How Older Pastors Can Best Prepare Younger Pastors

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In this video, Alex Choi, Michael Lee, and Steve Bang Lee discuss pastoral formation through internships, on-the-job training, faithful pastoral testimonies, and ministry coaching.

The following is a lightly edited transcript; please check the video before quoting.

Alex Choi: So guys, how best can older pastors prepare younger pastors for the hardships of ministry?

Michael Lee: Well, for me, I really believe that in an age where the church is becoming more and more specialized, it’s important to raise up pastors who are holistic, and experience the full range of pastoral ministry.

I think there’s a tendency for older guys just to look for younger guys to do the video ministry, to do the music ministry, to do the children’s ministry, and whatever it might be. But, I think it’s important for older pastors to allow younger guys to experience multifaceted ministry, to invite them into spaces.

And so at our church, we had a one-year internship program for young guys, but they would spend three months with four different pastors, experiencing pastoral care and missions, worship and teaching, leadership and shepherding. We really wanted to walk our younger pastors through the full orb of ministry. And I think that’s really valuable in preparing younger guys because if you’re a specialist at one church, and then you’re in a season of transition, maybe you won’t be ready to move into the next ministry opportunity and the next ministry phase.

Alex Choi: For you, Mike, does that look like giving them specialized seasons, so they try this, and then they try this, or doing a lot at once?

Michael Lee: So even for our associate pastors, even if they have specific job descriptions, I want them to experience holistic ministry. So we’ll have different assistant pastors come into our leadership board meetings. Maybe they’ll clerk for a year, just to take notes, but be part of that experience. I’ll take different pastors and interns with me on visitations, and hospital visits, give them teaching opportunities. And so I want that to be just a continual culture of, yeah, full-orbed ministry. And I think that’s important.

Alex Choi: What about you, Steve?

Steve Bang Lee: It’s good stuff, yeah. For me, one thing that comes to mind is that so many young pastors are talking about mentorship. That’s a big buzzword. They’re saying “I want mentorship.” But I feel like a lot of what us younger pastors mean when we say “mentorship” is just, “Take care of me, love me, give me attention, and ask me how I’m doing.” And I think that’s good; there’s absolutely a place for that. But I think it’s unknowingly teaching us the default mode, that when things get tough, when things get difficult, I just need someone to affirm me, I just need someone to hear me out. And that is important, but I wonder if, maybe in the long run, we can set up younger pastors for better success. And so what if instead of just mere hands, like life-on-life mentorship, what if we did on-the-job mentorship?

So, for example, let’s say an older pastor is going to go somewhere and speak. What if he took a younger pastor with him, and they could just talk on the way? The pastor preaches the sermon, and on the way back, the pastor can debrief the sermon, “Hey, how do you think that went?” And so now, he’s synthesizing not just life, but, “Hey, how do you think the sermon went?” He’s giving him coaching, and he’s getting feedback. And then that becomes a template now where they can say, “Hey, how’s your preaching going? How do you think you’re doing? Hey, brother, how’s life?”

Now you’re teaching them different default modes. When things get tough, they don’t just remember the relationship only, but they also remember like, “Hey, you know what, I’m stuck in this jam. I think I remember this one time, the pastor said X, Y, and Z. I remember we went to this one event, and this pastor said something, and you can kind of hang onto that training when things get tough. So not just mere relational mentorship but on-the-job mentorship.

Alex Choi: Both of you guys were kind of alluding to something I think is important, which is, you can’t prepare somebody for something that’s hard by telling them that it’s going to be hard. I remember people telling me, you know, parenting is hard. Well, you don’t know how hard it is until you’re actually in it. But I think what’s important is that, as you guys are establishing those relationships before it gets hard, that when the times do get tough, that you’re in their life. And so maybe the preparation is just building those relationships and giving those opportunities just so that we’re doing ministry and life together.

I think another thing we can do to help prepare them better for the hardships is to be healthy ourselves, right? I mean, I look at, you know, when the going gets tough, if they see all of us wounded, bitter, jaded, I mean, they’re going to see that as their future. But if they see us not weathered but seasoned by difficulty, then they’re going to say, “Hey, there’s hope for me, that’s something I can look forward to because this is going to produce that.” And so, yeah, I think it’s just good stuff.

Michael Lee: You know, Alex, we had a conversation about, you know, older leaders and younger leaders a while back. And we just talked about the distinction between, like, freedom and coaching, and how an older generation, maybe a Gen X, they just wanted freedom. They just want to say, “Trust me with this ministry. Let me run with it. Let me run this retreat or this event according to my vision and my leadership.” And so they really didn’t want to be micromanaged, they really didn’t want oversight, they wanted freedom and trust.

But you made the observation that millennials are different. Millennials don’t want freedom, they want coaching. And is that something that you’ve worked on and developed in your ministry? I totally agree. And I think that’s exciting that millennials are open to coaching, but it’s also tough for older leaders who think, I didn’t get coached, and I had to figure it out. So it’s maybe a new muscle of senior leadership.

Alex Choi: Sure. I think the one thing is, in the past, I gave staff freedom, but I didn’t take responsibility for them. And I think you’re right, it’s not about giving them freedom per se because they don’t feel like they don’t have that freedom. I think for older leaders, it’s not just giving them freedom and say, “Hey, figure it out,” it’s taking responsibility for them.