The Leader as Spiritual Mentor

The Church Revitalization Podcast – Episode 184

Church leaders serve various functions within the church, but there are certain capabilities or competencies that are essential to leaders at any level and of any function. We call these core competencies. Regardless of the level of leadership or role within the church, a core competency is an essential component of what it means to lead.

One of these core competencies is spiritual mentorship. While we might be tempted to think that spiritual mentorship is reserved for pastors or people with a particular temperament, the reality is that Jesus calls each of his followers to be disciple-makers. We often think of leadership development and discipleship as two separate enterprises, but there is a high degree of overlap. This is one such area.

Imagine if every person in your church comprehended the reality that they are positioned to be a spiritual mentor where they are right now–no need to achieve a certain status or position. What would your church like if each person in your church took ownership of that reality and leveraged their influence–no matter how great or small–to model Christ to one another and the outside world? 

Let’s go deeper into what it means to be a spiritual mentor, and explore how the core competency of spiritual mentorship manifests at various levels of leadership within the church.

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Leaders are Spiritual

The key differentiator between worldly leaders and church leaders is their submission and acknowledgement of the heavenly realms. Paul implores us in Colossians 3:2 to “Set your minds on things that are above,” and reminds us in Ephesians 6:12 that “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” Church leaders must have a spiritual orientation. 

This daily walk in the spirit and commitment to operating on a spiritual plane and not just in the flesh does not mean that we become ethereal and disconnected from reality. Far from it! When we embrace the spiritual reality, we should have an increased awareness of our incarnational reality. Walking in the Spirit, therefore, means that church leaders must be dedicated to a lifestyle of repentance of sin, faithfulness to the Gospel, and a daily walk with the Lord.

Maintaining a spiritual focus is not reserved for “elite” leaders, but should be true of every Christian–though our faithfulness and fruitfulness will increase with maturity.

Leaders are Mentors

If you lived in a forest somewhere in a small community disconnected from modern society, you would never long for the latest smartphone or technology–even if you were to encounter one. Your desire for material things is largely a reflection of those who are around you who also want these things. Our entire economy is based on cultivating “demand” for certain products and services, and good marketers know how to artificially increase a sense of demand.

This is because human beings are mimetic by nature–we learn to desire what others desire. In relation to materialism, this is a bad thing. But God designed us this way. Therefore, this tendency can be leveraged for a godly purpose. When we are surrounded by those who have godly and spiritual longings, we are more likely to cultivate godly and spiritual hunger.

Whether we choose to acknowledge it or not, our longings and desires are largely the byproduct of the people we surround ourselves with. If we find ourselves hungering and thirsting for ungodly things, it’s possible that we are surrounding ourselves with ungodly influences–whether that is the people we spend time with or the media we consume.

Also, we are shaping the desires and longings of the people around us. This is difficult to admit, especially as a spouse and parent. But if we don’t like the manifestations of our kids’ longings, we need to take a hard look at what we are modeling or who we are allowing to influence the desires of our kids.

Therefore, we cannot think of mentorship as a program or a ministry within the church. Mentorship is the default reality in your church. The primary question is, “What are we modeling, and what desires are we cultivating within the people in our church?”

As we cultivate healthy longings, we lead others to desire these good things, too. This is why Jesus says in Matthew 5:6, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” You will be filled by what you hunger for; it will either satiate you or leave you spiritually empty. Spiritual mentorship, therefore, is less about teaching others to follow a rote set of rules and behaviors, but rather modeling a hunger and thirst for righteousness which leads to deeper levels of holiness.

Volunteers as Spiritual Mentors

Churches struggle because they believe that only the pastor, paid staff, or church board members can function as spiritual mentors. But the linchpin to spiritual vitality in the church is teaching every volunteer from the frontline all the way up to understand that they are already functioning as spiritual mentors, and then equipping them to be a better role model. 

The expectation and sphere of influence will vary based on the level of leadership. A greeter has less influence than a small group leader. The goal is to right-size the expectation and equip each volunteer to thrive within the sphere of influence they currently occupy. Let’s briefly look at what spiritual mentorship looks like at the three levels of volunteer leadership.

Level One – Frontline Leaders

Frontline leaders don’t have a lot of influence, and therefore the expectation isn’t too high. However, their role is important and their influence does make a difference, especially in the aggregate. This means that any one frontline leader may not move the needle on the spiritual climate in your church, but if the entire culture on a frontline team isn’t spiritually healthy, it will impact the whole church.

Therefore, spiritual mentorship for Frontline Leaders looks like an openness to spiritual things and the teachings of Jesus. It also looks like not being openly antagonistic towards Christ and his Church. Contemporary society is filled to the brim with skeptics and cynics. While the church should be a welcomed place to bring your questions and doubts, those who serve on teams should commit themselves to living in such a way that they are open to spiritual things and a receptivity to the teachings of Jesus. This is a low bar to clear, but it is essential for a spiritually vital church.

Level Two – Ministry Leaders

Ministry Leaders have a greater degree of influence because their explicit role is to lead others in some way towards a deeper relationship with the Lord and greater understanding of Him. This can occur through various roles from small group leaders to worship team members. Regardless of the ministry, the function of a Ministry Leader is to lead other people to Jesus in concrete ways.

Because their influence is greater, the expectation for spiritual mentorship is greater, too. Therefore, spiritual mentorship for Ministry Leaders looks like a consistent pursuit of living out the fruit of the Spirit in everyday life. While the manifestation of the fruit is a work of the Holy Spirt, the Apostle Peter says explicitly in 2 Peter 1:5 that believers can “make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue.” This isn’t a form of legalism. It’s an acknowledgement that if we want to bear spiritual fruit, we have to cultivate good spiritual soil. This is the expectation for Ministry Leaders: that they would take ownership of the spiritual soil of their heart, so that the Spirit might effectuate good spiritual fruit.

Level Three – Ministry Coordinators

Ministry Coordinators have the highest influence of any volunteer because of their role in coordinating small teams of other volunteers. Therefore, they have to learn a different set of skills. The lowest levels of volunteers only need to focus on their own spiritual growth and development and the impact their personal example can have on others. By contrast, Ministry Coordinators must start understanding the role they have in directing the spiritual health of others.

Ministry Coordinators must develop the skill of recognizing and speaking into the spiritual health of others. This means being able to have difficult conversations, as well as the ability to manage one’s own emotions well. The key function of a Ministry Coordinator is to maximize the effectiveness of a small team of leaders. The impact of that team will always be confined by the spiritual health of the group. Therefore, Ministry Coordinators play a special role in actively monitoring the spiritual health of team members and faithfully exhorting and admonishing them, as the situation requires.

Ministry Staff as Spiritual Mentors

Core Competencies are cumulative, meaning that what’s true for a Frontline Volunteer or Ministry Coordinator is still true for the Ministry Staff. Staff, like volunteers, act as spiritual mentors in their interactions with individuals. They are responsible for overseeing their team and engaging team members on a personal level. As the author of Hebrews writes in chapter 10 of the epistle, “let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works.” This is especially true for staff.

However, unlike volunteers, Ministry Staff are responsible for shaping the spiritual mentorship culture of the entire ministry. Staff must create environments and opportunities for spiritual mentorship to occur. This does not mean creating new ministries or programs for spiritual mentorship. Rather, Ministry Staff need to look intently at the systems and processes they use, and think critically about whether or not the way they do ministry is conducive to spiritual mentorship. 

It is incumbent on the Staff to ensure that spiritual mentorship is a critical aspect of the ministry, and actively monitor each team within the ministry. They hold Ministry Coordinators accountable for the spiritual vitality of their teams, and step in when necessary to help teams get healthier.

Board Members as Spiritual Mentors

The word for elder in the New Testament comes from the synagogue system where the most wise and experienced men served as the spiritual and functional heads of the local gathering. In fact, the concept of the rabbi or teacher serving as the head of a synagogue did not occur until after the first century. While this is more descriptive rather than prescriptive, there is wisdom for us in this. Your church Board Members should serve as spiritual mentors by functioning as the closest to Christlikeness. 

Serving on the Church Board should have high standard for character and spiritual maturity. This doesn’t mean Board Members must be flawless or legalists–but they set as a spiritual standard. Each Board Member should be someone that you would love each person in your congregation to aspire to reflect and embody. Consider Paul’s encouragement in 1 Corinthians 11:1 where he says, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” This is a bold statement! 

Paul is not suggesting that he is perfect. Far from it. He calls himself “a chief among sinners” in 1 Timothy 1:15. Instead, he is pointing to his consistency in walking in the Spirit. He models with excellence the practice of confession, repentance, and faithfulness through trials. He consistently exhibits the fruit of the Spirit in everyday life. He feels confident, not in Himself, but in the power of Christ in him to say, “Hey–follow Jesus the way I’m following Jesus.”

Your Board Members should be at a similar level of spiritual maturity. Not where they have confidence in their own flesh, but where they are fully versed in walking in the Spirit and are living out their trust in Christ’s power to lead and guide them daily. Too often, we elevate leaders based on their age, professional experience, or the amount of money they give. Be certain that your Church Board is comprised of people you can confidently point to as examples of spiritual health and maturity.

Spiritual mentorship is central to a healthy, thriving church. But to ensure that your church reaches its greatest spiritual impact, you must activate leaders at every level to embrace their roles as spiritual mentors. 

By understanding how the competency of spiritual mentorship scales from your Frontline Volunteers all the way to your Board Members, people can understand how they can grow into spiritual mentorship and not feel overwhelmed by the call. Step-by-step, your leaders can grow in their ability to influence others to cultivate a deep hunger and thirst for the things of God.

BONUS: Watch this episode on YouTube.

Scott Ball is the Vice President and a Lead Guide with The Malphurs Group. He lives in East Tennessee with his wife and two children. (Email Scott).

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