Where Leadership Development Happens

Published: April 15, 2024

Every church leader needs mentors, coaches, guides to flourish. (For short, we’ll call them mentors.)

Mentoring Leads

Remember this? Think of “3” as spiritual apathy and distrusting of church leaders. Think that your leadership task gets increasingly difficult with every widely reported sexual misconduct and cover up noted last week.

The Flourishing in Ministry research among thousands of pastors confirms mentors as critical for your leadership ministry to be life enriching and not life depleting.

An illustration. An Explanation.

We had a staff person (now disguised by the passing of many years) in our congregation who eventually went to prison. To this day I remember my introduction to my “I’ve never dealt with this before.” I was preparing for a Wednesday morning Lenten service at our suburban campus. Our executive director called:

“Jock, you’ve got to get over here (downtown campus).”

“Sorry, Paul. I’m busy getting ready for church.”

“No, seriously you’ve got to get over here now!”

“No. Seriously, it can wait.”

“This can’t wait. Here’s what’s happened. Here’s what’s going on.”

It was a ten minute drive from one campus to the other. Sick to my stomach. Hands shaking. Crisis of a degree I had not encountered that promised to get worse. Fast!

A very gracious law enforcement commander clarified our crisis when I arrived. Explained the media blitz that would unfold. (We were rescued from any thoughts of covering up like sometimes happens for public image management.)

I called Stu. I intuitively knew Stu could mentor us through our “never been here before” crisis.

“I’ll cancel all of my appointments and I’ll be there in 30 minutes. We’ll get through this!”

Years later my heart fills with gratitude for both Paul and Stu. Mentors!

I wish back then there would have been a PLI Senior Leader to hone skills of calling, interviewing, managing staff, setting goals, etc. Most of us painfully learn by trial and mistake.

Real Leadership Development

For 25 years, PLI has assumed that real leadership development happens more through relationship with a mentor or coach and a safe community of colleagues than through the transfer of information.

Mentoring contributes to life-enriching and not life-depleting leadership experience in four arenas:

  • Starting Out – We need focus, personal clarity and sense of unique calling.
  • Capacity Building – We determine to grow in character and competency and not settle for limited usefulness in our congregations.
  • Transitions – The many “we’ve never been here before” seasons.
  • Seasoned years – When leaders choose to finish well and not diminish.

Gail and I have sought out mentors and coaches and experienced guides for years, formally and informally. If we thought they had what we needed and they cared enough to help us, we were “in.” (PLI introduced us to a myriad of mentor-type leaders from whom we benefited.)

I’ve thought about the times when I should have asked and didn’t.

  • I thought I already learned it all in seminary. (Dumb) Closely related to…
  • I didn’t know that I didn’t know. (Blind)
  • I didn’t want to admit my mess or “lackingness.” (Prideful)
  • I didn’t want to be accountable to take action and/or grow. (No courage)
  • I didn’t see the value of building my own capacity to bring greater leadership value to the congregation. (Most congregations will never take on their greatest challenges because they lack the leadership capacity to do so.) (Short-sighted)
  • I surrendered hope. (Hopeless)

I’ve shared our story. I was assigned out of seminary as an assistant pastor to an old, angry, declining, changing-neighborhood church. Six months later I was the senior pastor. The youngest and newest on a staff of 15 or 20.

Two pastors, Don Moll and Lyle Muller, I credit as mentors in my early survival. Ironically, “I didn’t know what I didn’t know” as much as “they knew I didn’t know”! Without them, I’d likely be one more pastoral casualty pursuing a different career or destined to having learned too many wrong things in a short, destructive first pastorate. (God blessed us with 25 years there!)

So, what about you?

  • Can you name a couple of your mentors? Anyone currently?
  • Which season are you currently in as a leader?
    • Starting Out
    • Capacity Building
    • Transitions
    • Finishing Well
  • What’s the risk of not having a mentor for this current season?
  • And, back to the spiritually apathetic “3s,” are you willing to swallow hard and gain traction to bring Jesus to them by building trust? And increasing your leadership capacity?

You and I not only need mentors in our lives, we need to be mentors to others. Why not send this to 2 or 3 leaders and start a conversation.