“Every leader should have a Timothy, a Barnabas, and a Paul in his or her life.” My pastor made this statement to my kidmin leadership team a few weeks ago and it was an “a-ha” moment for many in the room. As we serve, it is pretty common to have a Barnabas, a peer who offers encouragement and accountability. God often sends a Timothy, someone who we are investing and pouring into. However, we too often miss out on having a Paul. A Paul is someone who is investing in your life and someone who is coaching you to be better.
For some reason, in the kidmin world, we tend to isolate ourselves. We may read books or blogs, but we aren’t quick to connect with others or to seek out help. We know we need it! Maybe it’s due to the tyranny of the urgent and the needs of the ever-approaching Sunday, but we tend to be lone rangers.
I know that’s how I was until just a few years ago. I was content to exist in my own little world, but I was also pretty stuck. I was stuck in my way of doing things and stuck in my limited way of thinking. I knew I was stuck but really didn’t know what it would take to get unstuck.
In 2008, I had the opportunity to participate in Jim Wideman’s first ever Infuse mentoring group. Have you ever gone into something and expected it to be a good thing, but God turned it into something that was a game changer? Infuse has been that for me, but even more specifically, the mentoring relationship that I developed with Brother Jim had a dramatic impact on me and my ministry.
I quickly became a believer in the importance of having a Paul in my life. I also became a loud champion that this should be a non-negotiable for all children’s ministers who want to grow personally, so that they can make a greater impact for the kingdom.
Why we need mentors
I love that God never calls us to do ministry alone. He gives us people to serve alongside of, and I believe He also gives us people to coach us and make us better. Let me ask you this: are you everything God wants you to be and do you know everything that you need to know so that your ministry can be all that God wants it to be? I’m assuming that you, like me, would have to answer that with a big fat “No.” So, the next question is, “What are you doing about it?” See, if you’re like me, you likely don’t even have a great grasp on what you don’t know or where you need to improve.
But what if you had someone who could see those things? What if you had someone who cared enough about you to encourage and celebrate the wins with you, but will also stretch you by challenging your weaknesses?
This type of scenario is described by Spencer Click, Associate Pastor of Children’s Ministry and Ministry Operations at Bethel Temple in Hampton, Virginia and a fellow member of Infuse. “I had recently been let go from a position. I was hurt by the manner in which it was done. I called my mentor, who I also consider a close friend, looking for someone to pray with me. He lifted me up and prayed for me. And then at the same time, provided a laser-focused assessment of what had gone wrong with the job. It was spoken in love, but was so amazingly blunt that it had a lasting impact in my life and ministry.”
A good mentoring relationship is not one in which the mentor just tells you how wonderful you are. Their role is to be encouraging, but even more so to encourage you to be what God has called you to be. They “speak the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15). And yes, they will also be your biggest cheerleaders.
What to look for in a mentor
In 1 Corinthians 11:1, Paul says, “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.” As you seek a mentor, you want to find someone who you don’t want to become a carbon copy of, but who is doing things in life and ministry that are worth imitating and learning from.
First, you want to seek someone who is genuinely following Christ. I believe that you can learn something from anyone, but this relationship should be so special that you should entrust it to someone who is in step with God.
Second, determine what it is that you want to learn. You want to seek a mentor who is experienced and highly capable in the areas in which you want to grow. Who do you want to be like when you grow up? What skills or traits are missing in your repertoire that you would love to learn?
Additionally, you want to find someone who is willing and able to invest in you personally. A mentor relationship at its best will go beyond formalities. It will be based on relationship. This was the component that made Infuse so special. Brother Jim took the time to get to know and to care about each of us as individuals. Make relationship a high priority. Your mentor needs to be someone who you genuinely like and will look forward to interacting with.
Finally, you’ll have to find someone who has the time. There are individuals out there who have so much to share, but are in a season where they just don’t have the capacity. And that’s ok. You can still learn from them; it just might not be in this mentoring type of relationship.
How to find a mentor
So once you know what you’re looking for in a mentor, how do you find one?
You may want to try one of many coaching groups that are available today. I recommend Bro. Jim’s Infuse (jimwideman.com/infuse.html), but there are many options. The Celera Group (celeragroup.com), Kidology (kidology.org), and other organizations also offer coaching options. If you choose to invest in any of these options, make sure you do your homework to ensure that the format, relationships, and expectations are a good fit for you.
A coaching group may not be the best option for you at this time. You may want to seek out another leader within your church who you feel God is using in mighty ways. There may be a children’s pastor in your city or state that you could reach out to. Maybe there is someone who you have really learned from online who might be a possibility.
How to make it work
After you find a mentor, the next step is figuring oout what the relationship looks like. Determine what you want to accomplish and how you are going to communicate. Every relationship is going to be unique. You need to decide what best fits you and your mentor.
You and your mentor should determine what the format will be and what materials or topics to cover. Some mentor relationships are more intentional than others. Some just discuss life, while others have a strategic plan of books to read or other content to walk through together.
Sara Richards is the Kids Pastor at Church of the Open Door in Minnesota. Sara also participated in Infuse and says, “In order to make any mentor relationship beneficial, you have to work at it. It takes time to get to know your mentor and for your mentor to get to know you. I also had to be willing to trust and follow the advice of my mentor, which isn’t always easy.”
Don’t get in your own way
At some point in developing a relationship with a mentor, you have a decision to make. Are you more interested in making yourself appear to have it all together to impress your mentor? Or are you more interested in being open to the needed changes he or she can help you work through?
Spencer addresses this by sharing, “The hardest thing to overcome was pride. I had to be willing to be completely transparent. And in order to be that transparent I had to lay aside any sense of pride and remove areas I would typically not share with someone.”
The mentoring relationship is most effective in an environment that is truly open and honest, with no pretenses. Once God sends you a mentor, don’t get in the way by being afraid to show weakness.
So, who is the Paul in your life? If you don’t have one yet, start praying now for God to reveal someone who can help take you and your ministry to the next level.