In my role of teaching pastoral theology at a seminary, one lesson I continually harp on with young men preparing for the pastorate is their need for a mentor.
Many discipleship ministries such as The Navigators promote the II Timothy 2:2 Principle, "The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also." Yet we should be reminded that these words were first spoken by an older minister, Paul, to a younger minister, Timothy, in the context of the church ("in the presence of many witnesses"). This mentoring is exactly what Paul gave to Timothy in their travels together and in the epistles that bear his name.
No man can receive all that he will need for a lifetime of ministry at a seminary. For success in ministry, it is essential that young ministers have an older, wiser man to provide ongoing guidance, teaching, and training. Too many young ministers wipe out with self-inflicted wounds that might have been avoided with more counseling and coaching. I am aware there are professional sites and ministries such as this one where a pastor can go and, in a sense, purchase help in this area. If needed, seeking help this way would be better than nothing. Yet it would seem to me that mentoring relationships are better fostered in the church simply by older pastors finding ways to give themselves to younger men and young men asking for help if natural friendships are not already in place.
By way of testimony to this truth, I have been reflecting a great deal lately on one of the chief mentors the Lord has given to me. Dave Long has been a friend to me now for thirty years. Several years ago, in a tribute to his twenty-five years of ministry in the same congregation in Lafayette, Indiana, I shared the following thoughts that demonstrate the way he has invested his life into mine.
In 1985 I came to the graduate school of Purdue University to become a math teacher and hopefully a basketball coach. In less than three years time I left for seminary with the dream of helping plant churches. The events that led to that change and my ongoing desire for pastoral ministry are like a slide show in my mind’s eye, with Dave appearing in each picture.
As newlyweds, Miriam and I were befriended by Dave & Jenny. We eagerly joined the church because of their friendship and the church’s Biblical, Christ-centered ministry.
One night, as I heard Dave speak to a college group about discipleship and multiplication, I felt a burning in my heart. I told him afterwards that I wanted to give my life to what I had just heard.
While worshiping in the small church that met in a house on the edge of the Purdue campus at that time, I realized some people only came to church every other week. Dave told me that those folks belonged to a group that was meeting for worship the other weeks. They hoped to start a church in the nearby city of Kokomo one day.
During my time at Purdue, I would go over to the church house where Dave's office was to study at the kitchen table there. I was drawn there just to be with Dave and hear more about the ministry from him. So my math studies became integrated with tea & doughnut breaks, trips down to the gym to play basketball, and endless times walking into his office to ask a question. If he had a nickel for every time he heard, "Hey, Dave" followed by a question, he would be a rich man.
Under Dave’s guidance during those days, I did a deep study of the book of Acts. By the end I prayed God would let me live out what it showed me.
For ten months in 1986 I struggled, wondering if the Lord was calling me into pastoral ministry. Dave never pressured me, telling me that if it was from the Lord He would let me know. Late one night, the Lord came calling just as Dave had said he would. He made it so clear to me that I knew I could do nothing else.
I attended my first session meeting in Lafayette as a pastoral intern. In God's providence, I watched as the elders wept over excommunicating the unrepentant man who had started the Kokomo work. What an initiation to ministry! Yet beholding Dave and these godly men go through that sorrow set my heart apart for Kokomo, asking God to reap from what was being sown in tears.
Dave walked with me every step of the way as the Lafayette church sent me to seminary, then planted, birthed and supported the work in Kokomo.
Over the years I have watched Dave continue to support church planting, whether it is across the Tippecanoe river, around the state, or across the ocean. He remains an example and model to me.
To be honest, I cannot even recall the names of my Purdue professors. They simply did not impact my life and eternity as did my pastor, mentor, and friend.
Dave was supposed to transition this year to a ministry that would encourage the use of his gifts even more widely for the sake of the church. Instead, those plans have been put on hold as he is battling now a very serious form of cancer. As has been our practice through the years, we continue to talk almost weekly on the phone. The mentorship continues with lessons we often do not like to learn. For even in this struggle, without perhaps realizing it, he is instructing me and others in new ways as he entrusts himself humbly to the Lord.
May the Lord give everyone - especially every pastor - such a mentor.