Mentoring interns and young pastors

What are four pillars of the mentoring process and how can they be used to better train young pastors and interns for the ministry?

Roland E. Fischer, PhD, is a lecturer of practical theology, Friedensau Adventist University, Möckern-Friedensan, Germany


At the turn of the century, the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Germany recog­nized a pastoral crisis slowly but steadily affecting the life of the church. The crisis was composed of two elements: first, a relatively high rate of young pastors leaving the ministry; second, increasing complaints from pastoral interns that they were not adequately mentored. Overall, the crisis seemed to underscore a dilemma that many young pastors felt: they were not adequately trained for ministry. The situation may not be too dissimilar in other parts of the world, and hence the thoughts shared in this article may be of help to ministerial leaders elsewhere in the world field.

In response to the felt need for adequate pastoral internship and training in Germany, the conference established the Institute for Continuing Education (IfW)1 associated with the German Seventh-day Adventist Ministerial Association. Together the church developed a concept to improve the mentoring process, which rests upon four pillars:

Training mentors—Educating Interns—Cooperating with Local Conferences—Selecting Local Churches

Pillar 1: Training mentors

The personalities and the qualifica­tions of mentors play a vital role in the process of introducing and integrating young pastors into the ministry. Are mentors experienced in the various fields of ministry? Are they sensitive to the needs of young pastors? Do they have leadership qualities? Are they able to develop not only a professional relationship but also a spiritual and personal one? Moreover, do mentors supervise the young pastors not only during their internship but also during the following three or four years until their ordination?

Selection and training. The first step in the mentorship process involves selection of qualified and experienced ministers in the local conferences. In most cases, this would be a senior or experienced pastor of a large church or church district. Such a pastor should have sufficient theological education, ministerial and evangelistic experience, and leadership qualities. This, however, is not always a matter of age; some­times relatively young pastors who are well trained and have served in various ministries are chosen for mentorship. As soon as a pastor has been selected to become a mentor, he or she has to undergo a special training program for mentors. This extends over 18 months and contains four training units of three or four days each. Peer supervision is also part of the program, with the train­ing aimed to further the hard and soft skills of the mentors. They should be enabled to better serve in the ministry and better introduce the professional starters into their ministry. They need to become empowered spiritually, their personalities should be strengthened, and the competencies in the various fields of their ministry will be fostered. Insofar as the main task of the mentor is personal leadership, they have to understand the leadership process and learn to adequately control, evaluate, and build a close relationship with the mentee.

Curriculum. Groups of trainees comprise 5 to 12 persons.2 Twice a year mentors come together in a retreat center for three to four days and are introduced to the following themes:

Unit 1. This introductory unit focuses on the following six objectives:

1. Introduction to the goals and methods of the mentoring process. The basic questions are, Who is part of the process? (Persons and institutions such as mentor, men-tee, local church, local conference, ministerial secretary, and the IfW are involved.) What are the ele­ments of the training program? What is expected from the mentors?

2.   Expectations and fears of mentors and mentees. The group focuses on items such as, What do I, as a mentor, expect from myself and from the mentee? What does the mentee expect from me? How can we cooperate?

3.   Roles and role negotiations. In a rather meditative setting, the men­tors can reflect on questions such as, Who am I as a pastor? Who am I as a mentor? What is my new role as a mentor? How does it relate to my roles I already play in the ministry? How can I negotiate on my roles with the church and the mentee?

4.   Goals and methods of internship. The process of internship is largely developed according to the Manual for Internship, published by the General Conference Ministerial Association.3

5.   Goals and methods of education. Since mentoring is, in part, an educating process, mentors need to know about the philosophy of Adventist education and about principles and methods of adult education.

6.   Leadership and leadership styles. Leadership issues have become more and more important to the Adventist church worldwide. The mentoring process is leadership at its best, so the mentors become introduced to leading individuals, teams, and organizations on the basis of the situational leadership style.4


Unit II. The personalities of both the mentor and of the mentee are paramount to the mentoring process. Therefore this unit centers on personality aspects, including these various inventories:

1. Personality and personality inven­tories. What are the determining factors of personality, character, and behavior? Inventories like DISC5 and Career Personality Inventory are used.

2.   Natural and spiritual gifts. Do the mentors know their natural talents and spiritual gifts? How can they be rightly applied to the mentoring process?

3.   Ethical aspects of mentoring. Issues of pastoral ethics especially related to the mentor-mentee relationship, such as trust, confidence, competi­tion, finances, and relating to the opposite sex will be discussed.

4.   Motivation and goal setting. How can the mentor promote the intrinsic motivation of the mentee? What are their individual and common goals? How can the local congregation be involved in the goal-setting process?

5.   Evaluation. One of the main tasks in mentorship is evaluating the com­mitment and skills of the mentees. Evaluation, however, often seems to be a challenging task for mentors. How can it be done in an appropriate and helpful way?

Unit III. Successful ministry depends on the ability of managing self and one’s duties. The mentor has to practice the following management skills and teach them to the mentee:

1.   Self- and time-management. What are the values, visions, and goals of life and the ministry? Aspects of time management in the long run and short run are applied.

2.   Work organization. How should the mentees organize their office and resources, and, even more fundamental, store and organize knowledge?

3.   Conflict management. Conflicts on various levels are part of everyday life in our congregations and in the ministry. The pastor has to cope with them and manage the process of conflict management.

4.   Nonviolent communication. A special tool not only for conflict reduc­tion and prevention but also for a Christian lifestyle is “nonviolent communication,” as presented by Marshall B. Rosenberg.6

Unit IV. This final unit sums up the role of the pastor, embedded in a system theory. This unit also gives ample opportunity to reflect and evaluate the training program and the mentorship so far. A special emphasis is placed on burnout prevention.

1.   Resilience and burnout preven­tion. The threat of burnout lingers above pastors from the beginning of their ministries. How can it be prevented and coped with? What strengthens the resilience of the pastor?7 These topics are relevant not only for the mentors but also for the mentees.

2.   A system theory: Role of the pastor in church and society. The church is a social system with many sub­systems. What are the roles and functions of a pastor within these systems? What is the relationship of the church to other systems and society?

3.   Reflection and evaluation of the training program. Mentors have to give a short presentation about what they have learned and what was most important and helpful for them in the mentoring process.

Supervision. During the time of the training program, four sessions of peer supervision are mandatory; for the rest of the active mentors they are optional. Twice a year mentors are called together in groups of six to ten people. This peer supervision, chaired by the ministerial secretary and the director of the IfW, is aimed to help the mentors reflect on the mentoring process and resolve problems.

Pillar 2: Educating interns

Professional starters in the ministry spend one year as interns and the succeeding three to four years as co-pastors in a church district.

Internship. Right at the beginning of their internship, the professional starters are called together for an introduction to the internship. The ministerial secretary and the director of the IfW give information about goals and structure of the internship and the mentoring process. 

Co-pastorate. After successfully finishing their internship, the young pastors continue to work as co-pastors, mostly in the same church district. This means that the process of mentor­ing goes on. However, the mentees will grow in independence and take over their own responsibilities in the ministry.

Mentoring. The whole process of mentoring all through those four to five years can be divided into four phases or—in the perspective of the mentor—into four duties: (1) discuss and plan the ministerial tasks together; (2) do it as a mentor and let the intern watch; (3) let the interns do it and watch them; (4) evaluate together and let the interns do it on their own.8

Assessment center. Right before the professional starters finish their internship, they will be assessed in an assessment center (AC). The purpose of the AC is to serve the church—that is, the local conferences—and to aid the young pastors in their profes­sional careers. The first and foremost goal is to recognize and enhance the potentials of the interns, while the second goal is to give a recommenda­tion about further employment in the church.9

Curriculum. Having graduated from university with an MA in theology, interns receive ongoing education with the focus on the practical aspects of ministry. This training program has been developed for a persistent cycle of five years so that every mentee undergoes the same five units when­ever they start. These units correspond to five areas (or basic tasks) of the pastoral ministry, which had been defined by the ministerial departments of the Adventist Church in Germany and Switzerland:10

Unit I: Theological task—the pastor as preacher and teacher

  1. Comprehend various theological issues and “leadership by theology”
  2. Teach and preach that which is bib­lically sound and socially relevant
  3. Conduct worship services and spe­cial services

Unit II: Missionary task—the pastor as evangelist and church builder

  1. Plan and conduct an evangelistic campaign
  2. Implement various methods of personal evangelism
  3. Engage in church planting and church growth

Unit II: Missionary task—the pastor as evangelist and church builder

  1. Plan and conduct an evangelistic campaign
  2. Implement various methods of personal evangelism
  3. Engage in church planting and church growth

Unit IV: Organizational task—the pastor as leader and prophet

  1. Leadership principles
  2. Change management
  3. Creating and implementing the vision of a church
  4. Organization, structures, and finances of the Seventh-day Adventist Church
  5. Church manual and policies

Unit V: Personal task—the pastor as a relational being

  1. Develop personal and social skills
  2. Understand the role of social rela­tionships (family and friendship)
  3. Building the spiritual life of the pastor

When young pastors—after four to five years of service—become ordained to the ministry, they have undergone a thorough training process: theologi­cal studies at the university, one year of internship, passing the assessment center, and continuing education by the IfW. All of this is done under intensive supervision of a specially trained mentor.

Pillar 3: Cooperating with local conferences

The ministerial secretary of the local conference is in charge of super­vising the mentoring process between pastor and intern. For that reason the IfW closely cooperates with the ministerial department and confer­ence presidents. 


Consult regularly. Whenever con­ference presidents and ministerial secretaries meet to discuss matters related to the ministry, the director of the IfW receives an invitation to be part of these meetings. Together they make sure to cooperate and implement the mentoring policies for the benefit of the interns and mentors.

Visit the training programs. The ministerial secretaries and/or confer­ence presidents are invited to visit the annual training programs and meetings of the interns. There, they learn to know the young pastors, become familiar with their needs, and listen to their experiences. Moreover, they teach some lessons of the training program or give reports of their own ministerial and administrative practice. They visit the training programs of the mentors and thus gain an insight into the mentoring process and relationships from two perspectives.

Pillar 4: Selecting local churches

The training and mentoring pro­cess of the interns takes place “on the job”; that is, in the local churches. For that reason, these “educating congre­gations” have to be selected carefully. The German unions have come to think about the possibility of choosing two or three churches in a local conference as educating congregations where succeeding interns can be trained.

Acceptance. In order to grant a successful process, the local churches have to accept their role as an “educat­ing congregation.” Often they expect interns to take over full responsibilities in various areas of congregational work. However, interns, especially in the first months of their ministry, have to work closely with their mentors in order to watch and learn. Much labor must be invested in training interns instead of having them labor for the church.

Fields of work. Congregations where interns work should be able to provide a wide range of minis­tries: worship services, evangelism, public services, family ministries, youth groups, Pathfinder clubs, senior ministries, and administration, for example. Thus, the professional start­ers have apt fields of work to become well prepared for their own ministry.


This mentoring concept, after 12 years of implementation, has proved to be successful. The process has become more satisfying for both mentors and mentees. Leadership skills of the men­tors have advanced, and mentees feel better supervised. The training of  interns could be enhanced, the rate of dropouts has been reduced, and, as it seems, the job satisfaction has improved. However, matters of job development and continuing education change rap­idly in our world today. Therefore, the leaders of the German Seventh-day Adventist Ministerial Association and the Institute for Continuing Education (IfW) in Germany are always rethinking various aspects of the curricula and focusing on new challenges in ministry and the mentoring process.11


1 German: Institut für Weiterbildung = IfW

2 This training program for mentors is currently designed for the German-speaking unions (Germany, Austria, and Switzerland).

3 For a copy of the Manual for Internship, please contact Cathy Payne at [email protected].

4 See Ken Blanchard, Patricia Zigarmi, and Drea Zigarmi, Leadership and the One Minute Manager: Increasing Effectiveness Through Situational Leadership (New York: William Morrow, 1985).

5 DISC stands for dominance, inducement, submission, and compliance, which are four personality traits used in psychologist William Marston’s behavior assessment tool. (“DISC Assessment,” Wikipedia,

6 See Marshall Rosenberg, Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life (Encinitas, CA: Puddledancer Press, 2003).

7 See a two-part series in the August 2000 and October 2000 issues of Ministry called “Indicators of Ministerial Resilience” on this topic at

8 See Manual for Internship (Silver Spring, MD: Ministerial Department of the General Conference of SDA, 1990).

9 An article regarding the need for assessment centers can be found at Roland E. Fischer, “Assessment Center for Interns,” Ministry, July/ August 2010, 32–34.

10 This is a vision and role model (German: Leitbild) for Adventist pastors.

11 For additional information, contact the director of the IfW at [email protected].

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Roland E. Fischer, PhD, is a lecturer of practical theology, Friedensau Adventist University, Möckern-Friedensan, Germany

September 2014

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