23 Now the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 24 “This is what applies to the Levites: from twenty-five years old and upward they shall enter to perform service in the work of the tent of meeting. 25 But at the age of fifty years they shall retire from service in the work and not work any more. 26 They may, however, assist their brothers in the tent of meeting, to keep an obligation, but they themselves shall do no work. Numbers 8:23-26
While sitting in a Starbucks in Cincinnati in 2010 with three of my friends I asked this question, “If you were on staff at a church what is one thing you would want?” We went around the table and it was the normal response until my friend Lucas answered. He said something that I had never heard before, “I would want a ministry mentor.” We talked about it for a little while and left but those words stayed in my mind and nagged at me time after time.
As I begin my adventure in the wonderful world called ministry one of my fears is that I will come to a point in my ministry where I am no longer relevant. I believe this is a fear that many in ministry and leadership face. Questions nag at the back of their minds like: Is my ministry really over? What do I do after ministry? Will I be useful to anyone? Will anyone be interested in what I have to say or the things I’ve learned?
All of us, at some point in our lives, must face the reality that our methods and ideas must change or we risk becoming known as archaic and obsolete. We must not change our message but we cannot use that as an excuse to not change our methodology.
A serious problem I see in the church today are pastors who stay at a church or ministry beyond their ability to be relevant and lead their ministry to new levels. This problem causes decline in attendance and moral and ultimately causes a church to become stagnant and irrelevant.
Leaders must not stay at a ministry simply because they have nowhere else to go or because they don’t know what else to do. Many pastors have no clue what they would do to support themselves financially when they retire and so they don’t retire. The sad problem is many pastors have become so entrenched in building their own kingdom that they cannot stomach the thought of giving up control to someone else. They have lost their Kingdom focus.
I believe God instituted this practice in Numbers chapter 8. When we look at this passage, in correlation to Numbers chapter 4, we see that God’s requirement for active duty was age 30-50 years old. Numbers 4:3, 23, and 30 all make reference to this. In Numbers 8:24 it says that the Levites were allowed into active service at 25 years old. Now is this a contradiction? I don’t believe so. These first five years were years of training and preparation under their older brethren and at the age of 30 they entered into full responsibility of their official duties. At the age of 50, Numbers 8:25 says that they were to withdraw from the duty of service and serve no more. Verse 26 goes on to say that they were to minister to their brothers but do no service.
Allow me to ask, what if pastors understood that they are more useful to the Kingdom of God and the next generation of pastors if they would take a step back from leadership and focus on leaving their legacy by mentoring younger pastors? This idea would create a healthy cycle within the church and give local churches fresh methodology, vision, and new life.
Here’s how the cycle works: A lead/senior pastor would retire/semi-retire and go to another ministry (he cannot stay at the same church) to become a ministry mentor. This opens up a lead/senior pastor position for someone who has been an assistant/student pastor for a few years. This now opens up an assistant/student pastor position for someone who has been a student pastor and this opens up an assistant/student pastor position for a Bible college or seminary graduate.
So what is a ministry mentor? A ministry mentor is someone who has multiple years of ministry experience and wants to pass that knowledge on to the next generation and leave a legacy.
A ministry mentor will be on staff to give guidance and advice for the local ministry. I envision a ministry mentor pushing my staff and me beyond our small visions for the Kingdom and at times pulling in the reigns and giving admonitions about expanding too quickly or stretching ourselves thin. Sharing methods they have seen work and not work. Giving advice on how to tweak methodology in order to make something work. Most importantly giving prayer support and encouragement to young pastors as they build the Kingdom.
So what does this entail. I’ve put together a list of what I believe are some requirements for the ministry mentor and the pastor and his staff.
Requirements for a ministry mentor:
1) They are no longer in charge: This is a big step for anyone who has been in leadership. To ask any leader to step back and not call the shots and be there in an advisory position is quite the transition, but in order for this to work it must be a priority.
2) They must be open to the use of new technology: Technology has changed how the world works. Unfortunately there are many pastors who embrace this technology in their personal lives but won’t use it to advance the Kingdom. A ministry mentor must acknowledge that this generation will use various forms of technology to build the Kingdom. This does not mean that technology will be used simply to be cutting edge or relevant. We live in the age of technology. The church must embrace that so that we don’t be come archaic and obsolete.
3) They must be willing to be available: A ministry mentor must be a public figure within the church. They need to be at services and show up to big events. Not just because they are receiving a stipend (Yes!! You need to pay them something!), but how else will they know how to advise you on your ministry. This does not mean they can never leave. (See the next section)
4) They must have seen success in ministry: This is not meant to limit who can be a ministry mentor and who can’t. Success is measured by different variables. The phrase, I’m called to be faithful not successful, grates at me. Yes we must be faithful to our calling, but we can and must be successful in order to build the Kingdom of God with the knowledge that the success we have is not ours, but God’s. No one wants to be mentored by someone who was unsuccessful at what they did.
Requirements for the pastor and staff:
1) Absolute respect: This does not mean that you will always agree with your ministry mentor and sometimes you may not use their ideas or follow their advice. They are however there for a reason – mentoring! Listen to them! Hear what they are saying. Don’t just throw their thoughts and ideas away. They have years of experience that you don’t have! Learn from them! They have knowledge that they want to pass on. Spend time with them. Learn what made them successful in ministry and leadership.
2) Pay them: You wouldn’t want to work for free! Enough said!
3) Allow them to travel and speak: Many pastors and leaders want to spend their retirement/semi-retirement traveling, spending time with their family, and speaking occasionally. Let them go! They’ve earned it! Work out the times that they absolutely need to be there and then allow them time to travel.
4) Give them a job description: There is nothing worse than not knowing what is expected of you. Tell your ministry mentor what you expect. Work out the details before they come on staff.
So let’s wrap it up. Developing a ministry mentor program for your staff is an opportunity to learn, grow, and be mentored by someone who has years of pastoral/leadership experience. As always in ministry, things change. There will come a time when your ministry mentor will no longer be able to mentor you. Don’t burn bridges. Talk these details through. Be aware that there may come a time when you surpass your mentor; that’s okay. At that point it’s time for a new mentor or for you to begin investing in leaving your own legacy.
Let’s leave a legacy through the generations of pastors and leaders that come behind us and let’s build the Kingdom of God together.