Pastor Partners Gather for Training

On September 22 and 23, 40 pastors participated in training to serve as mentors for new pastors through their first three years of ministry. This program, Pastor Partners, is an initiative of Grow in Grace, and has received a very positive response since it launched in 2010.

Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary hosted mentors from all over the United States including Alaska, Texas, New York, Virginia, Nevada, and many more. Several other pastors were able to join via online streaming.

The opening bible study was led by Pastor Jeremiah Gumm, pastor serving at Cross of Christ in Liverpool, New York. The bible study, Pastorally Mentoring Pastors, had the mentors reflecting on their own ministerial experience as well as the aspects they would look for in a mentor.

As mentors who walk beside these young mentees, they focused on ways to make applications for themselves and young pastors from Paul’s words to Timothy and Titus. Since Symposium had taken place earlier in the week (focusing on the Pastor as Teacher) many were able to bring applications learned from there. One pastor observed, “It is important to take the focus off of yourself and focus on the learner and the learner’s needs.” All agreed that mentoring a new pastor needs to focus on creating a relationship between mentor and mentee and focusing on the needs of the young pastor.

The second presentation titled Pastor’s Devotional Life is Essential, was presented by Staff Minister, Rick Loewen, Director of Cross Train Ministries in Laveen, AZ. Loewen shared what he has learned over the years about how digging into your own devotional life is essential to get mentees excited about their own devotional life. It is imperative to stay connected to the Word on a daily basis; he states, “Keep Scripture first; nothing replaces what [the Bible] has to say.”

The third topic, The Pastor and Depression, covered by Dr. Brandon Hayes, is a relevant theme seen in pastors. Learning about the many signs and symptoms of depression can help a mentor notice these signs in themselves, their mentees and their flock. As a pastor, it can be common to feel isolated, lonely, or discouraged in pastoral ministry. Remembering and sharing God’s full forgiveness is a good place to start when feeling discouraged. Pastor Rob Guenther shares, “If I find myself discouraged in my ministry, I’ve come to learn that it’s because I’m looking for the wrong things. God never promised that I would see a prosperous ministry (as some define prosperity). He never promised the numbers would always go up and never down. He never promised that we’d never face financial challenges or that sin would never be seen among my leadership. But he did promise me forgiveness. And thank God for that forgiveness that we all need so desperately!”

It can be difficult for pastors or mentees to ask for help for various reasons; mentors were reminded to stay humble, share personal or ministerial struggles, and offer comfort of forgiveness in God’s word. Second year mentee, Pastor John Raasch, adds, “My mentor and I share some of the same spiritual struggles as well as personal and professional struggles. It’s beneficial to me to be able to share those difficulties with someone who has an unbiased view of my ministry but who also has a lot of great experience.”

On the final day of training, a panel of past mentees shared their experience about the Pastor Partner program. Largely, the responses from the panel were positive and they were thankful to have been part of the program. Pastor Jasper Sellnow, pastor at Mount Olive in Appleton WI, shared that he was hesitant to continue in the program after being assigned to a church that had multiple pastors, but “by the end of the first year I was very thankful to have someone to bounce ideas off of who wasn’t one of the associate pastors at the same church.” Pastor Paul Fritz, serving at St. John’s in Fremont WI, was very appreciative of how his mentor showed care by holding him accountable to goals they discussed and set up together.

Both panel pastors shared encouragement for seminary seniors. Sellnow advises to, “Get [a mentor] even if you don’t think you need one. You have no idea where the Holy Spirit is going to send you and the situation you’ll find yourself in and you don’t know how that situation might change over the first couple years of your ministry.” Fritz adds, “Allow one of these men who have been in the ministry for a few years to be right alongside you. Anytime you can get someone who is going to be an advisor, it’s going to be helpful.”

“Pastor Partners seeks to lift up new pastors by providing a trained and experienced pastor focused on providing one-on-one encouragement to that new pastor for the first three years of his pastoral ministry.” Northern Wisconsin District President Joel Zank was able to attend the training session and notes, ‘I have followed the Pastor Partner Program since its inception. I have two associates who are benefiting from the program firsthand. It was easy to see why the men participating in the program had been chosen. Their love for ministry was apparent. These are men who want to serve the kingdom, not only in their own congregations, but also by doing all that they can to help our new pastors flourish in their calling. [Pastor Partners] will prove a great blessing to WELS.’

God has indeed blessed the efforts of those involved with Pastor Partners mentoring during these past five years. With God’s continued blessings, Grow in Grace seeks to use this Pastor Partners mentoring initiative as the beginning of many opportunities to encourage brothers in ministry throughout their years of service.

You can read more about Pastor Partners on their webpage.