By Sharon Mager
COLUMBIA, Md. — Frank Duncan, the pastor of Paramount Baptist Church in Hagerstown, Maryland, praises the value of a seminary education — the teaching, friendships, and experiences — but he acknowledges that higher education can’t provide all a pastor needs to know. Sometimes, he says, you need the voice of experience.
“One thing I’ve learned is that the names change [and] the locations change, but most of the problems in a church are the same in Hagerstown as they are in South Carolina, or North Carolina, or anywhere else. Pastors deal with many of the same issues and the same challenges,” Duncan says. That’s why having and being a mentor is so valuable.
“Early on in my ministry, I heard an older pastor say that everyone needs a Paul mentoring him, a Timothy to mentor, and a Barnabas to encourage him.” That idea always stuck with Duncan.
Reflecting on his early years of ministry, Duncan says, “The insight and guidance I received from men who took time to share with me has been invaluable. They encouraged me and helped me stay in ministry and do what I’m doing.”
Pastors are facing a real battle and according to Duncan that battle can be particularly overwhelming when they’re first starting out, “If you’re a leader, you have a target on your back. Where God is at work, so is the devil. He will never let any true work of God go unnoticed or unchallenged.”
Starting strong with mentorship will help a pastor throughout the rest of his ministerial life. Duncan tells how his home church pastor shared counsel with him shortly before he left to pastor his first church. The older pastor said that the first year of ministry lays a foundation for the way it will be in the future. “I’ve pastored four churches and served on staff as the lead assistant in a larger church. I’ve been through transitions, and I’ve learned that to be true.”
Now mentoring others, Duncan says, “The first thing I encourage them, before focusing on problems, is to focus on their relationship with Jesus. If you’re not walking with Him every day, you’re going to be weak and vulnerable.”
Many pastors struggle with tradition, procedures, and administration. Some need help with scripture interpretation.
“Sometimes you need help dealing with committees, or in relationships with deacons,” Duncan says.
“There’s also the discouragement that comes with being in ministry. Some are in a season of struggling with overwhelming ministry demands. I’ve experienced that,” he shares.
“Find someone who has more experience, wherever you are, he encourages. “They’ve walked where you’re walking; they’ve ‘been there,” and ‘done that,’ through the difficult times. That experience and insight and word of encouragement from a mentor…I’m telling you, it’s just crucial!” he says.
“Some things you go through, and you make a mess of it, and you learn from it.
“Many others have had the benefit of the experience, for better or worse.”