Training Pastors in the Local Church, Part 2 of 7: One-on-One Mentoring

by Doug Smith

The most direct way of training men in the context of the local church is through mentoring.


One on one mentoring can be one of the most rewarding methods of training others. It may possibly be the most difficult as well. It involves an investing, or pouring, of one’s life into another. It involves some vulnerability, because to truly mentor someone means that you are opening your life to scrutiny – which you have already done to some degree if you are a pastor. While meeting to discuss a book is one good way to mentor, effective mentoring will involve more immersion in ministry – both watching and doing. When a pastor invites a man in training to travel with him to minister, to attend elders’ meetings (if the church has a plurality of elders), and gives opportunities to serve and speak (all while providing helpful feedback), he is cultivating a good mentoring relationship.

In the mentoring process, the pastor should encourage the student to pay close attention to his life and doctrine (1 Tim. 4:16). If a pastor must make himself a bit more vulnerable to mentor, the student must be sure to reciprocate and also cultivate a teachable spirit. While the pastor should be careful and tactful with his feedback, while also being truthful and helpful, the student must be capable of receiving encouragement and critique in the right manner.

Several factors play into the feasibility of establishing a mentoring relationship, but they center on the mentoring pastor and the student. Looking at these factors will help determine to some degree how compatible, available, and profitable a potential mentoring relationship may be.

Pastors or others considering a mentoring relationship will need to examine their commitments – in theory and practice. This will help them decide whether they are available for this type of relationship and, if so, to what extent. Depending on one’s setting, there may be seasons of pastoral ministry that make an intensive mentoring relationship impossible (apart from neglecting legitimate family and church commitments). However, that does not mean that no informal mentoring is possible. Pastors and churches must see 2 Timothy 2:2 as part of the mandate for pastoral ministry, and seek to make that a reality. It has been well said that pastors should not be considered as being like the apostle Paul if they do not have a Timothy.

Delegating duties that do not properly belong to the pastor is one step that can be taken to freeing a busy pastor. For example, if a pastor of a small church is responsible for secretarial duties, could there not be a member who could volunteer time to process office paperwork and print the bulletins? If the church has a plurality of elders, one elder could specialize in mentoring, although it would be even better if each elder could mentor a student.

The pastor, of course, should always seek to be a model of that he teaches, paying close attention to his own life and doctrine (1 Tim. 4:16). When men make shipwrecks of their ministry, the church is hurt. But the closer one is to ground zero, the more damage is sustained. The student will be deeply hurt by a mentor’s fall. If one is not modeling attention to right living and teaching, one is not in a position to be a mentor (or pastor). This does not mean that one must be perfect, but that he must be serious about his own sanctification if he is to help train another man.

The student seeking a mentor also has several matters to consider. A student must examine his own commitments and availability. Being committed and available at the local church should be expected of church members, and students are no exception. Single men may have more opportunities to be intensively mentored, since financial and family commitments are usually less demanding for them than for husbands and fathers. Yet, men who have less availability usually have some availability. Informal, less frequent mentoring is far better than none.

The student should seek a pastor that he truly wants to learn from. The motive should not be to impress the pastor and network oneself into the right circles in hopes of getting a job. The motive should be to seek to be a better servant of Christ by learning from one who has gone down that path a bit farther already. The student should seek a man who is completely committed to the Scriptures and the Gospel of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ alone. In addition to healthy doctrine, the student must look for a godly man, whose life is shaped by that doctrine. The student need not agree with the pastor on every nuance of theology, but there must be some basic agreement and there must be respect for him. Otherwise, the mentoring experience will likely go sour.

Ideally, the student could be mentored by his own pastor. Yet, especially in large churches, this may not be possible. In such a situation, another church leader or godly man who knows and lives the Scriptures would be options to consider. In these matters, the student may need to exercise pro-activity – without being pushy. He can make the first move by asking the prospective mentor for a time to talk and share with him his desire to learn from him.

There are other situations where neither the pastor nor any other potential mentors are available (or even interested). Here the student may be able to find a godly mentor in a pastor of another ministry, but will need to carefully consider how this may impact his involvement in his own local church. In this scenario, less-intensive mentoring may actually increase the student’s fruitfulness in his own local church. But if the mentoring relationship draws one increasingly away from his own local church, it might be time to change churches so one is actually committed to the people he is spending time with, or it might be better to scale back the relationship with the mentor.

If a pastor and student determine that there is sufficient compatibility and availability for a profitable mentoring relationship, then they will need to decide how they will proceed. Will the student shadow the pastor on most of his ministry activity? How frequently will they meet? Will there be ministry opportunities for the student along with feedback from the pastor? The details can be worked out and adapted to their situation.

Both pastor and student will need to evaluate the mentoring relationship from time to time. Is it going somewhere? Is the pastor able to actually provide some helpful training by teaching and/or example? Is the student teachable and learning? Have other circumstances arisen since beginning the relationship that make a modification necessary (whether by increasing or decreasing the intensiveness or even terminating the relationship)?

The potential flexibility of a mentoring approach has great advantages. It can be somewhere on the spectrum between formal and informal. The student could be a staff member, such as an associate pastor or pastoral assistant. He could also be a non-staff church member or a senior pastor of another church. Mentoring does not have to be structured in the same way as a degree program, and it can (and probably should) be combined with other avenues of obtaining theological instruction, providing extra safeguards and reinforcement to the student. The approach chosen should be carefully and prayerfully considered and adapted as needed.

In my next article, I will examine the idea of the internship as a way to train pastors in the local church.

What do you think? Are there other aspects to mentoring that should be considered when thinking how to train pastors in the local church?

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