The Lasting Impact of Mentoring in Ministry

I was barely old enough to have any idea of the meaning of “mentoring” when I experienced it for the first time in an “official” sense.

From the time I was a little girl, I’d had a heart for the Lord and had sensed His calling in my life to full-time ministry. I was always looking for opportunities to grow in my relationship with the Lord and to become an effective servant for Him.

When I was thirteen, my family was involved in the start-up of a new church. The church was still in its infancy when Dr. Ron Jenson was invited to join the pastoral staff as the Minister of Christian Education. 

I don’t recall exactly what prompted me to do so, but I distinctly remember Ron visiting in our home shortly after he arrived, and my asking him, “Would you be willing to teach me everything you know about ministry and Christian education?” These were interests the Lord had already placed in my heart and I was eager to learn more. I also remember assuring Ron, “Whatever you teach me, someday I will pass on to others” (a promise I have kept). 

In retrospect, I can’t imagine what Ron must have thought when a young teen asked him that question! The amazing thing is that he took me seriously. 

Passing On a Biblical Philosophy of Ministry

For the next six years, Ron, along with his wife, Mary, invested in my life, building on the foundation that my parents, pastors, and others had laid, training and equipping me for effective ministry. This informal mentoring program took numerous forms.

As we met in my home periodically, Ron helped me think through a biblical philosophy of ministry. It’s been over fifty years now, but here are some of the takeaways I still remember from those conversations:

  • The goal of discipleship: to develop “spiritually committed reproducers.” 
  • The process of discipleship: “Tell them how (education); show them how (demonstration); get them started (delegation); keep them going (evaluation).” That four-fold process describes what Ron did for me throughout those years.
  • “Look for F.A.T. disciples: faithful, available, and teachable.”
  • “Love them all, pray for them all, and focus on the spiritually responsive ones.”
  • Basic principles of Bible study: Observation—What does it say?; Interpretation—What does it mean?; Application—What should I do?
  • Lawrence Richards’ model for teaching the Word to others: Hook, Book, Look, Took. (Get their attention; then share observations, interpretation, and applications.)
  • Practical skills such as personal time management. (I’ve needed regular refreshers in that course!)

As part of a doctoral seminary program that Ron completed just before he came to our church, he and Mary spent six months traveling across the country studying local church ministries. When they arrived in Philadelphia to serve on our church staff, their belongings included dozens of boxes of resources they had picked up from the churches they had visited. Ron assigned me the task of organizing it all and developing a filing system that I ended up using myself when I joined the staff of a local church after college. In the process of wading through all those papers, I became acquainted with and developed a heart for various aspects of local church ministry. 

Homework and Heart Work

Ron encouraged me to develop my understanding of ministry by getting into the Word. The first assignment he gave me was to come up with a list of the characteristics of an effective minister and an effective ministry, based on 1 Thessalonians chapters one and two. That passage has since been woven into the warp and woof of my life. It taught me the importance of living a life that is consistent with the message I proclaim, of laying down my life for those I serve, of genuine love, and of dependence on the power of God to change lives. Numerous times over the years, when sharing with women involved in ministering the Word to others, I have opened my Bible to those two chapters and walked through the principles I first became acquainted with all those decades ago.

As the apostle Paul did with the Thessalonians, Ron and Mary took me into their lives, opened their hearts and home to me, and did more training than they probably ever realized, in the context of real-life circumstances and everyday, informal interaction. They were encouragers of my faith and expressed interest and concern about my personal walk with God, my family life, and my relationships. They gave me perspective and counsel as I grew through those (sometimes bumpy) teenage years. 

Looking back, I’m sure I was not always sensitive to their schedules—I suspect there were times when they would have welcomed some relief from their over-eager “shadow,” but if that was the case, they never let on. 

Hands-On Training

As he taught me, Ron’s approach to discipleship involved providing hands-on opportunities for ministry (“delegation”). When I look back on those years, I am astounded at some of the risks he took. I was still a young teenager when he asked me to substitute for him one evening in leading a teacher training class he was offering in the church. When I was about sixteen he encouraged me to develop and lead my own several-week teacher training course for adults who served in the children’s ministry. (Today, I can hardly imagine entrusting that kind of responsibility to a “kid.”) Under Ron’s tutelage, I developed “The Fisherman’s Club”—a weekly missions program for children. (We called the three different age groups minnows, trout, and whales. In retrospect, that may not have been the best choice of words!) 

I have no doubt that seminary-educated Ron could have done a better job than I at all these programs. But apparently he looked beyond the immediate, short-term results, to the day when his pupil would be independent of the teacher and would be able to reproduce the heart of the Lord Jesus in places and settings where Ron would never go. 

Through all of these experiences, I cultivated a deep love for ministry and developed tools that I have found invaluable in more than forty-five years of vocational Christian service. 

Though I’ve had almost no contact with Ron and Mary since my late teens, they left a significant mark on my life. And they left me with a desire to imprint the lives of other women through the course of my lifetime—women who in turn would influence yet others to know, love, and serve Jesus. In many ways, Revive Our Hearts is the fruit of the willingness of friends like these to pour into my life, beginning in my childhood and into adulthood. 

Your mentoring experiences will, of course, look different than mine—both on the giving and the receiving end. But they are no less significant or vital in the body of Christ and to His work in our world. So, look around you. Who has God placed in your life, whose heart has He prepared, who could you come alongside to “teach what is good” (Titus 2:3)? This is an opportunity for women of any age. But I want to appeal especially to “older women” (you decide whether that fits you), as Paul did in Titus 2. Whether in structured, scheduled settings or in everyday, spontaneous, life-to-life engagement, I pray you won’t miss out on the joy and the fruit of being available to invest in the lives of women coming behind you. 

About the Author

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has touched the lives of millions of women through two nationally syndicated radio programs heard each day—Revive Our Hearts and Seeking Him. Her books have sold more than five million copies. Through her writing, podcasts, and events, Nancy is reaching the hearts of women around the world, calling them to freedom, fullness, and fruitfulness in Christ.