I’m only 53 (wow, has my perspective changed!), yet I can see that my role in church leadership is shifting slowly but certainly. While 10 years ago I was all about doing the work of the ministry, now I’m increasingly about helping others do the work of the ministry. That doesn’t mean I’m not doing anything myself – I’m as busy as I’ve ever been – it just means that my focus has significantly expanded to include other staff around me. One of my most important responsibilities is to help prepare the next generation of leaders for Fairhaven Church and the church at large. And frankly, I’m sensing that this may be my most important work yet.
I was thinking about what it really means to mentor younger staff. How do you make yourself relevant, relatable and valuable to someone half your age? How do you take your decades of experience and hand it to those who are so full of their own ideas, enthusiasm and sense of adventure? You don’t want to dominate and control them. You don’t want to discourage them. Rather, you want to nurture them and empower them to grow to their fullest potential.
Here are a few of the things I’m concentrating on doing to help those younger than I am prepare for their next steps.
Be a mentor. I try to set aside time to talk about life, marriage, family, faith and ministry. Maybe it’s 30 minutes around a coffee table once a week or maybe it’s lunch once a month, but be a resource to help in God’s shaping of that staff member. In one instance, I’m meeting each week with a guy and we are going through a book chapter-by-chapter and having a great time talking about the challenges and blessings of ministry. It’s not a huge commitment because it’s a book I’ve already read. But it’s a book that helped shape me and I believe it can be valuable for my friend. Additionally, in the mentoring, offer as many words of encouragement and affirmation as possible. Those words are life giving to young staff.
Offer correction. In a recent worship service following a video announcement by the lead guy (who was out of town), a young pastor commented that the pastor onscreen “wasn’t really dressed in his pajamas.” I guess he thought the shirt looked like a pajama top. He got his intended laugh out of that, but was that comment the better part of wisdom? Probably not. I gently told him in an aside that a joke about the lead pastor’s shirt from the platform is probably not a wise thing to say. Offer correction when a young staff member has clearly erred in a way that can hurt him or the church. But do it as someone who genuinely cares.
Listen, don’t judge. One thing I have learned is that there is value in seeing things through the eyes of another person. Seldom can we solve a quarrel without understanding both sides of the argument, and the same value is created when we can look at our ministry and our church through someone else’s perspective. Be open-minded. Ask questions of the young staff; get below the surface of feelings, opinions and perspectives. And absolutely withhold judgment on what you hear. Don’t assume that the way you do it is the best way, since we all know that the environment for ministry is rapidly changing and chances are the younger staff member is closer to that pulse than we are. Being willing to listen to the ideas of younger staff will give them confidence in your leadership and make them more apt to listen to you when you have something important for them to hear.
Be available. One of my young reports asked the other day if he is “bugging me” too much. He stops in my office several times a day with a question, clarification, or just a quick update on an issue he is working with. I welcome that. When I’m in the office, my door is open and I’m available. If I need time alone to accomplish something, I usually get out of the office. If I give the sense that I’m annoyed with interruptions, then he will default to more independent behaviors, which is not where we want him at this point in his career. I must be available to provide context for what he is doing – not to tell him what to do – but to help him have all the background he needs to make good decisions. That dialogue is fluid and it can’t always wait until next week’s scheduled meeting.
Paul Clark is pastor of ministry environments/operations at Fairhaven Church, Centerville, OH. He has served in the areas of church administration and operations for 18 years. His passion is to translate great vision into organizational reality, sharing his thoughts and ideas at www.visionmeetsreality.org and @paultclark Twitter account.