Mentoring the Pastor

      (Christian Courier Column, July 25, 2011)  

One of my volunteer church duties is coming to an end. I’ve been mentoring my pastor for about four years. I’m not exactly sure how it even came about, actually. I think the pastor asked council for a couple of mentors and my name came up. Regardless, it’s been very enlightening for me to look at the pastor and his role in our church through a mentoring eye, and to strive to be the kind of person who is willing to advise, assist and guide him in his work. Soon he will be leaving our church family and heading out west to serve High River CRC in Alberta. It’s time to take stock.  

Our dialogue took various forms. We were frequently in touch via e-mail. I’m the bulletin editor, so we had many quick chats and on-the-run conversations at church. We also met a few times with a more intentional list of topics to discuss. Obviously, we didn’t touch upon council business other than what was already being shared with the congregation by way of council reports, and we didn’t discuss confidential matters. Even so, there was a lot to share.

Here’s an abbreviated list of the help I offered in my mentoring role. I critiqued sermons, made sermon topic suggestions, outlined our church’s history and clarified complicated family connections, advised on time management, shared reading suggestions, proposed liturgy ideas, opined on a myriad of details from church décor to bulletin covers to involvement in denominational matters, sent notes of encouragement, listened to a few frustrations, made a power point presentation to accompany a sermon series, and acted as a sounding board for plans and ideas.

My very first mentoring activity was to write a long note listing twelve different things that I thought the pastor was doing really well. That list ran the gamut from moving the pastor’s office from the parsonage to the church (a wise and necessary change) to his attire (appropriate) and interacting style (personable). With a little time and trust, I also found the courage to point out areas for pastoral growth, too. I still think that’s the correct order: encouragement should take precedence over criticism. My final mentoring activity will be to create a slideshow about his years of service in our church, a farewell gesture that will hopefully serve as an appropriate bookend to the list I wrote at the beginning of our relationship.

You’ll have to ask my pastor whether I was actually a help or a hindrance as a mentor. What interests me more is what I learned from being a mentor! Ironic, isn’t it? I listened to sermons and congregational prayers with a more attentive ear. I saw connections in the liturgy that might have escaped me before. I prayed for the pastor and his family more often and more intentionally than I ever did in the past. I discovered that the pastor’s job is elusive, a quicksilvered prey that you can hunt for, but never quite pin down. My guess is that in every church it will be a markedly different animal.  

In short, I learned a much greater appreciation for pastors. I saw how even the most carefully scheduled planner could be ripped apart by tragedy, accident and death. I saw how demands for the pastor’s time and expertise come from every quarter… from the congregation, from the denomination, from the community. I saw how impossible it is to please everyone.

Being a mentor is one thing. It may or may not have been useful to the pastor. I hope it was. There were some grey areas and boundaries that were hard to negotiate. But being a friend is not negotiable. Befriend your pastor. Jesus said: Love your neighbour as yourself. That includes the shepherd who’s trying to shepherd you.

Meanwhile, at our church, soon we will be turning our attention to calling another pastor. There will be the usual comments like “I hope we can find a good one” or “I hear so-and-so is good.” I will let those remarks remind me to be a “good” parishioner, one that a pastor would be equally excited and happy to meet and to partner with in service to our Saviour and Lord, the Great Shepherd.