I Pastor Pastors

When I became a believer as a college student in the ’70s, I never dreamed I would become a pastor, let alone a mentor of pastors! I’ve been privileged to help perhaps 100 in various relationships over the years. Along the way, I’ve seen how each pastor is unique. To come alongside them, I’ve learned it is crucial to rely on the Holy Spirit, tailoring my programs, methods, and agendas to meet their needs.
God first awakened me to the struggles of pastors when my pastor was going through a rough time. I longed to help him but didn’t know how. Through this experience, the Lord planted a desire in my heart to minister to pastors when and where I could.
To my surprise, God eventually led me to become a pastor, a role I have held for more than 35 years. I experienced firsthand that pastoring is hard if done right, and the heartaches are many for God's pastors. The expectations we put upon ourselves are often unrealistic. The expectations of our congregations add to that. The places we fall short can keep us awake at night and nervous during the day.
After experiencing and observing how pastors struggle, coming alongside other pastors has become a significant part of my ministry. Through my active participation in pastors’ retreats, luncheons, and the like, I meet pastors who want a mentor. I work with 6 to 12 men at a time. Once or twice a month I get together with two small teams, six in one group and four in another. I meet with others one on one.
I often rely on what I learned from The Navigators as a student at Iowa State University: how to meet with people Life-to-LifeTM, encouraging them in their walk with God and equipping them for ministry. I seek to mentor them in life and ministry, and to impart a vision for making disciples in their churches.
I’ve learned, however, that my approach to helping these hardworking people of God must be as varied as the pastors themselves. I need to hold any agenda I might have with an open hand. Here’s how I custom-fit my approach to the pastors I mentor.
People Over Programs
My meeting with a pastor begins before our first meeting. I devote time to prayer, searching my heart to see if I am right with God, and asking the Lord for insight and a listening ear to the man He wants me to meet.
When I meet with them I have a plan. My plan is to encourage them in being disciples and making disciples. I have an agenda ready, but their needs always come first. I am not in a hurry to tackle my agenda when theirs is more urgent.
Most pastors will not freely share their feelings, fears, and follies until they meet a trusting heart. I frequently use humor and share my journey with them if it is appropriate. I encourage them to talk and I listen to pick up on where they are. 
After dealing with any immediate and urgent personal needs, I ask them where they see their congregation or ministry now. I take notes and listen. I then ask where they want their congregation or ministry to go in the next one to three years. That can kick off a one-time or ongoing conversation.
We then begin the work of assessing where the church's strengths, needs, and people are. We talk next about what the church wants to accomplish. The Navigators Church Ministries has some wonderful tools to aid us in this mission. Now the challenge: how to custom fit the resources and disciplemaking plans to the person(s) I am speaking with. I seek to fit the plan to the person and not the person to the plan. Sometimes that means walking with someone for several weeks or months, encouraging him and building trust before we get on with making disciples within the church.
One of the most common mistakes I have made is offering help too soon. The pastors come with an agenda just as I do. They may be thinking about board problems, filling positions, keeping people from leaving, handling staff conflicts, etc. I am so excited and eager to share about discipling and making disciples that I can jump the gun and share before I have listened adequately. I have to ask the Holy Spirit many times to control my heart and tongue and help me know when and how to share what is on His heart. Sometimes I go away having never brought up my agenda because of theirs.
It is the Holy Spirit who guides us into the rest and fruitfulness that Jesus promises. I am still learning that at 72 years of age and over 50 years of ministry.
We must never lose sight of the people we are helping. They take precedence over the programs and our plans and timetable. We must go with them at a pace they are ready to pursue, being ready to speed up or slow down as the need arises. We invest in them as long as the Lord directs us to do so.
I want to come alongside pastors, listen to their stories, and assist them in evangelizing, establishing, equipping, and employing their people in ministry. Tailoring my approach to their specific needs is more work than following a set plan. It requires walking closely with the Lord myself and continually depending on the Holy Spirit’s leading. What better way to mentor in partnership with God?

Denny Holbert served as a pastor for more than 30 years before joining the staff of Navigators Church Ministries. He and his wife, Pam, live in Oregon.