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Spring 2004 · Vol. 33 No. 1 · pp. 102–106 

Ministry Compass

Making Space in Ministry for Mentors

Dennis Fast

As a college student I had what I call a “low grade” awareness of God’s call on my life, and I sensed that it likely included some aspect of Christian ministry. I probably appeared consumed with a successful “career” in athletics, and kept the idea of becoming a pastor largely to myself, but I continued a plodding pursuit to discover the meaning of this call and a direction for my life.

In the midst of this search I was introduced to the concept of one-on-one discipleship. While I don’t recall the source of this insight, I have a clear recollection of a desire to have someone, with more experience than myself, take me by the spiritual hand and lead me along the path I longed to find. I wanted to drink from a fountain that to me represented wisdom, spirituality, the pursuit of God, and a growing faith.

I believe in the principle that says, More time spent with fewer people results in greater impact for Christ.

With sincerity and youthful innocence, I approached the one person I respected most highly. In my mind he was noted for his teaching skills, willingness to step outside the lines, winsome personality, and capacity for connecting with students, while also possessing a certain stature within our denomination. I asked this person the direct question, “Would you disciple me?”

I still recall the place in the college cafeteria where we stood when I asked the question. But perhaps more memorable is the shocked look on his face, and the embarrassment I felt, as he replied, “Oh, I could never do that! I don’t know what I would do.” As my own shock subsided, I was left with amazement—that someone with so much {103} experience, education, and dynamic faith did not have a plan to walk with me in a discipleship relationship.


Reflecting on that experience, I am convinced that I was not alone, that my college peers also had a desire to be mentored in faith principles. Partly out of that encounter I have, in my two lead-pastor settings, worked to create space for internship ministries and mentor relationships. Since both churches I have served are in proximity to the two U.S. Mennonite Brethren liberal arts colleges, and the current church in Reedley, California, being near Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary, I have had numerous opportunities to connect with students as well as to help students become connected in discipleship relationships that nurture the call to ministry.

Both congregations have had active policies that nurture God’s call and encourage young people to pursue ministry training. Currently, at Reedley Mennonite Brethren Church, we have a Scholarship Committee that overseas the support of college and seminary student financial aid. We strive to have at least one student in seminary each year and have recently had up to four. We also have a significant internship budget managed by our student ministries pastors, and several associate pastors and I frequently connect with seminary students in Supervised Ministry Experience, the required, formal ministry aspect of the seminary curriculum.

In twenty-two years of working with interns in discipleship, mentor relationships, and formal internships we have had young adults (and some not-so-young adults) in the following areas of ministry: Youth, Evangelism, Missions, Children’s Ministries, Pastoral Leadership, Biblical Teaching, Marriage Ministries, and Pastoral Care. Following are some observations from reflecting upon what I have learned through these varied experiences.


Pray First

Some of my best experiences in being a mentor have come after I consciously prayed for God to place some young person into my path or on my heart. In time we were drawn together, a commitment was made, and the journey of discipleship followed. Those are good memories.

Expect to Learn

Somewhere I picked up the idea that discipleship moves in two directions. In my mentor/discipleship connections, I have tried to {104} communicate and demonstrate that discipleship is always mutual. As “iron sharpens iron” (Prov. 27:17), these mentorees help keep me sharp. I pick up ideas from their readings and classroom discussions. They keep me thinking about ministry, my philosophy of service, and why I do what I do. While I take the lead and try to contribute as much as possible to the growth of the individual, the result is that we learn together.

Have a Plan

Time is too precious and lives are too valuable to waste. I have found that laying out a plan is essential to accomplishing something significant. Discipleship should be intentional, and laying out markers makes measurement of goals possible. In some cases I have simply had a list of topics to be covered and a beginning and ending date. In other, more formal situations, actual job descriptions and hiring guidelines are used which then form the basis for our meetings.

Follow Jesus’ Model

I cannot say that I have always done this well, but I have been inspired by Robert E. Coleman’s The Master Plan of Evangelism. There he describes Jesus’ model which begins at the “selection” of his disciples and culminates in “reproduction.” In part it follows the simple formula,

I do—you watch
We do together
You do—I watch, and then
You do

The goal is for the cycle to be repeated over and over by multiplying disciples. That Paul seemed to follow this strategy is reflected in 2 Timothy 2:2: “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others” (TNIV).

Think Investment

Mentor and discipleship work has a cost. It costs time and energy. It may slow a mentor down to carry out a ministry with someone alongside who wants explanation and dialogue. But as I think of investing in people, in the kingdom, and in the future, I believe in the principle which says, More time spent with fewer people results in greater impact for Christ. I try to remind myself of that when I don’t particularly feel like another session with an intern. Over time, however, as I have been {105} able to watch former students move into ministries of their own, even surpassing me in effectiveness, I gain a sense of gratification. Life is a lot like money in that it can either be spent or it can be invested. Choose investment when it comes to lives.

Give Them Experience

As important as “talk time” is in the mentor/discipleship relationship, experience is still an excellent teacher. I recall my own growth that was fueled by many opportunities to serve in a variety of capacities: camp counselor, children’s music leader, Sunday school teacher, devotional speaker, drama productions, and, finally, opportunities to preach in my home church in spite of little experience or training. What growth all of that produced! Someone believed in me enough to give me a chance, and it made a huge difference in the journey of responding to God’s gentle call on my life. I, like the apostle Paul, hope to never quite “get over” the fact that God has been willing to use me (1 Tim. 1:12).

Express Joy

One of my life commitments in ministry has been to exhibit a spirit of joy in what I do. While there are situations that are incredibly demanding, tragedies that test one’s faith, and days that seem long and hard, I strive to demonstrate to the body of Christ that life in Christ is one of victory. For myself, I find one of the best ways to express victory in life is through joy. Those I mentor need to see the realities of ministry’s challenging side, but they also need to see a large measure of the joyfulness that can be found in those of us called to a life of kingdom ministry.

Reap Congregational Benefits

In addition to my personal benefits, the local church is also frequently blessed by receiving from the minister in training. While the individual may have a ways to go in improving various skills, the ministry of the church benefits during the growth process. In addition, the body of Christ gets the privilege of affirming and often sending these individuals into new areas of ministry. And, once in awhile, the intern ends up becoming a long-term staff member on my team. I see that as a good thing!


I have spent most of my years in the Midwest and on the West Coast. Because there has usually been family in both places, I have {106} crossed the Continental Divide more times than I can track for holidays and summer vacations. The Continental Divide is that thin, imaginary line that is so significant in determining the course of life for a snowflake or a drop of water. Will it end up in the Gulf of Mexico or in the Pacific Ocean?

I pray that encounters with young people on the journey I travel will be significant: that one encounter, one lesson learned, one idea shared, or one principle communicated might contribute to a “continental divide” that directs an individual toward a life of fruitful, fulfilling ministry.

Work Cited

  • Coleman, Robert E. 1964. The master plan of evangelism. Westwood, NJ: Revell.
Dennis Fast is Senior Pastor of Reedley Mennonite Brethren Church, Reedley, California.

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