As a church leader, discipling children is challenging.
You have one significant roadblock you have to overcome: Time.
Think about it.
How much time does your church spend discipling children?
Do you provide programs or Bible studies?
Does your staff or volunteers spend one-on-one time discipling students?
Make an honest evaluation of the amount of time your church directly influences children.
Is it one hour per week?
Do you offer 2–3 hours of training?
Regardless of how much time you spend, it fails in comparison to the amount of time children spend with their families during the week.
My intention in telling you this isn't to smash your hopes against the rocks. Think of what I’m saying more like waving smelling salts under your nose to wake you up to the reality your church faces when it comes passing the torch of faith to the next generation.
Does this mean you shouldn’t provide programs or Bible studies for children?
Nope. That’s not the case at all.
The point I want to stress is that you should view the programs you offer as support to parents—not a replacement.
Here’s the good news:
There’s no need to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
You won’t need to make significant changes in your church to empower parents and guardians to become disciple-makers in their home.
In this post, I’m going to share with you three overlooked ways you can lead parents to disciple their children. What I’m going to share isn’t necessarily revolutionary. But it will help you to connect the dots.
Here we go!
#1. Lead parents and guardians to live for Jesus
Discipling children doesn’t begin with children.
Discipling children begins with their parents and guardians.
Can you influence a child for Christ?
But as a church leader, it’s difficult to disciple children if their parents or guardians are not committed to Jesus.
Here’s the deal:
As you lead parents to live for Jesus, then they’ll be able to guide their children to live for him.
Parents have everything they need to disciple their children.
God gives them the grace and power they need to fulfill their calling as a parent.
In writing to the church at Corinth, Paul had these encouraging words to share:
“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me” (2 Cor. 12:9).
In Christ, parents receive the power they need to lead their family to live and love like Jesus.
Do they need specialized training?
No. But it's helpful for parents to read books, attend parenting conferences or seminars, and seek help.
Are there certain “things” parents should do?
Sure. But it’s not as tricky as you probably think it is.
What’s the bottom line?
The most significant influence in the life of a child is their parents and who they are as a Christian.
Before parents can lead their children to follow Jesus, you must lead parents to drink from the wells of God's grace first.
#2. Help parents to talk about their faith
Life as a Christian isn’t a to-do list—it’s a lifestyle.
It’s who we are and what we do.
In time, our faith in Christ will lead us to live like Christ.
The holds true for discipling children.
What does this mean for church leaders?
It means you need to help parents see that faith is more than participating in a worship service. From the time we wake up in the morning to the moment we go to bed at night, our devotion to Jesus influences what we believe, how we live, and how we parent.
Practically speaking, for parents, here’s what I’m talking about:
“These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates” (Deut 6:6–9).
From this one passage, you can see that discipling children is more than what your church can offer during a weekday or weekend worship service. Discipleship mostly takes place in the home.
As a church leader, encourage parents and guardians to make the most of their everyday life.
During the day, families have several natural times they can talk about their faith, including:
- During dinner
- Before bedtime
- On the road
- One-on-one time
Let’s take a look at these in detail.
During dinner, encourage families to give thanks to God for their food (1 Tim. 4:5). After a prayer of thanksgiving, challenge parents to make it a priority to talk about their kids’ days and find ways they can connect conversations back to Christ.
Before bedtime is a natural time parents can share their faith and encourage their children. If you missed a dinnertime opportunity to talk and pray, encourage parents to pray for their children and ask them specifically what they can pray for.
Do parents drive their kids to school? They can redeem a portion of this time by talking with their kiddos in the car.
Another helpful way parents can engage their children is by planning one-on-one time with their kids. By taking their children out for a treat, lunch, or whatever, parents will have plenty of time to ask questions and listen to what they have to say.
There are plenty of opportunities for parents and guardians during the day. But these few suggestions will help you to lead parents to engage their children at key moments.
#3. Equip parents to read the Bible
Over the years, there are several common ways churches have reached out to children:
- Sunday school
- Vacation Bible study
- Youth groups
As I mentioned above, these programs—and others—are helpful, and they are a tremendous support for parents. However, to disciple children, you have to equip parents and guardians to become disciple-makers in their home.
There are several resources available to help you do this. But there’s a straightforward discipleship hack any parent can use regardless of how long he or she has been following Jesus.
This tip doesn’t require building an extensive library, obtaining a seminary degree, or attending a conference.
The only thing parents will need is a Bible, time, and staying one step ahead.
Here’s the big idea:
Encourage parents to read the Bible with their family, and ask three simple questions.
- What did the Bible say?
- What does it mean?
- How does this change me?
Let me break this down.
With the first question, the goal is to lead children to think about what they just read. Think “reading comprehension.” At this point, encourage parents not to worry about talking about the meaning of the text. The only thing they need to focus on is helping their children understand what was written.
Pro tip: Parents can crank this up a notch by helping their children make relevant cross-references in the Bible. Doing this will help children to see that every individual book of the Bible ties into one big story of redemption.
After kids know what the Bible says, ask the second question to help them understand what it means. For some portions of the Bible, such as the Historical Books like Joshua and Ruth, you may not be able to pull out a meaning per se. But for other books of the Bible, such as the Prophetic Books (Isaiah) and the Epistles (1 Corinthians), you’ll be able to pull out a ton of meaning.
Take your time. Don’t feel a need to rush this question.
Pro tip: Parents can read ahead to identify key themes in the passage, and potential questions children may ask. Staying one step ahead is the name of the game.
Finally, with the last question, the big idea is to help children apply what was read and discussed. Again, there will be times when you won’t have anything earth-shattering to share, and that’s okay.
Pro tip: Encourage parents to identify one idea their family can focus on during the day or throughout the week. They’ll be surprised by how often this will come up during that time.
Champion parents and the church
Parents and guardians are the best people for the job of discipling their children.
As you challenge parents to fulfill their call as disciple-makers, don’t forget to let them know that your church is there to support and equip them to lead their family well. Let parents know they can reach out to a pastor, elder or deacon, or someone in your church they can learn from
Your church culture is like a force.
Not like the (pantheistic) force you find in Star Wars.
But a force like a momentum that leads your church to do what you do and don’t do.
In a spin on Samuel Chand’s popular definition, think of church culture as the why and the what of what you do. It's your values, beliefs, attitude, purpose, habits, behavior, norms, tone, and more.
It’s what you do.
It’s why you do what you do.
It’s what you feel and experience in your church.
A healthy culture will create a torrent of positive momentum in your church whereas an unhealthy church culture will eat away at your church body like cancer.
Whether you’ve just planted a church or you need to restore a toxic culture, there’s some good news:
Culture is always evolving—it’s not static or fixed.
Said another way, you can influence your church’s culture for better or worse.
But here’s what you need to know:
The culture in your church will evolve into something regardless of whether you want it to or not.
Do you want to create a healthy church culture?
Need help fixing an unhealthy culture in your church?
In this post, I’m going to share six ways you can build a healthy church culture, and one thing you must do if you need to fix an unhealthy culture.
Let’s get to it!
#1 – Personal
Building a healthy church culture is challenging.
Multiple things are fighting against your efforts:
- Personal struggles
- Sinfulness of people
- Constant move toward negativity
- Preexisting unhealthiness in your church
Not only is this the case, but one big mistake many church leaders make about church culture is thinking just their church needs to change—not themselves or their church leaders.
In an organization like a church, which is a social institution, it’s challenging—if not impossible—to create a healthy culture apart from good leadership. As a church leader, your beliefs, values, and actions will influence your staff, church leadership, and your entire church. In other words, your presence will set the course for your church’s culture.
Are you a healthy, life-giving leader?
Then expect your church leadership and church to move toward a healthy church culture.
Do you have a personal struggle and a heavy-handed leadership style?
Don’t be surprised when the seeds of your sinful tendencies or poor leadership blossom in the life of your church.
Does this mean individuals or groups of people within your church can’t be healthy?
No—far from it.
Again, when it comes to church culture, I’m talking about the environment of your church. Within this environment, individuals and groups of people can be healthy. But it will be difficult for these folks to live their lives in light of the church culture, which will influence them to value and pursue an action for better or worse.
What’s the moral of the story?
Healthy leaders will build healthy churches.
You can't have one without the other.
Before striving to build a healthy church culture, the first step you must take is to look in the mirror. You have to honestly ask yourself whether you’re a healthy church leader.
Here are three things you need to do:
- Take a break
- Find a mentor
- Consider counseling
It’s hard to do an honest self-evaluation in the normal ebbs and flows of life. Often, you’ll need to take a break. From taking off for a long weekend to planning an extended sabbatical, schedule time off for personal reflection.
After you schedule time off, it’s best to plan what you’ll do during that time. Going into a break with the goal of personal reflection won’t happen by accident. Prepare a list of questions you want to reflect upon prayerfully. Write down your thoughts in a journal. Read some books.
Where should you start?
Without knowing you personally, it’s hard to say. I encourage you to invite your spouse, church leaders, and close friends to provide ideas. Be prepared to listen to their advice, and follow through with their suggestions.
Know what else?
Plan on unplugging from everything during this time.
Leave your phone, tablet, and laptop at home. Purchase a disposable phone for emergencies, and only give the number to your family and a few key leaders in your church.
Another key to becoming a healthy church leader is finding a mentor.
We spoke at length about the importance of having a mentor and how to find one, and you can read that article here.
Finally, another idea to consider is counseling.
There’s nothing wrong with having a counselor. This isn’t a sign of weakness. It’s just a good idea to have a trained counselor not affiliated with your church who you can confide in and receive unbiased feedback from.
Taking these three steps won’t make you perfect. But they’re like sitting on a three-legged stool. They’ll provide support for you to be the healthiest church leader you can be.
#2 – Clarify
To create a healthy church culture, the first step you must take is to clarify your values.
This step isn’t only about writing down some pithy statements. This step requires you and your church’s leadership to invest time into prayerfully considering your church values. From how you teach the Bible to sharing the gospel with your community, your values are really your church’s DNA—they inform everything your church believes and does.
Without taking this step, the rest of what I have to offer below won’t matter.
Be prepared to park on this step before you move forward with the other suggestions. Creating a healthy church culture without clarifying your values first would be like trying to build a house without laying a proper foundation.
There are three big benefits to taking this step:
The first benefit of clarifying your values informs the rest of the benefits, which will make sense in a moment. As you clarify your values, you’ll better understand the identity of your church.
At this point, your goal isn’t to clarify your beliefs.
You should already have these ironed out, and the only time you really need to spend extra time on clarifying your beliefs is when your church is wrestling through a significant issue.
As for your identity, clarifying your values will help your church better understand who you are and why you do what you do. In other words, you won’t be concerned with keeping up with the “Joneses.” Instead, your focus will be on living out who you are in light of who God says you are.
When you have a better understanding of your identity, then your church will be able to make better decisions. Think about it.
Do you need to start a [fill-in-the-blank-with-the-latest-trend]?
How will you handle first-time guests?
Do you need to launch or grow your small groups?
Should you cancel your Sunday school?
Regardless of what decision you need to make, after you’ve clarified your values, then you’ll possess a compass for the direction you should take. Not only will this be helpful for big decisions. But maintaining a clear picture of who your church is will guide the decisions you make every day.
The third significant benefit to clarifying your values is your ability to reproduce your values in your church staff and church. Clarifying your values makes effectively reproducing your values within your team and throughout your church (especially for new staff and church members) a whole lot easier.
#3 – Analyze
The second step you need to take toward building a healthy church culture is to analyze your church.
On the surface, this step is easy in theory.
All you “need to do” is to compare your church’s values with your church’s behavior and see how well they align with each other. Like I said, easy, right?
Not so fast.
This process takes time.
Not only will you need to assess your church. But you’ll need to empower a decent portion of your church (say 10%) to provide feedback.
For this step to be effective, you’ll need to make sure a wide variety of people respond—not just your closest friends or the most vocal people within your congregation.
Don’t rush this process.
Take the time you need to hear from the people in your church.
Don’t feel like you need to create this process from scratch. There are plenty of resources available you can use to assess your church culture. Shaped by God’s Heart by Milfred Minatrea is one such resource.
#4 – Communicate
To build a healthy church culture, you’ll need to consistently communicate your values.
This is why:
Church culture isn’t static.
There will never be a time when your church culture “arrives.”
From the presence of sin, people leaving your church, and adding new church members, you’ll need to lead your church to embrace your values consistently.
In large part, what you do throughout the week will reinforce your church values and many people will follow what you’re doing. In other words, church culture is most often caught—not taught.
But here’s the deal:
What you do will only go so far.
Many people are motivated by the why behind what you do—not what you do per se.
What is more, your church culture will naturally drift away toward unraveling. By consistently communicating your values and by casting a vision before your church, you’ll help your church course-correct along the way.
Here are some practical ways you can communicate your church’s values:
- Social media
- Sermons or sermon series
- Church announcements
- Church membership classes
- Small groups and Sunday school
- Celebrate people living out your values
This list will get you started.
#5 – Model
Are you the senior pastor of your church?
Do you serve in a key leadership or staff position?
As a leader with a public position in your church, everyone’s eyes are on you, and how you live and lead is a significant influence on your church’s culture.
Talking about your church’s values isn’t enough.
You cannot expect your church to embrace a value if it’s not a part of your life.
Think about it like this.
If you are a platoon commander, then you must lead your platoon in battle from the front. Leading anyone or especially a group from the back is difficult.
Do you want your church members to evangelize, be generous, and be servant leaders? Then you must take the lead in modeling these behaviors.
Remember, values are often caught—not taught.
The actions you take as a leader will influence your staff, volunteers, and ultimately everyone in your church. If your actions do not reflect your church’s values, then what you do will be a more significant influence than what you say.
#6 – Remove toxins
Creating a healthy culture is challenging.
Attempting to repair a broken culture is another story, and it’s extremely difficult.
It takes (a lot of) time, prayer, and participation from many people in your church to move in a new direction. During this process, like a skillful surgeon, you’ll need to understand the harmful toxins in your church’s body, and work through or possibly remove them.
There are three common toxins you need to be aware of:
- Sinful patterns of behavior
- Toxic people
- Unnecessary ministries
The first toxin you need to look for is sinful patterns of behavior. In your church, can you observe consistent and ongoing sinful behavior, such as sexual immorality, jealousy, and fits of rage? Be mindful of sinful patterns in your church, and address them as necessary (see Galatians 5:19–21).
There’s no way you can completely avoid toxic people in your church, and how you respond depends upon the context. In general, if you don’t feed into the negativity of a toxic person, then he or she will move on.
However, there may be a time when you’ll need to directly address someone (church member or staff), bring them under church discipline, and move toward reconciliation. Before you go this route, be sure you and your church leaders follow whatever process you have in place.
In the life of your church, there will likely come a time when you’ll need to end an unnecessary ministry. Oftentimes, these ministries aren’t toxic per se, unless they are a petri dish of sinful behavior. But the ongoing existence of a ministry that no longer reflects the values of your church nevertheless will inhibit you from moving forward.
In creating a healthy church culture, this step isn’t easy.
And be humble.
#7 – Celebrate
What you celebrate, you create.
When it comes to building a healthy church culture, the values you celebrate are the values you’ll reinforce throughout your church.
When it comes to highlighting people in your church, there are two groups you want to encourage:
- Your staff
- Your church members
As a church leader, it’s easy to forget to celebrate your staff.
I get it.
Life in your church is busy, and there’s hardly enough time to keep things afloat.
But here’s the deal:
To build a healthy church culture, you have to reinforce within your staff the values your church adheres to. Neglecting this important step is one surefire way to maintain the status quo in your church.
Acknowledge your staff (and volunteers).
Regularly sing their praises.
By celebrating the acts you want to encourage, you’ll reinforce the healthy aspects of the culture you want to create.
You also want to highlight your church members.
Observe the behaviors you want to reinforce in the life of your church members, and celebrate them. From mentioning them during your church announcements or sermons to sharing their image on social media with a note about why they’re important, there are many little things you can do to make a big difference in the life of your church.
Building a healthy church culture
The culture of your church isn’t something you can ignore.
Remember, the culture in your church isn’t set.
For better or worse, it’s always evolving.
In order to create a healthy church culture, you have to be purposeful. Start with clarifying your values, taking a long look in the mirror, and actively modeling and communicating what you believe, and, in time, you’ll mold your church’s culture.
I pray you can have the same confidence that the Apostle Paul had when he said, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Cor 11:1).
Fights will occur in your church.
Not fistfights in your parking lot (even though that’s been known to happen).
I’m talking about conflicts.
The type of conflict with a church member that strains relationships, disrupts peace, and causes division.
These types of fights are bound to happen.
Anytime you put one sinner with another sinner; you’re going to have tension.
Let me ask you this:
If you could minimize conflict in your church, would you?
If there were one thing you could do that would help your church to live in peace, would you do it?
Are you game?
Let’s talk about one way you can infuse peace into your church.
Clarify expectations in your church
In the life of your church, there are expectations and reality.
The difference between the two of these is what tends to cause disappointment.
Let me explain.
As a church leader, let’s say you expect your church members to support the life of your church by volunteering their time. However, let’s pretend a fictitious church member expects you and your staff to do the work of the ministry.
In this scenario, work will not get done, and the church leader and church member will be disappointed.
Neither one’s expectations are being met.
When this type of poor communication occurs, it can lead to disappointment, resentment, and outright conflict. The existence of unclear or unmet expectations is nothing to bat an eye at either.
Unrealistic expectations can be a significant reason why church leaders leave the ministry. And unmet expectations can be reasons why church members will leave your church.
How do you keep things from blowing up?
In this post, I’d like to share why your church should clarify expectations for everyone involved.
We’re going to cover:
- 4 expectations of a church
- 2 expectations of church members
- 4 ways you can clarify expectations
4 expectations of a church
In general, there’s one big thing people expect from your church:
Be a church.
From long-time church members to first-time guests, people expect your church to be a church.
What this means from one person to the next can vary widely.
But there are four core ideas this boils down to. People expect your church to:
- Be biblically based
- Be rooted in tradition
- Help them live the Christian life
- Provide a Christian community
Most people want to be involved with a biblically based church—one that preaches the Bible and helps its members to know God better. Parents and guardians want their children provided with biblical instruction.
Many people also want to know that their church is rooted in tradition.
I’m not talking about bad traditions, like holding onto something your church has been doing just because you’ve always done it that way.
What I’m talking about are good traditions.
The traditions that are rooted in the Bible and have been passed down throughout church history—in particular, baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
Don’t believe me?
According to research from Barna Group, 67 percent of Millennials prefer “classic” churches. I know church traditions include more than administering the sacraments. But help your church feel connected to the Church by explaining the “why” behind your “what.” In other words, let them know that the good traditions of your church are being practiced around the world and have been a part of the Church for thousands of years.
Finally, people expect a church to help them live the Christian life—to live and love like Jesus.
Based on a survey conducted by Pew Forum, one of the top reasons adults in the United States chose to attend religious services was for help in becoming a better person. What is more, according to this survey, parents and guardians also want help in laying a moral foundation for their children.
In this post, I don’t want to get into the details of what it does or doesn’t mean to be a better person or provide a moral foundation.
But here’s what I want you to know:
Adults and parents want help in trying to live and love like Jesus.
A big part of the way you do this as a church is by being biblically based. But there’s another equally important thing you need to do—provide a Christian community.
The majority of your church members and visitors are interested in having a Christian community. They want to know people and be known by others. Make it easy for your church to meet people and make new friends by building a healthy small group ministry.
Does this cover every expectation people may have?
But these are the four big things people expect from your church.
But what about you, church leader?
Can you expect anything from your church members?
There are some healthy things you should expect from your church, which we’ll get into next.
2 expectations of church members
Your church isn’t a country club.
Your members don’t pay dues to participate.
Know what else?
Your church isn’t a movie theater, amusement park, or mall—it’s a church.
Your members shouldn’t expect to be passive consumers.
As a church leader, your primary goal is to make disciples. One way you can do this is by creating high expectations among your members—expectations that let them know you’re a church.
To create high expectations among your members, there are two things churches have found helpful:
The foundation of your ministry is what you believe.
To make sure your church members are on the same page, it’s essential to emphasize your essential and non-essential beliefs.
When it comes to your essential beliefs, these are non-negotiable. These are the beliefs your church does not question or dispute. You hold them with a clenched fist. For many churches, this includes what you believe about Jesus, the Bible, and Salvation.
Your non-essential beliefs are the things you hold with an open hand. In other words, these are beliefs that are open for discussion and are not essential to the livelihood of your church. Common non-essential beliefs among churches include your position on the end times, your view on spiritual gifts, and your style of worship.
To create high expectations for your members, encourage them to belong.
When it comes to belonging, several things come to mind. Members who belong will:
- Attend worship services
- Financially support the church
- Support your pastor and staff
- Encourage one another
- Seek unity
As you know, this is easier said than done.
Asking someone to commit doesn’t mean he or she will make that decision.
To influence your church culture, you have to talk about expectations more than once and continually reinforce your message. Here are four ways you can do just that.
4 ways you can clarify expectations
Ready to get everyone in your church on the same page?
Here are four things you can do:
- Provide membership classes
- Preach on church membership
- Share stories
- Equip through classes and small groups
Many churches provide membership classes to let new members know more about their church and to share expectations. During this time, it’s best to let people know what they’re getting into. This way new members will become more comfortable with committing to your church.
Another helpful tactic to pursue is to preach on church membership. Whether you share one sermon or preach through an entire sermon series, inform your church about church membership from the Bible. After you’re done, don’t keep this message on the shelf. Make sure your church and visitors can easily access this material.
Reinforce your church’s culture and expectations by sharing stories. Identify people in your church who model your church’s values, and share their example. Letting your church “see” what you’re talking about is a great way to provide a positive example. You can share stories on social media, during your church announcements, or during a special event.
Finally, you can also reinforce expectations through Sunday school classes and small groups. From creating your own curriculum to using resources like I Am a Church Member by Thom S. Rainer, Church Membership by Jonathan Leeman, or Committing to One Another by Bobby Jamieson.
Raising the bar
Don’t let unnecessary fights rule the day.
Strive to minimize conflict, create unity, and ensure peace rules the heart of your church by clarifying expectations with everyone.
As a church leader, you will run up against limits in your life and ministry.
You’ll encounter a new problem.
You’ll come face-to-face with a unique situation.
And at times, you’ll just get stuck.
Over the years, you’ll fall into a routine, and after a while, you'll feel as if you can’t break free from your circumstances.
One proven way you can continue to grow as a Christian, spouse, parent, friend, and church leader is through mentoring. Not in the sense that you have to mentor someone. But in the sense that someone should mentor you.
Mentoring isn’t something reserved for “church members” or “new” pastors, and it’s not something church leaders should avoid. Mentoring can be an ongoing, beneficial activity as long as you’re open to someone speaking into your life.
Even though mentoring isn’t as common as it once was, in this post, I want to encourage you to consider pursuing being mentored.
To help you along, I’m going to cover:
- Mentorship defined
- 5 common misconceptions about mentoring
- 4 steps to finding a mentor
Let’s get started!
“Mentoring” isn’t a new concept and it’s not difficult to grasp.
Here’s what you need to know:
A mentor is someone who intentionally helps someone else (mentee) grow personally, spiritually, or professionally in a relational setting.
The idea of mentoring has been around for thousands of years.
You may not be able to find “mentoring” mentioned in the Bible. But you can spot several examples of mentors and mentees, including:
- Jethro (mentor) and Moses (mentee)
- Moses (mentor) and Joshua (mentee)
- Eli (mentor) and Samuel (mentee)
- Jesus (mentor) and his disciples (mentees)
- Paul (mentor) and Timothy (mentee), Titus (mentee), and Barnabas (mentee)
If you spend time studying just these few examples, there are four essential ingredients you’ll discover about mentoring. A mentor should:
- Follow Jesus
- Set an example
The first thing we discover about mentoring is that a mentor should follow Jesus. A mentor’s life should exemplify what it means to live and love like Jesus. His or her life should be marked by a love for the Bible, dependency upon God, and a desire to share his or her experience with you.
A mentor should also be able to teach you. He or she doesn’t necessarily need a Bible degree or even to serve as a pastor, elder, or deacon of a church. What he or she teaches isn’t confined to the Bible alone.
At some point in your life, you’ll need to learn how to overcome a challenge, learn new skills, or expand your leadership abilities. In every one of these scenarios, a good mentor can guide you through whatever you need to learn in that season.
One significant part of being a mentor is setting an example. Regardless of what you want to learn, it’s ideal that the mentor you approach has “been there and done that.” When a mentor has experience with whatever you’re going through, he or she will be able to apply his or her knowledge and experience to your situation.
What is more, mentoring isn’t just about transferring information—it’s about transformation. With this in mind, a mentor is someone who can give you tips and advice. A mentor is someone who’s willing to set an example for you to follow.
Consider how Jesus and Paul mentored people.
In general, Jesus’ call to every one of us is to deny ourselves, pick up our cross, and follow him (Matt 16:24). When it came to the twelve disciples, this is literally what they did. They physically followed Jesus, lived with him, and learned from the example he set.
As for Paul, he was super clear about setting an example individuals and the church could follow. Check out these passages:
- Acts 20:17–18
- 1 Corinthians 11:1
- Philippians 4:9
- 2 Thessalonians 3:7
I’ll get into this more below. But be sure your mentor is someone who is setting a good example, which leads me to the next point.
Your mentor should be someone who models what a life dedicated to following Jesus looks like, brokenness and all.
A mentor is not a perfect example, they are a living example.
Just like you.
Now that we know what a mentor is, let’s go ahead and talk about some common misconceptions.
5 common misconceptions about mentoring
Before you find a mentor, you first have to know what you’re not looking for.
In other words, there are some common misconceptions about mentors you need to know before you consider who you should pursue.
Here are five common misconceptions:
- Anyone will do
- I need a paid coach
- I have a teacher, so I don’t need a mentor
- Age matters
- A mentor has to be perfect
The first common misconception about mentoring is that you can reach out to anyone. On the surface, this sounds okay. For instance, after you watch a video, read a book, or observe someone you admire, you may feel inspired to reach out to him or her for help, which makes perfect sense.
In this situation, you’ve experienced a benefit or were encouraged, and it’s natural to think that he or she will be willing and able to help you further apply the lesson you learned.
But remember, mentoring is more about transformation—not information. To really benefit from a mentor, you have to be in a position to not only hear what they have to say. You have to be able to model what they exemplify.
Instead of reaching out to a stranger, prayerfully consider finding a mentor among the people you know and naturally interact with during the normal ebbs and flows of your life.
If there is someone who may be able to help you, but you don’t know this person, see if you are connected with him or her through someone you know. Getting connected with someone through a personal relationship can make a world of difference in getting started on the right foot.
I just hinted at another common misconception about mentoring, and that’s confusing a mentor with a paid coach.
As a church leader, there are times when you can benefit from paying a coach to help you answer a question or overcome a problem. But a paid coach is not a mentor.
As I mentioned above, a mentor is someone who intentionally helps someone else in a relational setting.
A mentor isn’t someone you pay or someone who will serve as your church consultant.
A mentor is someone who’s invested in you as a person.
A mentor will be able to teach and guide you, and they’ll also be able to provide help in certain situations. But all of this is done through a relationship, and their focus is more wholistic versus helping you with a task or project.
Confusing a mentor with a paid coach is similar to the next misconception: Confusing a mentor with a teacher. Said another way, a mentor is not someone who (necessarily) follows a strict course or curriculum. Basically, there’s not a specific 12-step program for mentees you need to take to graduate.
A mentor will be able to teach you, but not in the way a teacher or professor teaches. The lessons a mentor shares are from his or her experience and aimed toward transforming your life—not just teaching you a lesson. There’s a subtle, yet significant difference between the two.
When it comes to finding a mentor, you should find someone who’s several steps ahead of you. But they don’t necessarily have to be significantly older than you.
As you look for a mentor, your goal is to find someone who’s ahead of you in whatever area you’re trying to improve upon. In this scenario, a mentor may be significantly older than you are, they may be several years older, or they may be your age. A mentor’s age isn’t a prerequisite. You want to have your eyes more on his or her character, experience, and wisdom.
The fifth common misconception about mentors is that they have to be perfect. I’m not talking about someone who lives a perfect life per se. Instead, I’m talking about treating a mentor like a vending machine who provides answers to your questions when you key in what you want.
A mentor isn’t someone whose role is to answer all of your questions and tell you what to do. Instead, a mentor is someone who can ask the right questions, provide guidance, and help you discover the steps you need to take.
This is what Solomon was getting at in the Book of Proverbs:
“The purposes of a person’s heart are deep waters, but one who has insight draws them out” (Prov. 20:5).
Now that we’ve cleared up these misconceptions about mentors, let’s take a look at how you can find one.
4 steps to finding a mentor
Finding a mentor doesn’t have to be a Herculean task.
After you walk through the steps below, there’s a good chance you’ll identify several people who may be a mentor.
Before you go on this journey, hang tight.
There’s one point I’d like to stress:
Take your time.
Mentoring takes place in relationships.
Mentoring isn’t something you can force. It’s something that takes time, and you’ll need to exercise a great deal of patience and humility. This entire process is something that will happen organically over time.
Will you have meetings?
There will be times when you meet with your mentor. But more often than not, your meetings will not be structured or occur more than once a month.
Does this have to be formal?
Technically, you don’t have to approach someone and ask, “Hey, will you be my mentor?”
There’s nothing wrong at all with taking this approach, and at times, it’s a good idea. But at times, it can work out well just to ask someone to go to lunch, let them know you’ve observed them for some time, and that you’d like to learn more about how they do whatever it is you’d like to know or learn.
Mentoring is something that will naturally work out well for you and your mentor. So be prepared to let this process simmer on low—not on high like something you’re trying to boil.
Here we go!
Step 1: Figure out who (or what) you’re looking for
What are you looking for in a mentor?
There’s nothing wrong at all with having someone in your life who encourages you, challenges you, and prays for you. Honestly, having many of these people in your life is a good thing.
Now, when it comes to finding a mentor, you’re not necessarily looking for a generalist. You’re in search of someone who can help you do one of two things:
- Solve a problem
- Grow in a specific area
In life, you will come up against different problems at different times. After reading books or seeking out advice, you may feel stuck and in need of help to overcome whatever you’re facing.
When this happens, don’t take it personally.
Remember, you’ve been created by God to be dependent upon him and in community with other people. One big part of your community is being in a relationship with people (mentors) who can speak into your life and help you to solve problems.
Do you need help in your church with a specific problem?
Having a difficult time breaking through a growth barrier?
Not sure about your next steps?
In any one of these situations, a mentor is someone who can help you figure out what you need to do.
Another common reason why someone pursues a mentor is because they’re interested in growing in a specific area of their life.
Whether it’s growing as a pastor, parent, or marketer (or whatever field you work in), a mentor can help you to grow as an individual. He or she can ask questions, provide suggestions, and even point you in the right direction.
What are you looking for in a mentor?
Answer this question before taking the next step.
Step 2: Be observant
Mentoring takes place in a relationship.
When you take the time to prayerfully consider the people in your life or open your eyes to potential mentors, you’ll be surprised at how many people come to mind.
As you consider the problem you need to solve or the area you need to grow in, does the Lord bring to mind anyone in particular? Write his or her name down to prayerfully consider whether they’re a potential mentor.
Step 3: Look to your denomination or network for support
Is your church affiliated with a denomination or network? If so, then there’s a good chance you’ve met a variety of peers who may be a good mentor during meetings or at other times.
Is your church non-denominational?
Depending upon the location of your church, look into joining a local meet up of pastors or starting one yourself to meet peers in similar situations.
Step 4: Attend conferences
Every year, there are many church conferences you can attend.
At these conferences, you have the opportunity to meet other church leaders, and I’m not talking about the speakers on stage either.
If you haven’t already, plan on attending a conference this year to recharge your batteries and network with peers. During this time, be observant to see if there’s someone you may be able to follow up with later to talk about life and ministry. You’ll be surprised at how many people may just say yes.
It’s time to find a mentor
Are you ready to find a mentor?
I hope so.
Don’t be discouraged if it takes longer than you think it should to find the right man or woman.
If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a dozen times:
Mentoring is something that takes place in a relationship.
It’s organic, and it will naturally grow as you follow the steps above.
Relationships are crucial to leading your church well.
It can be easy to get caught up in using your administrative skills while leading your church.
From possessing an ability to teach, to organize worship services, and to manage your money, there’s a lot you need to take care of to make sure everything functions.
But your church is more than a task to complete.
Your church is a group of people you must shepherd.
To lead your church well, you have to do more than preach a killer sermon and organize a breathtaking worship experience. You have to build relationships with the people you lead. To do this, you have to know and be known by the people you serve.
Building relationships with your church members can be challenging. Not only is it difficult as a church leader to create a personal community, but the way you build relationships will have a ripple effect throughout your church.
Think about it.
If you regularly come across as cold and emotionally detached, then this will influence the way your staff, volunteers, and church members will interact with each other.
This is just one example, but I think you get the point.
So, how do you build healthy relationships with your church?
How do you influence the community you serve to live and love like Jesus?
The key to creating life-giving relationships in your church is authentic leadership.
Authentic leadership is more than a contemporary business trend.
Authentic leadership is at the heart of church leadership.
In this post, I’m going to share with you three ways you can be an authentic church leader.
#1 – Always stay humble
The first mark of authentic leadership is humility.
Specifically, I’m talking about knowing who you are in light of who God created you to be. For instance, God didn’t create you—or anyone else for that matter—to be completely self-sufficient. If that were the case, then no one would need to place his or her faith in Jesus Christ or depend upon God’s strength to live the life he’s called us to live.
As an authentic church leader, there are three marks of humility:
- Live and love like Jesus
- Practice self-awareness
- Make room for struggle
As a Christian, your goal is to live and love like Jesus.
Many verses highlight this reality, including:
- Romans 8:29
- 1 Corinthians 11:1
- Ephesians 5:1–2
- 1 Peter 2:21
- 1 John 2:6
Practically speaking, when it comes to leadership, every book you read, principle you learn, and conference you attend must be filtered through your goal as a follower of Jesus.
In other words, your goal isn’t to live an authentic life per se. Your goal is to live an authentic life to be more like Jesus. Basically, authenticity is a way to be more like Christ.
To live your life for Jesus and to lead your church well, you have to possess a high level of self-awareness. According to Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence, self-awareness is “… knowing one’s internal states, preference, resources and intuitions.”
For you, this means being aware of who you are in Christ. In particular, to be an authentic leader, you need to know that you—like your church members—face an internal battle between the “flesh” and the “Spirit” (Gal 5:17). While the Holy Spirit leads you to live your life for Jesus, your “flesh” will tempt you to pursue sin instead.
What is more, self-awareness also means you understand that you too will face challenges in life. Whether you experience a natural disaster, suffer a financial setback, or endure a significant illness, you will have trouble in life (John 16:33).
What does self-awareness have to do with authentic leadership?
Well, a lot.
As you strive to live your life for Jesus, you are aware of the internal and external problems you face, which should lead you to make room for struggles in your life.
A big part of authenticity for anyone is being able to relate to someone else.
As a church leader, living a humble life dependent upon God’s strength will help you and the members of your church to empathize with one another, which leads me to my next point.
#2 – Walk in the light
The best definition of honesty is found in 1 John 1:7:
“But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleaned us from all sin.”
Honesty is about being able to walk in the light.
As a church leader, this has two big implications.
First, you’re not hiding something sinful in your life.
I’m not talking about the one time you told a “white lie” or had an angry thought toward someone else. What I’m talking about are ongoing sinful patterns.
If you’re not able to walk in the light, then I encourage you to seek advice from a friend or counselor on how best to move forward.
Second, walking in the light also means that you’re able to talk about your struggles.
Talking about your struggles is one way you can shed light into the darkness of someone else’s life. Being honest about your life can be a tremendous blessing for someone else.
When it comes to being honest, this doesn’t mean you have to share everything with everyone. Whether you share something from the pulpit or with someone one-on-one, ask yourself these two questions:
- “Will this help them live and love like Jesus?”
- “Can they relate to what I’m going to share?”
In answering these questions, you’ll be able to gauge if you should or should not share something from your life.
There’s one caveat I’d like to include:
As a church leader, you may not be able to share everything with your church. But it’s a good idea to have someone in your life you can be honest with—someone who can help you work through your problems or overcome your struggles with sin.
#3 – Share hope
There’s one last key component to being an authentic leader:
Embracing the hope found in Christ.
It’s easy to get caught up in navel-gazing as we talk about living a humble and honest life by sharing your struggles. But here’s the deal:
God is at work in your life.
Despite the challenges and problems you’re facing, God is at work.
He gives you strength.
He empowers you to overcome sin and Satan.
He will fulfill his promise to give you eternal life.
The hope you have as a Christian is the same hope you need to share with your church. As an authentic church leader, living a humble and honest life, don’t forget to share the hope that is in Christ.
Becoming an authentic church leader
The life of authentic leadership is ongoing.
It’s not a class you can take, a book you can read, or a destination you’ll reach.
As a church leader and follower of Christ, by the grace of God, you’ll always have to stay humble, walk in the light, and share hope with the church you serve.