Learning to cherish older men in church planting

As church planters, pastors, and ministry leaders, we must be vigilant in our pursuit of spiritual disciplines. Most of us are aware of the obvious ones (prayer, spending time in the Word, etc.), but as I find myself in the months leading up to launching our first church plant, there is one area I have had to cultivate with more intentionality: the discipline of being mentored by older, more mature men.

At a glance, that may not sound like a spiritual discipline, but I have come to believe it is as crucial to my spiritual development as almost any other area. In the following paragraphs, I want to give you three reasons why I feel so strongly about this, and offer a word of caution as well.

1. Being mentored by an older believer is healthy for the dynamic of leadership in your church. Those of us who are called to be preaching or lead pastors, often are put in scenarios where ours is the decisive vote. By nature of the position, the flock (and other elders) will look to us to cast vision, take the lead, and confidently follow the Lord as we shepherd His flock. Indeed, this is what we are called to do (1 Pet. 5:1-4). However, we must be wary of constantly putting ourselves in positions where we are the highest authority. Having a plurality of elders helps this immensely, but is not a failsafe. We must be in situations where older, wiser believers can speak into our lives and offer, from their experience, course corrections, encouragements, and exhortations. As a leader, this will help correct the notion that you are on the top of the pile. A good leader must lead with humility, putting the needs and desires of those in his care ahead of his own, and this is sometimes better learned from the experience of an older saint.

2. Being mentored by someone more mature than ourselves is modeled in Scripture. Consider the relationship Paul had with Timothy and Epaphroditus, as recorded in Philippians 2. From this text (and the book of Acts), we can infer that Paul spent a great deal of time with these men. Timothy traveled with Paul on some of his missionary journeys, and eventually, after training and mentoring him, Paul deployed him to establish churches in Ephesus (1 Tim. 1). We get a window into what this mentoring looked like when we read the pastoral epistles of 1 and 2 Timothy. In these, Paul reminds Timothy of many things they had discussed and offers continuing admonishment, support, and encouragement to his protégé. This is what biblical mentorship should look like in our churches. Those who have walked with the Lord for 15, 20, or 30 years should gladly take on the task of training up the next generation of pastors, church planters, and (really) all believers. This model is not confined to the New Testament however, in Psalm 71:17-18 the psalmist says:

“O God, from my youth you have taught me, and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds. So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim your might to another generation, your power to all those to come.”

It should be the normative pattern of our lives that we are taught by God, through Word-centered preaching, discipleship, and fellowship, and we then in turn pass that on to the next generation.

3. Being mentored by a mature believer has shaped my life and ministry. The last reason I have to give comes from my own experience as a church leader and, now, a church planter. As I look back on how God has brought my wife and me to the place of planting our first church, I recognize very clearly the impact mentoring relationships have had on me, most significantly with two men named Brad and Dan. More often than I can recall, I have gone to these men for advice, wisdom, example, and stability, and they have come through every time. They have seen trends come and go, have weathered difficult times in church life, and can reassure me it will pass. They have experienced betrayal, loss, frustration, and anxiety, and can help me navigate through those times in my life and ministry. Your wife will be one of your greatest allies as you endeavor to pastor, plant, or lead, but there is a special strengthening effect that comes from being able to process with someone who is (probably) more objective, and has walked through these things before.

Lastly, I offer a brief word of caution: Just because someone is physically older than you are, does not automatically qualify them for the role of mentor in your life. It is very possible you have peers who surpass the older generation in spiritual wisdom, discernment, and experience. More often than not, there is great value in the experience of years, but use discernment when choosing someone to help shape and mold you in your ministry. I personally enjoy my time with older saints, and no matter where you are in your ministry journey, I encourage you to take time to be mentored. It is biblical, it is wise, and it will bear much fruit in your life.


Published August 10, 2018