one we are hoping to work in one day. These can also be valuable things in a mentor, but at the end of the day, character and relationship with Christ supersede all those things. Christ can take two different people and guide them in a mentor/mentee relationship that is beneficial despite differences when it is rooted in faith and the Word of God.