Mentors, Part 3
The Ministry Life Choices Initiative (MLCI) will assist those in years 1-5 of ministry with developing habits and practices for sustainable ministry. The relationship will span the first few years of theological education and the introductory years as a congregational minister. The MLCI is a ministry of the Pension Fund of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in partnership with Lexington Theological Seminary.
The MLCI blog series, launched January 15, 2014, is designed to promote conversation surrounding issues related to clergy health and well-being. The blog seeks to include and incorporate writers from a wide variety of ministerial contexts, seminaries and demographics.
This fourth installment of the blog series, begun April 9th, reflects on the practice of mentoring as a means to overall health and well-being.
Clergy Health and Well-being: Mentors, Part 3
–by Rev. Dr. Russ Peterman, Senior Minister, First Christian Church, Concord, CA, M. Div., San Fransisco Theological Seminary, 1995; D. Min. Columbia Theological Seminary, 2004
In 1985, during my junior year in high school, I was given a career aptitude inventory (don’t call it a test!), designed to point me in a helpful direction as I began to navigate the college application process.
At that point I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, but was shocked beyond words when the #2 career that came recommended to me from this inventory was CLERGY. I had been to summer camp a few times, and participated in youth mission trips, was active in the youth ministry group and a regular on Sunday morning, but beyond that I had very little idea what ministry might entail. While I didn’t really have any career path laid out, ministry had never crossed my mind. My initial reaction was that this was, well, comical.
I still remember with incredible vividness the following Sunday when I stopped my minister, Dr. Richard Wing, between services and told him, trying to hold back laughter, the results of this inventory. He didn’t seem shocked at all. With clarity and conviction, he responded, “I don’t think that’s funny. I’ve seen those gifts in you for a long time.”
Thirty years later Dick is still an incredible mentor to me. He’s helped me discern major life decisions, and walked with me through difficult times. Even now from a distance, he continues to inspire, challenge, affirm, and listen. Despite the fact that as the minister to a large congregation he’s incredibly busy and the demand for his time is high, he’s told me – and shown me – that he’s never more than a phone call away.
Over the years I’ve had others that have served as mentors for me. People who have helped me navigate through seasons in my life and ministry, and helped me dream and dig a little deeper and reach a little higher. People without whom I’d be lost, or would have given up long ago. Some of them are clergy colleagues; some are not. All of them are worth their weight in rubies.
The congregation I currently serve has long had a connection with the local seminary and takes seriously its ministry to the wider Church to help prepare future leaders. Each year we welcome a new pastoral intern and try to help prepare them for this crazy thing that we call ministry. I have come to love my role mentoring them during this formative time, helping them discover and clarify their gifts for ministry. It’s an incredible gift for me to be able to inspire, challenge, affirm and listen, just as others have done for me. In addition, they ask really great questions that force me to think theologically about what we do and why. This work keeps me fresh as I hear about all that they are learning in the seminary classroom.
Part of my greatest concern in regards to the future of the church is that we are not encouraging the calls to ministry of the best and brightest candidates. We’ve seen the seminary enrollment figures; we’ve read how the Millennials are fleeing the church en masse. We’ve also heard the staggering figures about how around 50% of seminary graduates leave the ministry within the first five years after graduation. We all know the drill and most of us have ideas and theories as to why all of this is.
But I think the hard truth that many of us in the trenches don’t want to admit is that some (most?) of it falls on us.
- Are we helping young people see the God-given gifts within them?
- Are we encouraging them to bring those gifts to the surface and share them with the world?
- Are we modeling for them helpful, healthy boundaries and practices as pastors, serving with joy and passion, in such a way that inspires other to wonder if they could do what we do?
- Do we see that new, young pastor at the church down the street as competition or as a colleague?
My life is an embarrassment of riches in part because people noticed in me gifts that I hadn’t discovered within myself. And then they cared enough to journey alongside through some of the important and difficult moments, offering support and encouragement, challenging when necessary, nurturing when needed.
I’m grateful. And pray that somewhere along the way, I’ve been the same sort of help and support to others.