Not Without a Mentor

My 29 year-old friend and I were discussing leadership. His wisdom deserves a wider hearing. “I have already had some bad job situations,” he said, “being thrown in ‘over my head,’ left to ‘sink or swim.’ This time when I was asked to take on a new responsibility both at work and church, I said, ‘I will not take this on without a mentor!’”

Chris was not asking for an answer person, someone to tell him what to do. Rather, being a mentor, for him and for me, means a person or persons, experienced in the field, able to listen, ask good questions, look at options, affirm when appropriate—all within a presence that is non-judgmental, as unconditional caring as possible

No one told me as I was leaving seminary, “Remember, Mahan, don’t try this ‘wild ride’ of ministry without a mentor or two!” Yet strangely, within the seminary, both from professors and more seasoned peers, I did receive mentoring. So, I am puzzled why such relationships don’t become the norm for ministry after seminary. Puzzling indeed.

It was up to me to figure out pastoral ministry. Oh, there were relevant books and conferences galore. There were lots of folks out there trying to help us. (Now I am one.) But it was my job, largely alone, to sort the chaff from the grain. I recall the loneliness of coming back to the church after a stimulating conference, looking at the computer screen of e-mails, each noting a message to answer or visits to make, wondering, “Now, how can I translate what I have just learned to this situation or that situation?” After all, I should know. It’s up to me to make sense of this work.

But I sense a tide turning.

Often mentoring is subtle, more informal, as in one pastor calling another on the phone, “Heh, Mary, have you got a minute to give me your response to where I am going with my sermon?” Or, “John, we are trying to do our budget differently this year. Have you got a moment to tell me what process works for you and your folks? If not now, when can we talk?” Or, “Heh, Pat, I need your help. When you have about 30 minutes could I talk with you about a conflict that’s driving me crazy? I need a fresh set of eyes and ears.” There has always been mentoring between friends over coffee or lunch or internet. Some are “soul friends,” also wagering their lives on the Mystery, God’s passion for justice and mercy. I like to think that such mentoring is becoming more intentional.

This tide is finding expression in more structured ways: consultation, spiritual direction, coaching, personal therapy. Plus, note the explosion of interest in peer, collegial groups. Some clergy are reaching that point where the resource of mutual, collegial mentoring is essential, not optional. AnamCara is one example (if interested visit my website for further information,

If there is a rising tide here, this may be a factor: With the growing complexity, anxiety, and uncertainty occurring in our culture, and regularly brought to church, the breakdown and breakthrough may happen faster. I heard within myself, and now hear increasingly from pastors—“I cannot do this by myself, even with well honed skills. I cannot sustain the intensity of pastoral ministry. I need God, God’s power, energy, spirit, passion, grace. And I need mentoring relationships.”

Or as Chris put it, “I will not take this on without mentors!”

3 Responses to Not Without a Mentor

  1. Ben Wagener says:


    My wife and I have had concerns with what we have felt to be some critical leadership issues in our church. So we recently met with my Anam Cara facilitator of our “soul” clergy group. With her astute questions and appropriate challenges, we became clearer theologically and practically as to how to address these concerns. Later at a called meeting of our church staff, we spoke openly about our questions and concerns that not only was heard, but now has opened what we feel can be an ongoing,more honest dialogue for staff about our leadership and what hopefully will benefit our church at large.
    Thanks to this long-time mentor, or facilitator, we were able to get to the “balcony” for clarity that gave us the courage to speak our truth in love.
    Indeed, from your quote,” I cannot do this by myself, even with well honed skills.I need God’s power, energy, spirit, and grace. And I need mentoring relationships.”
    Perfect timing for this reflection. Thanks,Mahan.


  2. Liz Canham says:

    Hi Mahan – I think this should go to our CiM2 group. Maybe send it to Jerry with this suggestion?


  3. Nancy Sehested says:

    Wish I’d had the wisdom of Chris at age 29 to say those words: “I will not take this one without a mentor” when I became a pastor. Thank you for this wise word. You are a good mentor to us leaders/followers/learners/teachers.


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