A clear picture forms quickly in my mind when I think about the people who have pastored me. Their names are not famous or associated with many earth-shaking accomplishments, but for me they are heroes and giants. Their willingness to investment in me distinguished me as valuable and set me on a path toward fruitful ministry., At a season in my life when I could have gone a dozen different directions, their influence helped gather my thoughts and concentrate my focus on a greater vision of God’s work in my life. Their love of Christ was never more real than in the way they loved me. I owe so much to those men who were willing to do the difficult work of a shepherd.
Since my days in the company of these men, I’m compelled by a desire to continue the work they began in me and carry it through into the lives of others. I’ve learned to see myself as more than a song and worship leader who gets the music together, but a pastor to those who I’ve been given to lead, a servant to the people who God places in my life, and a model who gives the same grace that has been given to me. There is no more important work than loving people and there is no leader with any lasting success that does not learn that lesson often. These are some directives that were modeled for me as I was led well and loved well by godly mentors.
I heard once that the famous children’s television star, Mr. Rogers, always carried a card in his pocket that read: “You can learn to love anybody once you know their story.” I believe that is a great place to start with the people you pastor. Get to know them. Not just their ability and what they do on the team, but as much as possible know them—their history, what kind of family they came from, what their background with church is, how they came to know the gospel and the love of Jesus. Knowing the people you’re working with is vital to the success of a team because it enables leaders to motivate by design, not guesswork. Know your people, and you’ll lead them better. Make it a point to know their story, and they’ll know you love them too.
My mentors have always been folks who, in spite of their busy lives, had time for me. They gave me access by letting me in on their lives and work. I drew great insight from watching my mentors walk out their struggles with dignity and hard earned wisdom. The people we pastor don’t need an untouchable hero. They need a leader who can relate to them. Giving people access to your time and life will make you relatable. I’ll trade 10 sermons for 10 minutes to watch a great leader handle a conflict or have a difficult conversation. That kind of access is empowering to people you’re mentoring and nothing prepares you for life like watching somebody live it well.
The better you know somebody personally, the more enabled you are to speak instruction and reproof into their life. Having a difficult conversation or asking for personal improvements are easiest when they’re reinforced by an intentional and earned relationship. It’s easy to hear a difficult word from someone who has made the effort to know you for who you are—not what you do. Don’t be afraid to speak the truth in love to the people you lead. The best people on my teams are the ones who I’ve had the honor of challenging to another level. Calling somebody out is a risk, but the risk is almost always worth taking. Never enable an ego at the cost of the team—it’s never fruitful and both the person and the team suffer. Create a culture of artistic progress and call for it from your people. If you don’t, you forfeit the right to expect anything better from them and you enable mediocrity and unfaithfulness.
A wise pastor once told me: “If you want to have influence in a person’s life, pray for them.” The first place a leader should launch from is their knees. Influence is hard to come by, especially godly influence. Getting to know someone by praying for them invokes the supernatural mystery of the Holy Spirit and what a welcome presence He is when we lead and love well. Where better to take the spiritual pulse of your people than by calling out their name in prayer. There is a person in my life who calls me from time to time to say that they’re praying for me and then they offer specific thoughts on what God led them to pray on my behalf. It’s always the most refreshing (and accurate) insight for me. Consequently, I’d follow that person to the ends of the earth if they needed me. I’m loyal to them because they’ve proven that they want God’s best for me and loved me enough to pray about it.
Mentoring and pastoring people is not easy work, but it’s an honor that gets its luster with time, and it’s loving people in the process that is the model of Christ. Love first. Lead well.