One of the marks of age is an accumulation of mentors. I can think of many teachers, coaches, and professional acquaintances who’ve impacted my life along the way. I can also think of several pastors who influenced my thinking about my faith and a continuing interest in ministry.
My first "spiritual" mentor was Reverend Mike Vaughn, who hired me as a college intern at a large Presbyterian church in the Kansas City area. I spent two summers with Mike, working with high school kids as part of a summer youth program that crystallized my thinking on what it meant to put my faith into action. Mike gave me a new perspective on what a minister did away from the pulpit.
He showed me that pastors could be deep thinkers, empathetic listeners, and silly cut-ups all in the span of a few minutes. In the large church where we worked, the youth program was perpetually causing some manner of disruption for those going about the "business" of the church – decently and in order.
Mike and I reveled in the creation of a little chaos and to this day, I think a little chaos in church is a blessing. This experience left me in a quandary about graduate school. Law school versus seminary became a difficult choice. Ultimately, I opted for a career as an attorney, but the calling to serve in ministry would persist in my life.
Ten years into my career as a lawyer, I began to have further thoughts about going to seminary. By this time I was serving as an Elder. My pastor at the time was Ron Salfen. I was serving as Clerk of Session and we would meet regularly to plan, but also just to visit. Ron became an important mentor for several reasons. First, he gave me insight into a side of the pastor’s job I hadn’t seen with Mike: the world of administration and governance. I gained a new appreciation of how challenging the pastor’s role can be, working with lay leadership through the problems and myriad of decisions. Ron also pushed me to really consider the ministry as a career. He even gave me an opportunity in the pulpit on a Sunday he wouldn’t be in town.
It was Trinity Sunday, and the experience is one I will never forget. My sermon seemed well received, and it gave me a little confidence that I could probably do the job without creating a new schism in the Church. However, it also gave me a new appreciation for preaching. I sweated bullets preparing that sermon and couldn’t really imagine pulling one together on a weekly basis. Opening night was a success, but the encores would undoubtedly be more challenging.
The decision to leave a paying job and a career in which I was heavily invested was a hard one, and I hesitated. It was around this time that some other mentors helped me fully appreciate a Call that I’d struggled to really understand. Serving on the Session and fully committing to the work of my church changed my thinking. I looked around and saw other lay people engaged and making a difference. I realized that I didn’t need to leave my job and go to seminary to fully serve the Church.
An abundance of qualified pastors is the by-product of a shrinking denomination and busy seminaries. However, you don’t read much about an overabundance of lay people, waiting and hoping for an opportunity to serve their churches. In today’s church, the importance of mentoring new lay leadership cannot be understated.
There’s a simple formula for this kind of mentorship: action and example. We hear a lot about the philosophy of "servant leadership" and a big part of the "leadership" half of this concept is mentorship. Recognizing oneself as a servant mentor means being more intentional about providing encouragement and guidance to those who are still trying to come to terms with their personal ministry as a lay leader.
Earlier this year, I began a term of service on Grace Presbytery’s Congregational Care Committee. One of the reasons I agreed to serve was a continuing interest in how to better equip lay leaders in the service of the Church.
Supporting and fostering new lay leadership in the church is one of the most important things we can do as a denomination to facilitate healthy churches that make a difference in the world. I would love to hear from you if you have thoughts, suggestions, or opinions about ways to mentor and support lay leaders.
Ty Gomez is a NorthPark member, PCUSA ordained elder, and soccer dad. In his spare time, he practices law, plans more unfinished woodworking projects, and cooks for the women in his home.