Written by Steve Kerr, Global Student Pastor at Faith Promise
I met Pastor Dan while working at a rapidly growing church plant in metro Detroit. He was the new student pastor at our church, and he was different than most might have expected, including me.
Sure, Pastor Dan was a 40-year-old, seasoned vet to student ministry, but he was from “the South” and not the trendiest student pastor I’d ever met. Still, what he lacked in the ways of style, he more than made up for in the ways of substance.
Pastor Dan was a mentor.
Now, just to make sure we are all on the same page, the history of the word mentor is as epic as it comes. Coined from the name of a character in the Greek epic “The Odyssey,” Mentor is an older man entrusted and charged by King Odysseus to care for his son, Telemachus, while the king is away at war.
When Odysseus never returns home from his voyage, Mentor serves as a father figure and guide to young Telemachus, who must discover his purpose and identity while fending off potential suitors for his mother, who are coming for his father’s kingdom.
Just like Mentor, Pastor Dan served as a father figure and was hyper-relational. Pastor Dan cared for everyone he came in contact with.
He showed up for parents, students, and everyone on the student ministry team. He was there for us, but he also challenged us. He asked hard questions and helped us understand how to set and meet goals.
Is that who you are for the parents, students, and team under your care?
I get it. Being a student pastor is a dream come true, but as those of us in student ministry know, trying to navigate life’s challenges while juggling the ministry is difficult. Sometimes, it leaves us feeling lost at sea.
Late nights at the church building, a phone that won’t stop ringing, an endless checklist to complete to improve the ministry. Some chalk it up to the normal rhythms of life at sea in student ministry.
Others say it’s the opposite: it’s a storm-tossed sea without rhythm and you just have to survive schedules that are often different on a weekly basis, depending on what events are happening that week.
But, as someone working through my second decade in student ministry, I’ve found there is a character missing in the story of far too many people in ministry.
As I started my second year as an intern while still working full-time in the automotive world, Pastor Dan became one of the greatest characters God placed into my story and journey in ministry.
I was drawn to Pastor Dan, and he was receptive to all of my questions: questions about life, about marriage, and about ministry. It was not uncommon for me to pop into his office to ask questions about Scripture or look for suggestions on what leadership books to read and how I should apologize to my wife for saying or doing something so incredibly selfish and stupid.
Who plays this part in your story?
At some point along the way, Pastor Dan invited me in to learn closer and more consistently. I would later find out that he made a practice of this, and there is a long line of people that he invested in over his many years of being a Mentor.
As we worked together, he always made it a point to encourage me and challenge me to grow, even in the midst of shared goals and challenges. Pastor Dan was there for me whether it was ministry related or not, and he cared for me as a person, not just as a student pastor.
When my bride and I found ourselves struggling with infertility, Dan was there to cry with us, pray with us, and encourage us. He didn’t shy away from the troubled waters of sadness and disappointment, and his steady hand of mentoring steadied the course of my faith until we found ourselves in calm seas once again.
Without Pastor Dan, I don’t know where I would find myself today, but I can tell you he never left me drifting in doubt, floating in a fog of confusion, or lost and all alone. Sadly, these places and feelings are visited far more often than they should be by those in leading and serving in student ministry.
Let me be clear: our spiritual health and well-being are exclusively tied to our relationship with the Father; however, our emotional and mental wellness desperately need companionship, partnership, and friendship.
If you are reading this and thinking,
“Mentorship can’t be that important. I can handle it all myself.”
Let me be perhaps the first, and hopefully the last to tell you the truth:
This is simply not God’s plan or design for any believer.
In fact, let’s go all the way back to the beginning. In Genesis 2, we read about God after He created the world. The water, the plants, the animals, the first man. It was good, but God noted something that was not good.
It wasn’t good for man to be alone.
God, in all of His glory, saw that the way in which His creation was lacking was in regard to human relationship. Adam, the first man, was alone. He didn’t have a relationship with another human.
Now, we almost always read this text as being about an intimate relationship with a spouse, but I would be willing to wager that God had even more in mind. That is why He created us to be relational beings.
Think about it. Even the most introverted person you know has the desire to share a relationship with another person. All of us crave community, and without it, we struggle.
This is why a Mentor is a key relationship for every student pastor.
I believe mentorship is a relationship God chose to highlight in the Bible because I have personally seen the impact it can have on someone’s life. God used Pastor Dan to help me become the person and student pastor I am today.
If you are still unconvinced, here are two more examples of Mentors, one in the Old Testament and one in the New Testament.
In the Old Testament, Jethro was a Mentor and gave Moses advice when he needed it. He encouraged Moses to find others who could help him carry the heavy load he was trying to carry on his own.
A Mentor helps you see a blind spot and gives you practical tips to solve it.
In the New Testament, Paul’s love and affirmation of Timothy was sincere and reflective of how God has called us to win people and help them discover their purpose.
The two letters Paul wrote to Timothy encouraged him to stay faithful,to place his hope in the Father, and to move beyond his personal insecurities. Paul spoke life over Timothy and helped him see what he could not see in himself.
A Mentor helps you see yourself and your purpose as God sees you and your purpose.
Our world and our churches need more Mentors. We need Mentors encouraging both students and student pastors to stay the course and finish the race. Paul writes this challenge to all of us who call ourselves followers of Christ clearly in another letter to the church in Corinth, Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ. -1 Corinthians 11:1
Because of Pastor Dan’s example in my life, I make it a priority and practice to follow his example and be a Mentor to others in intentional ways.
This year, I will bring some of the student pastors I lead and mentor into a time of reflection, and Pastor Dan will be there to help foster that time.
Mentorship is an odyssey that never ends.
We see and follow a Mentor and in time become a Mentor and pass all the wisdom we have learned on to others.
Who is your Mentor?
Who are you a Mentor to in your life and ministry?
Don’t get stuck standing on the shore wishing that waves were lower or easier. Find a Mentor who will take you out on the water and show the ways of the sea and the surf.
If you have already found your Mentor or are ready to become one in the life of another, I encourage you to set sail.
As student pastors, we have an incredible opportunity and part to play in helping the now generation see and experience the power of the Gospel, but we will miss it and they will miss it if we try and go it alone.
Be a Mentor.
Be a Jethro.
Be a Paul in someone’s life and watch how God will do amazing work through that relationship for them and for you.