The past two weeks have been spent looking at the problems plaguing young pastors in ministry. It’s time to switch gears and explore possible solutions. After looking at some big-picture, systemic problems, the question for us is, “How can we bring about change to something as daunting and massive as a corporate culture or system?”
As always, I don’t have all of the answers, but if I had a magic wand here are 3 Suggestions for Growing Healthy, Young Pastors.
1. Encourage and empower your young pastors to grow and learn through personal and structural means.
In order to grow the leadership skills in others, you must begin by growing yourself. If I had a magic wand, I would make sure that every pastor had the following four books in their library.
The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John Maxwell.
Building Leaders by Aubrey Malphurs and Will Mancini
Leadership Handbook of Management & Administration, James D. Berkley, editor
Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action by Simon Sinek
If I had the knowledge in these books when I began my ministry, I would have avoided 90% of the headaches and heartaches I went through. These are some of the best books on their respective subjects.
If you’re on the move a lot and don’t have time to sit down and read an entire book, there are also several excellent leadership blogs or podcasts that would be great resources. Several of the ones that I try to keep up with are:
Here in the Carolina Conference, we are developing an initiative called the P.O.D. program. This stands for the Pre-ordination Leadership Development Program. This is an ongoing training initiative that two great young pastors, Alicia Johnston, Henry Johnson and I are brainstorming with our ministerial department in our conference.
Without bogging you down in the details, here are the three primary components of the program and why we believe it to have great potential.
- Continuous mentorship until ordination. This begins first with the ministerial department and shifts to an experienced pastor after the first year in ministry. This “experienced pastor” would ideally be someone who has been through the program before (thus, continually instilling the concept of training the next generation of leaders).
- Directed regular meetings towards an area of pastoral leadership. This would be done online (virtually eliminating the need for travel expenses). These meetings would involve peer-driven sessions that deal with an area of leadership development in the pastoral setting and encourage sharing of current ministry experiences.
- Portfolio. I firmly believe that successful pastors can’t be measured simply by baptisms or tithe increases. The idea here is that each intern would build a portfolio of evidence that validates the various aspects of ministry which are important for them and becomes a voice for the intern when the ordination committee reviews progress (Evidence vs. Performance based).
- Creates an engaging environment that inspires personal ownership of ministerial development
- Responsive to current needs in a pastor’s ministry
- Fosters a sense of community among colleagues
- Provides a wealth of knowledge through collaboration
- Creates an environment for peer mentoring
You can download the entire overview of this program still in development here.
2. Organizationally: Consider the development of departmental advisory groups.
Have you ever had an idea that you thought was great, only to have few people share your same enthusiasm or even worse, finding out that you had to do everything yourself? What if key departments in conferences (for example, Youth, Young Adults, Evangelism, Church Planting, Ministerial, etc.) were willing to have a small group of pastors (3-5 max) to work with, plan, train, and empower?
- You will get relevant and practical feedback from the field.
- You will empower others and divide the workload (like Jethro recommended to Moses).
- You will indirectly train the next wave of leaders at the same time!
Here is an especially great advantage of this idea. Let’s say there’s suddenly a vacancy in a department. Personnel committees wouldn’t have to scratch their heads and wonder, “Who would be a good fit here or help us out?” They would already have a competent pool of candidates who have been sitting in planning, execution, and post-event assessment; each person could become a capable leader.
Or, if the organization decides to bring someone new from the outside (which is sometimes needed as well), the new person doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel. They would already have a great advisory group to orient that person and provide continuity.
3. Provide vision, direction, and mentorship with (and among) your pastors.
I was speaking with a friend of mine and he gave me this insight about young pastors:
Here’s the deal with young pastors. They are very idealistic, and that idealism can turn to cynicism if not handled correctly. Conference officers need to understand the strengths and weaknesses that go along with that.
Young pastors tend to appreciate theological shades of grey, but on practical issues they seen things more as black and white. The upside of this is willingness to strike out in bold new directions. The downside is unawareness of the arrogance that comes with thinking you know what’s best.
This reminds me of another great quote:
Scratch the surface of most cynics and you find a frustrated idealist.
Side note: These frustrated idealists would have most likely become jaded in the face of negativity. Remember, people will use the same tactics to destroy your dreams that were used to successfully destroy theirs. Don’t give up.
What young pastors need most is a safe person with whom to pray about their character defects and a safe group with whom to process their experiences, or, “Someone to believe in them, and someone to keep them humble” as someone on Twitter said. How can this be done? Here are a few ways to achieve this individually and collectively.
The single greatest resource outside God and the Bible for me in my young ministry was the creation of an online peer-support group called the Knights of the Timeless Round Table (it was a joke from a class we took at Seminary; we aren’t a secret society). I have already written about them in another post.
It is a small group comprising about 50 young pastors from 7 unions and 24 conferences. That’s right, the survey that provided the “Voices in Ministry” a few weeks ago was compiled from that group on Facebook. To show how open we are with each other for comparisons sake, I gave the same survey to a larger group of pastors on Facebook with over 1,000 members and I didn’t receive a single response. There was very little of the key word in that group: TRUST.
If you want to know what values we follow in our group covenant, that document can be downloaded freely here.
I’ll end with what I told the ministerial directors, but some of it could be applied elsewhere.
As ministerial directors, you are the pastor’s pastor. We will follow your lead. Since pastors will follow your lead, it is important that you strive to be that “safe person” for them. Connect with them.
How? Here are a few practical ideas that could go a long way.
- Provide new pastors with a welcome packet from your ministerial department a few weeks after the initial hire date. Make sure this packet contains important go-to information like travel allowance, cost of living adjustment, conference aid on cell phone/internet, continuing education benefits, important phone numbers, and the like. You can even include some information on topics interns may not be willing to ask, like required events, ordination information, how to deal with grievances, transitions in ministry, etc.
- During their first year in ministry, establish a pattern of checking in with the new pastor. It doesn’t have to be too long. Once a quarter, give them a call to check in on them and see how things are going (this can take 15 minutes or less). After the first year, you can delegate this to the ministerial advisory team or a mentorship program if you decide to implement the previous idea.
- Be clear about your vision and the values you want to see in your pastors, and exemplify that in your interactions and engagements with them. Define the “win” in your conference and celebrate it. Provide vision for your pastors to embrace, not carrots for them to chase. Encourage pastors to learn, grow, take risks, and not let their mistakes define them.
Above all, I hope that all our pastors understand that numbers are not the goal of ministry; the goal is faithfulness to the calling and the mission of ministry. If you are faithful to the latter, the former will work itself out. It’s important not to pull the cart before the horse.
In conclusion, no one is born a leader. But it’s my dream and wish that the Southern Union has conferences that are known to build trust, foster diversity, encourage creativity, maintain confidentiality when appropriate, and nurture personal and professional growth for the sake of the Gospel!