Mentoring Future Leaders: A Priority for Your To-Do List

A few weeks ago, the church I planted and pastor (Redeemer Fellowship Church in Watertown, Massachusetts) had the privilege of hosting Plant New England, a conference sponsored by The Gospel Coalition, The NETS Institute for Church Planting, 9Marks Ministries, and Sovereign Grace Ministries. The conference was well-attended by nearly 250 pastors, church planters, aspiring church planters, and lay leaders from all over New England as well as New York, New Jersey, and even a few folks from the South who are interested in church planting in the Northeast.

While I thought the entire conference was a great success, one highlight was Mark Dever introducing the young men he is mentoring or has mentored for ministry. Mark offered a brief explanation of what each man does along with a description of the training they’ve received. Some work for 9Marks, others for Capitol Hill Baptist Church. Still more have recently entered the church’s rigorous internship program. The glorious parade of men seemed like it would never end.

Biblical Basis for Investing

There’s good biblical warrant for this kind of discipleship. The Lord Jesus himself invested deeply in 12 men over what was probably about a three-year earthly ministry. These men would go on to be the pillars of Christ’s church. Moreover, a cursory reading through the Book of Acts and the Pauline epistles demonstrates that Paul trained men such as Timothy and Titus, who tagged along on some of his missionary journeys. No doubt he mentored them as they served alongside him, strengthening existing churches and planting new ones. Investing in young aspiring ministers is both biblical and also vital for the future of the church.

It’s probably worth noting that I am more than a little biased on this issue. After attending seminary, I had the privilege to go through the residency program at The NETS Institute for Church Planting, which is a rigorous church planting mentorship program started by Christ Memorial Church in Williston, Vermont. We were there for about two and a half years, and Wes Pastor was willing to spend countless hours with us, digging into our lives, challenging us, encouraging us, and saying the hard things when needed. We were mentored in everything from our marriage and family life to my preaching, ministry, leadership, and biblical counseling. And now two years into planting Redeemer, I can honestly say that without this training, I’m not sure we’d still be standing.

What’s the Problem?

So why aren’t more pastors doing this kind of work? I recently had lunch with a young man who grew up in the church, came to faith at a young age, felt a call to ministry in college, has served in multiple local churches, and sought out the pastors of those churches to mentor him. No one was willing to give him the time. Unfortunately, his story is not unique. A couple weeks ago, a sharp young Gordon-Conwell Seminary student who attends our church asked me to mentor him as a part of his required “mentored ministry” program. While attending the program’s mandatory training for future mentors, I realized one of the school’s biggest concerns was that churches would seek to be a part of this program in order to get cheap/free labor in areas of need (namely youth or music ministry) without really investing in these young men for the future.

Anyone who’s ever pastored a church knows there are never enough hours in the day to even scratch the surface of an inexhaustible to-do list. We’ve all felt the tension of seeing those little boxes multiply far more rapidly than we’re able to check them off. We also need to stay connected with our wives and manage our own homes if we’re even to remain qualified for pastoral ministry. All that to say, it doesn’t take long to add things up and simply come to the conclusion that mentoring young men is a great thing for other pastors whose to-do list doesn’t look like mine.

Uniquely Gifted

We may need to step back and ask some hard questions:

  • Is everything on my to-do list necessary?
  • Are there other people in the church who can and should help out with some of my responsibilities?
  • What are some of the roles I’m serving where I am not uniquely qualified and can therefore train others to serve?
  • What am I uniquely qualified to do in the local church?

I would argue that pastors are uniquely qualified to train young pastors. Young ministers can have other mentors who speak truth into their lives on a variety of fronts. But one who has never pastored a church himself cannot really mentor a pastor in all of his duties. My mentor at NETS walked the road I was going to travel. To this day I still pick up the phone and call my mentor and grill him with questions. He’s had multiple experiences with situations new to me. He’s thought through planning a new sermon series or starting a new ministry. He’s been there and done that.

Long-Term Effect

As we count the cost of sacrificing precious time to invest in others, it’s helpful to stop and consider the long-term effect of this investment. The day after the Plant New England conference, I read about another megachurch starting yet another campus, where the message of the pastor would be piped in via video. Let me be clear: my point here is not to argue whether we need more churches or bigger ones. But after watching Mark Dever introduce his “football team”  of young disciples who are being trained to plant new churches or go into existing ones, I believe the long-term effect of unleashing these men is greater than any one ministry could ever accomplish.

After all, a ministry built around one man has a short shelf life. We live in a fallen world. Pastors get sick and die. I think we would all agree that the more solid pastors out there the better. Compound this with the reality that pastors who have been invested in are more likely to do the same, and it doesn’t take an MIT degree in applied mathematics to see that the long-term implications are wonderful indeed.

Final Plea

Pastors, we all want to be faithful in the ministry God has given us in the local church. Our great legacy might be seen in the young men we train up and send out. Let’s do the hard work of preparing good, Christ-centered sermons. Let’s do the hard work of biblical counseling. Let’s do the hard work of casting vision, planning, and starting new ministries.

Let us also invest in the young men who will plant new churches, revitalize dead or dying ones, or pastor existing churches and faithfully preach the glorious gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ for many years after we’re dead and gone.