5 Lessons for Mentoring Future Church Planters

It’s not a surprise that church planting is becoming more prevalent in the U.S. due to the number of churches that are dying, declining, or that are stuck in unchurched communities. New expressions of Christian community are also happening as more churches, like mine, go multisite. What we’ve discovered through multiplying campuses is that identifying a location, a worship space, funding, and general support are actually the easy parts. It’s finding the right church planter with the right gifts and graces that presents the true challenge. This is why we have created a church planting residency program we call Rooted.

Through prayer and discernment, I looked within our church and found a young man who had been on our staff working in student ministry for five years. Jeremiah Lewis (watch for him on the Church Planter Collective!), a rapper who is passionate about reaching people for Jesus, has shown fruitfulness in his ministry. We are six months into Jeremiah’s residency and we have learned a few things along the way. You might consider them as you think about developing church planting residency programs in your church.

  1. Affinity: It’s important that there is a natural affinity between mentor and mentee. Bottom line, the two individuals have to like each other and be drawn to each other. Prior to starting his residency, Jeremiah and I already had a relationship because I was one of his supervisors. We would get together to hang out as well as to strategize about ministry. Jeremiah was already looking to me with questions about my own experiences in church planting.
  1. Availability: Is the person who wants to be a resident or mentee available? Do they have the time to invest? Jeremiah has shown a hunger for getting his feet wet in a variety of experiences. If Jeremiah wasn’t willing to make the time to show up and go above and beyond, it would not work. Also, as a mentor and coach, I have to make myself available for him for weekly connections. It’s important to get into a rhythm of regular contact.
  1. Adaptability: A mentoring relationship will typically benefit from a proactive adaptability. My coaching style varies depending on what Jeremiah and I are going through at any given time. It’s important for a mentor to remember that each mentee needs to be coached in different ways. Some people need toughness while others need encouragement. They might need it at different times. When new scenarios in ministry present themselves, I try to incorporate teaching moments right on the spot. (You might explore Daniel Goleman’s “6 Leadership Styles” for a variety of approaches to mentoring and leading. Chart available here.)
  1. Attentiveness: To be the best mentor I can be, I’ve learned to work on my listening skills. A lot of mentoring isn’t verbal coaching or lecturing at all; it’s just listening and really hearing what a mentee is going through and how they are processing their ministry experiences. If I do all the talking, the relationship becomes one-sided. I’ve also learned that my job isn’t to come up with all the best answers and solutions, but instead to process the right answers with Jeremiah.
  1. Activation: During this residency, I’ve learned to activate Jeremiah’s gifting and let him loose when it comes to launching outreach events, community discussions on race, and discipleship classes. I’ve also given him the experience of leading some of our staff meetings. In the activation process, I’ve had to learn to let go and curb my tendency to control. I’m not trying to model Jeremiah after someone else. I want him to be the best person God has called him to be. In order to do that, Jeremiah has to have a chance to actually lead.

What lessons have you learned in a mentorship experience, whether you were the mentor or the mentee? How might they shape the manner of identifying, training, and equipping church planters?

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