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Southwestern’s mentorship program succeeding for students & churches

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP) — Personal sins, broken homes, members who don’t tithe, committees for committees for committees, lack of space, starting mission churches, developing ministries — these challenges confront students leaving seminary or college and entering Christian service.
To better prepare students for ministry, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary has for the past three years provided a mentorship program that now includes about 250 trained mentors in six states. In each of the past two semesters, the program, directed by John Allen, has provided mentoring relationships for about 70 students involved in 55 ministries.
“Being thrown into the field and being told, ‘Minister!’ can be very scary,” admitted Mark Bennett, one of the first students to take part in the program at the Fort Worth, Texas, seminary. “So, leadership provided by Southwestern Seminary’s mentorship program was very helpful in the development of my ministry skills.”
Southwestern students who want to be missionaries have a noticeable advantage when applying for appointment with the International Mission Board.
“The people at the IMB tell me that our mentored students are ready for the field. They tend to go through the process of getting onto the mission field much faster,” Allen said. “We turn out a mature, accountable, functional and personable student.”
The mentorship program can also shorten the IMB approval process.
“The IMB considers the work done in the mentorship program as an equivalent to their requirement of two years of pre-appointment certification work,” said Paul Stevens, director of Southwestern’s field education program. After they’ve finished the program, they can go directly to candidate status.” Bennett, for example, is now a Southern Baptist IMB appointee to Japan.
The mentorship program, which is part of Southwestern’s Scarborough Institute for Church Growth, places students under pastors and other ministry professionals who mentor the students in the field. The students work with their mentors for 12 to 20 hours a week for two consecutive years.
To assist mentors in the mentoring process, the seminary provides a 130-page “Mentor Training Manual” with five audio cassette tapes. The manual details the seminary’s mentoring program and includes numerous articles about the mentoring process.
Bennett, who graduated in 1995, worked as minister of the International House of University Baptist Church in Fort Worth, under the tutelage of Grant Johns, UBC’s minister of missions.
“The mentorship program provides so many things for the student,” Bennett said. “First and most obvious, it gives credit toward graduation. More than that, though, it provides a forum of discussion on realities in ministry. Also, it provides a practical experience of ministry without forcing a new minister to enter into ministry alone. I was able to work as a member of a team.”
UBC’s International House was little more than a place used for the church’s social gatherings when Bennett and Johns began their mentor relationship. The two took a 25-year-old ministry and made it more ministry related.
“We introduced discipleship training into the house. We challenged and trained internationals who worship with us to be their own church. In a sense, we did some pre-church planting,” Bennett said.
According to Johns, a 1990 Southwestern graduate, the mentorship is mutually beneficial to the students and their mentors.
“We receive workers who become involved in the church as a whole,” Johns said. “The student receives a missions education aspect toward church growth.”
Johns mentors five students each year. “We plug people into ministry opportunities which bring about their development in missions. Our students are enhanced — from their leadership skills to discipleship to their spiritual life,” he said.
Allen said when both the student and the mentor achieve these results, the program is working exactly as it was designed. “Our aim is to give students on-the-job training through an internship that allows them to get feedback to what they are doing right and wrong,” he said.
The mentorship program is growing, Allen said. About 40 students participated in fall 1995. This fall, 70 students participated in mentorships in church starting, church growth, multi-family housing, inmate discipleship, missions ministry and student pastorships. Students enrolled in any of the three schools at the seminary are eligible to participate.
“The mentorship program is goal-oriented,” Allen said. “The student meets with me for an interview at the beginning of the process. They must have a program and a mentor already planned. The student and the mentor develop a ‘learning covenant’ that is an outline of goals for the semester. These goals explain the selected tasks to be worked on and the personality development to be attained.”
The mentorship program is not just for the academically elite student, Allen emphasized. “These students have already proved their worth when they were accepted by Southwestern. This program is for anybody who is willing to put in the time commitment and use the things this program provides to enhance their ministry,” he said.
One of the strongest aspects of the mentorship, Allen said, is the peer group meetings students are required to attend. “These meetings provide interaction for the students where they can deal with their feelings and their work. They pray regularly and discuss techniques and styles shared,” he said.
Stevens said an added benefit of the mentorship program is that the field education program works with the Scarborough Institute to allow the student to fulfill all academic requirements. All seminary students are required to take two semester hours of field education serving as an intern with a Southern Baptist church or other Christian organization.
“I coordinate the mentorship program from the standpoint of academia,” Stevens said. “I make sure the program is in line with the school’s regulations. The mentorship program is separate from field ed but can be used for field ed. After a student has completed three semesters, the fourth can go toward the field ed requirement.”
Students and ministers involved in the mentorship initiative say it has changed their ministries. “This program challenged me to look at people as they are, what their needs are and who they are as ministers. I evaluate all that and determine what these people need to become a better servant of Christ,” Johns said.
“I will carry this experience with me wherever I go,” Bennett concurred, “This process allowed me to learn who I am and how I work best in ministry. When I am in Japan, I will have journeymen who give two-year terms with career missionaries working under me.
“Now I can mentor them because of this program.”

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  • Bryan McAnally