In recent years there has been a growing interest in our synod to provide support and encouragement for newly graduated called workers. Much as Martin Luther College administers the New Teacher Induction Program, Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary began a mentoring pilot project for new pastors through Grow in Grace in 2010.
The first years after assignment are critical for any pastor. Patterns of thinking, living, and working as pastors are established and will prove either a benefit or a detriment for future decades of ministry. Well-trained, experienced pastors can have a strong impact on young pastors and help them set up patterns in life and ministry. Helping the less experienced pastor to adopt a strong personal devotional life and a strong support system with his circuit pastor and other ministry peers and lay leaders yields rich dividends during subsequent years of ministry.
At the 2015 synod convention, what has become known as the Pastor Partners Mentoring Initiative was formally adopted by our synod. Calling bodies receiving an assigned WLS graduate cover the cost of this initiative ($1,000 per year) for the first three years of that new pastor’s ministry. The cost helps to fund the administrative and operational costs of the program as well as assisting the pastor to attend the Begun in Grace retreat after his third year in the program.
Pastor Titus Buelow, a recent mentor program graduate, shares a bit on his experience: “Year one was definitely the most vital but I have appreciated the changing dynamic of having a three-year relationship with my mentor. We have grown together. I have also felt secure having him there even when I felt more comfortable on my own. If something happened, I could simply give him a call or meet with him one on one to decompress and vent. The first year I leaned heavily on his deeper perspective. He could give me patience and understanding through his experience and stories.”
Although the Pastor Partners Mentoring Initiative is only seven years old, pastors and congregations are already experiencing benefits from this mentoring initiative. Each year surveys from pastors who have completed the initiative express this. What is more, in a study on pastoral resignations just completed this summer, there appears to be a significant increase in the percentage of pastors we are retaining during the early years of ministry. Beyond that, we pray that the encouragements of the mentors toward strong ministry patterns prove a blessing to new pastors for decades of gospel ministry!