Mentoring School Chaplains

By Dave Paroz

Chaplains like all Christian workers have unique issues that they face as they endeavour to minister in a broken world. These often take their toll on chaplains and usually enthusiasm wains. This usually manifested itself in chaplains working in the role for about eight years maximum.

I started mentoring chaplains with three things in mind. Could I extend the role life of chaplains who felt a lifelong call to this ministry? Could I give them a space to explore their unique leadership gifts and styles? And could I help them to be the best they can be as leaders, community liaisons, and often the first point of call for people who are exploring spiritual issues?

I have only been mentoring school chaplains for 18 months, however in that short time there have been a few themes that have arisen, and some creativity required to fashion a mentoring process that enables mentoree’s to gain the greatest possible benefit from the mentoring experience.

The common themes that have arisen are not unique to school chaplains, but seem to surface as a matter of course. Over time signs of stress, burnout, and loss of vision or hope appear which contributes to the high turnover. Chaplains have competing external pressures from their employer, the school Principal, their local Chaplaincy Committee, parents, and the resent High Court Challenge to their funding from the Federal Government.  Internal pressures seem to come mainly from comparison issues and time management. Most importantly, chaplains just need someone to talk to and journey with someone who will listen and input when required.

My passion for mentoring School Chaplains comes from a belief that if someone will journey with them then not only will our schools and community benefit from well rounded and functioning chaplaincy service, but also these leaders will have more of a chance to shine over the long haul rather than burn out in a bright “blaze of glory”. To try to add value to the mentoring experience I have formulated an evolving process that seems to be helping chaplains.

My mentoring process to address these issues is as follows:

  1. Have the mentoree peruse the mentoring agreement before an appointment is made. This agreement is about confidentiality and an opportunity to talk about their issues.
  2. If they wish to proceed then a one off appointment is made. This appointment is good for the chaplain to see if there is a positive chemistry with us. This can’t be generated and I am not some people’s idea of a mentor or their “cup of tea”.
  3. After that appointment the mentor and the mentoree decides if they are willing to proceed with a mentoring relationship. This is instigated by email about 2 weeks after the appointment to give time to reflect. I need to be able to feel that I will be able to help this chaplain, and they need to be confident that this will be beneficial for them.
  4. If a relationship is established, that mentoring relationship is effective for a year. Four appointments are then made for the year. The opportunity to renew the relationship is given at the end of the year. If they pay the annual fee up front then I am available to them for phone calls or emails between sessions to discuss issues that arise.

A typical mentoring  session would run as follows:

  1. I send them four dates that are agreed upon by myself and the chaplain.
  2. I then text them a few days out to remind them of the appointment.
  3. The appointment goes for about an hour and a half
  4. Within the week following the appointment I send two emails to the chaplain. One is the invoice which is passed on to the chaplaincy committee for SU QLD to pay as part of professional development. The second email is for the chaplain only.  In this email I include areas that we have discussed in the session and that the chaplain has indicated that they desire to work on. This is follow-up homework which they are in control of. This is usually the first thing we talk about when we get together for the next session.

I have been mentoring about ten chaplains this year with some encouraging results. As leaders we mentor our key leaders in our churches because we see a direct benefit to our church. However, if God has called us to be leaders in His Kingdom, shouldn’t we also share that expertise with others who need our help as well? God has called us to love those in his kingdom. The best way we who are leaders can express that is by passing on what we have learnt or received from Christ already. He has also asked us to love those not yet in the kingdom. I know of no better way than helping other leaders as they do that in their context and ministry.

Holding gifts close for our own benefit is not really what God intended when you or I were given a Romans 12:8 leadership gift. Gifts are meant to be for the common good. Leadership benefits the Kingdom when you lead. It also benefits the Kingdom when you pass on what you know so that others can lead well also.

There are probably other ways to do the same thing; however I have found that this mentoring process has benefit on a practical as well as spiritual level by creating an environment for the chaplain to thrive. I pray this helps you as you commit to building into the lives of others.

Rev. Dave Paroz, August 2012

Connect Baptist Church – Deagon