Here at Living Leadership, we offer pastoral support to leaders and their spouses. That’s one of our raisons d'être. We offer many services here, but all our activities are focused on caring for and equipping those who lead (in churches and Christian organisations) and their spouses.
When God calls us to fulfil a short-term need for support, we have no idea where it might take us in the longer term. I have experienced a few times relationships developing from mentoring - maybe focused on a single issue - into friendship.
One pastor came to me in crisis ten years ago. Ten years has been enough time for the relationship to develop and grow. We’ve shared many of our life’s challenges with each other, and though it began in crisis, we have moved on. We now have a deep bond of friendship that we both cherish. And we’re still doing what matters most: studying the bible and praying together.
Before the pandemic, I was meeting with a brother who had recently left parish ministry to pursue a chaplaincy role. God had placed a burden on him to establish a charity offering chaplains to a particular demographic. As his vision sharpened, God began to provide people, resources, and opportunities. It was an exciting time, and I found that my own role began to change. I still offered soul care to my friend, but he invited me to take part in supporting the work of the charity. I was elected as Interim Chair to take the organisation through to its first AGM. It was a real honour to attend and chair a meeting which not only appointed new trustees but also a much more appropriate and skilled chairman! The past four years have seen a whirlwind of activity, but our primary focus has never wavered. As we’ve always done, we meet to offer mutual encouragement based on bible study and prayer.
GROWTH IN THE GARDEN
In a previous post, I wrote about my gardening exploits. I particularly enjoy watching tiny seeds or bulbs growing into fully mature plants. When you look at the packet, you can see a photo of what the plant is supposed to look like once it’s full-grown. Occasionally, however, a rogue seed finds its way into the soil, and as you watch your begonias grow, you’re not quite sure what’s happening. What is that nasty coiling greenery wrapped around my budding flowers?! Sometimes you’re fooled into thinking you’ve gained a new, interesting plant, but perhaps that’s the Scotsman in me—excited about acquiring something for free!
There is a similarity here with a mentoring or pastoral relationship. We come alongside a person, who is seeking care, guidance, or perhaps just some spiritual food. Often there is a ‘presenting issue’, a spiritual need. At times, there may be weeds. We begin in one place but it soon emerges that we’re dealing with the persistent weed of some sinful behaviour, attitude, or habit. When this occurs, we provide support by walking alongside people. Through mutual study, prayer, and conversation, a relationship develops. Trust builds. And as it does, a bond is forged which can stand the moment when we must sometimes gently challenge what may be a deep-rooted issue.
The relationship, if it is to develop well, needs not only a foundation of trust built up over time, but an end goal. It must be focused on helping the tender shoot to stand up on its own. When we begin to see this happening, it is a wonder to behold, because it is dependent on the work of God.
In nature, sunlight causes photosynthesis to occur—a process that triggers growth in a plant. The hormones of the plant and its DNA, along with the nutrients of the soil and water molecules combine to give us ears of grain, flowers, seeds and leaves. Just as we can’t see atoms with our eyes, we don’t really see all that goes on in the chemistry of plant growth—but it happens because God designed plants this way. It’s an inevitable process when the combination is right, and Jesus even talks about it in the parable of the growing seed.
Night and day, whether he* sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.
Just as the Kingdom of God commences inconspicuously and then grows slowly until it’s ready for harvest, so it is with spiritual growth in individuals. To help people grow and enjoy the benefits of the mentor/mentee relationship, we use careful and persistent questions to plant the seed of God’s word, and we entrust them to the presence of God, the Holy Spirit. Mentors cannot force growth—that is not in our power. However, we can provide an environment in which our conversations become spiritual food that generates growth. Our words, by the grace of God, feed the soul. And it’s only by his grace that they do. We are merely servants, guided by the Spirit.
Have you ever kept watch as grass seeds gradually turn into a smooth green lawn? Or have you watched a new plant sprout new growth? It’s so exciting. The green fuzz that slowly appears, or the buds that begin to erupt into colour—they are such splendid works of our Creator. So it is when we see others grow in the knowledge and grace of God. When it happens, we should give thanks, of course. But we should also pass on to our mentees what we’re seeing. Encouragement nurtures and feeds the soul.
At Living Leadership, we are privileged to be able to walk with leaders and their spouses, to support and encourage them. Each person is like a ‘tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season (Ps 1.3a). Every person I’ve mentored fills me with joy for I have watched them become ‘oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendour’ (Isa 61.3c).
Editor’s Note: If you are involved in Christian ministry, and are interested in receiving pastoral support, do visit our Refresh Ministries page to find out about all the ways we can support you.