A Minister’s Five Best Friends


Liz Ryan is one of my favorite columnists– a regular contributor to Forbe’s Magazine. She writes regarding business employment– hiring, firing, and managing people. Although I have been out of the corporate world for over a decade, I find much of what she says very applicable in ministry as well. Much of her guidance centers on the importance of mutuality, respect, and, well, humanity, in the corporate world. One might suspect that these principles are hardly needed to be meditated on in the ministerial world— but that is wrong. Sadly, it is often even more necessary. Rules for proper treatment of workers are commonly overlooked in the religious world– often under the guise of “freedom of religion” or that serving God is a 24/7 job. I worked as a banquet server, hardly a classic ministerial role, for a “Christian business” where poor treatment of workers was justified by toggling back and forth between “you need to sacrifice because we are doing God’s work” and “sorry, but this has to be done to be competitive in the market.” The terms SELF-SERVING and DUPLICITOUS come to mind

I strongly recommend her article, FIVE PEOPLE EVERYBODY NEED IN THEIR CORNER.

I could stop there, but would like to interpret it in terms of ministers– primarily pastors and missionaries.

A minister needs people that he/she (I will use he here due to laziness) can trust.

  1.  He needs one he can trust with his emotions. He needs an UNCRITICAL LISTENER. People in minister often struggle greatly because they are uncertain who they can talk to about their burdens or frustrations. Far to many in the religious profession have the awful tendency to be advice givers and experts; or worse, judge-ers and condemners. Sometimes one need to vent or even confess to someone who will simply listen and accept. However, as Liz Ryan noted, you need more than this. One needs more than the human equivalent of a fuzzy blanket to talk to.
  2. He needs one he can trust with the truth. He needs a BRUTALLY HONEST ADVISOR (or BHA, for short). The truth hurts, but sometimes we need to hear the truth… but from someone we trust. A BHA should be someone who we trust to know the truth, and trust that he/she has our best interests at heart. For example, a pastor who likes to lead corporate worship with an off-pitch voice, needs someone who cares enough to tell him the truth— that his singing voice and microphones don’t really mix. (I would like to add “You know who you are…,” but in fact, you probably don’t.)
  3. He needs one he can trust who has blazed the trail before him. He needs a MENTOR. This person is generally more experienced and commonly older. He has, generally, been there and done that. His primary strength is not drawn from books or articles but life experience. The advice given from a mentor is welcome because it is seen as trustworthy and based on reality. Commonly an older pastor or missionary is what is needed. However, age and experience are not enough. Good mentors are, sadly, a rare breed. If one is willing to help, think long and hard about it. A good mentor may be exactly what you need.
  4. He needs one he can trust to challenge him to grow. He needs a COACH. Like a mentor, a coach gives advice, but it may not be based on great experience. Rather it comes from a position of being a good listener, reflector, and reframer. A good coach is not always right, but should help the minister look at his life (holistically) from other perspectives.
  5. And speaking of other perspectives– He needs one he can trust to be a very different viewpoint. He needs a NON-MINISTRY FRIEND. A minister should have friends not in ministry. Frankly, he should have some not in the same denomination or organization. In fact, it would be good to have friends who are not even fellow-believers. He needs someone who doesn’t talk shop and, frankly, wouldn’t really understand shop-talk anyway.  He needs someone he knows who won’t give the same old “Christianese” or denominational formulae for specific concerns. And much like the Uncritical Listener, the non-ministry friend can listen without being religiously or professionally invested or biased.

Of course, if you need such friends, others do as well. Which roles can you serve for others?

Missions Mentoring

I’ve been reading “The Fine Art of Mentoring: Passing on to Others What God has Given to You”by Ted W. Engstrom (1989). It got me thinking regarding mentoring in the context of missions. Engstrom talks about three types of mentor relationships. He speaks of them in relation to St. Paul.

Paul with Siconius and Timothy

1. Barnabbas Relationships. This is the “classic mentor.” Paul was trained, empowered, and encouraged by Barnabbas to serve as a missionary (apostle). Later on the two of them split, where Barnabbas trained, empowered, and encouraged John Mark, and Paul did the same with Silas. The split between Barnabbas and Paul may have been unfortunate in that it was handled poorly. However, maturing of this sort of relationship and reproduction of new relationships is healthy.

2.  Timothy Relationships. This is the “classic protege’.” Every learning person can and should be a teaching person. Just as Timothy was mentored by Paul, Timothy was to mentor “faithful men” in his church.

My wife is a clinical pastoral counselor, and supervises clinical pastoral training (CPE). This is essentially a mentoring role. However, in CPE, to supervise means one has to be under supervision. In other words, to be a mentor, one has to have a mentor. It’s a good idea.

3.  Epaphroditus Relationships. One’s mentor is usually older and one’s protege’ is usually younger, but one should also learn and grow with peers. The Proverbs reference of “iron sharpening iron” is relevant here. Paul described Philemon in terms of equals,

  • dear friend

  • fellow worker

  • loving brother

  • partner

Yet Paul seeked to guide Philemon and seeked help from Philemon. Recognizing another as an equal should not mean that one believes there is nothing to learn from that person. In fact, accountability is important as well as sharing insights.

All three relationships are part of the mentoring experience. In fact, one really should be learning from mentors, but also from proteges and peers.

Unfortunately, churches and the mission field are often not good at this. Some organizations set up “accountability partners” or disciplers. However, a true mentor is more personal. A good mentor shares a basic philosophy of life with you, and in some ways is a model of who you want to be. It requires chemistry, not just mandate.

There are many people I respect, yet I do not share a philosophy of life or ministry with. There are many I think are doing well what God has called them to do, yet are not doing something that I would desire to emulate.

In the end, I guess in missions, I don’t want to see formal “mentoring programs.” That is because mentors are too tied to one’s personality and individual calling, to be fit into a programmatic structure. What I would like to see is a cultural change, where mentoring relationships are encouraged and cultivated in church and mission communities.

It’s a challenge, and I am not sure when and if this will happen. I am not even sure how comfortable I would be in that sort of culture. I am, admittedly, a task-driven person, and a strong 3-level mentoring community needs people-oriented members. But I think that all would gain from an intentional mentoring climate. Within the missions realm, I have had probably three people who could be described as my mentors. One of them no longer is… but the other two still are to some extent. Distance communications of today allow mentoring for even solo missionaries in remote locations. I would hate to think where any missionary would be without good mentors.