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T he boss–employee relationship is notoriously fraught. It has provided fodder for sitcoms and stories since the first time a human began working for another human. (Think about the workplace dynamics under Michael Scott, Ebenezer Scrooge, and even Pharaoh.)

But that same relationship has been meaningful and often just plain fun for Bud Pratt and Jeff Watson.

Bud has been senior pastor of First Reformed Church in Grandville, Michigan, since 2012. Jeff is the youth pastor. He grew up at First Reformed and was actively involved in its youth programs through high school. Today, the two of them enjoy a relationship of mutual respect, and Bud sees his role largely as one of mentoring Jeff.

Here’s what  Bud and Jeff have to say about mentoring, what makes it work, and how it’s a lot like a friendship.

How do you define mentoring?

Bud: Mentoring is walking alongside someone who is on a similar path. It may be that a mentor is more experienced but not necessarily older. I’ve certainly been mentored by younger folks in my growth areas.

Jeff: A mentoring relationship is first built on friendship. It’s built on trust. If those two things weren’t present, I wouldn’t be open with Bud and wouldn’t be open to the input that he gives. I wouldn’t be okay with the challenging things that he says to me. … Also, at the heart of mentoring is the heart of Jesus. Christian mentorship can’t take place separate from Jesus.

What does mentoring look like for you two?

Bud: I take [mentoring anyone on staff] seriously. I consider Jeff a friend. We have a good relationship. We play a lot of ping pong.

Jeff: I usually beat him, though.

Bud: Okay, so that’s true! But there are certainly lots of times where we’re sitting here in the office talking about how do you deal with this, how do you deal with that, what would you do in this situation, how do you interpret this Scripture.

Jeff: It’s less about a schedule—let’s meet at this time every week or every two weeks—and it’s much more about me being younger in the ministry and figuring out a lot as I go. As different situations arise, I often find myself walking into Bud’s office and asking him questions. … I would say it’s really an organic mentorship—there’s really no agenda to it. But it’s extremely beneficial to me, because I recognize that Bud has years of ministry and years of experience and years of wisdom that I don’t, and so he’s able to speak into situations that I need help with.

Really, more than mentoring, it does feel like authentic discipleship. I think it’s important to name what it is because we see that in the Bible. I genuinely feel that Bud is discipling me in my life. You look at Jesus in his ministry, with the twelve [disciples] especially, and that was all rooted in relationship first and just spending time with each other.

Bud, how would you describe your style of leadership and mentorship?

Bud: If you’re going to give it a title, it would be “open door.” I have always believed in finding good people for your staff and getting out of their way. That means you’re here to help them walk through struggles or whatever, but it also means you’re not micromanaging.

Jeff: And [that has] empowered me, and I know I’m trusted with what I do. So I’m not worrying about what Bud’s thinking; I’m more focused on [asking], What can we do here? How can God move through this program? That’s the beauty of that type of leadership style. And the open door policy is so true. It allows me to come in and just talk about anything—ministry related or in my personal life.

Bud: It can’t just be organizational; it has to be relational. We, as a staff, have coffee time every single day. We all just sit down in the staff room and mostly laugh, share stories. And that, for me, makes the whole place safe. It just feels like we’re friends first and colleagues second.

Jeff: I remember when … Bud said, “I will always have your back, with whatever comes up in the church, out there, outside the office, I have your back. But then I’ll call you into the office and tell you what you need to do differently.” And I loved that because it made me realize that Bud will always go to bat for me, but it doesn’t mean I can’t just run around freely and without consequences. That leadership style for me—or that mentorship—has really allowed me to thrive in this context.

What have you learned about yourselves through this relationship?

Jeff: I have a big personality. I tend to wear my emotions on my sleeve. And Bud is just the king of stability in my mind. I’ve learned that … while I use that part of my personality to engage students and engage people in the congregation, I also have to keep my emotions in check. I let things get to me more than they should at times. And so, part of our mentorship … is me realizing that and being okay with not being liked by everyone at all times.

Bud: I’ve learned that people take precedence over program, and “this too shall pass.” Every time there seems to be conflict … you have to sometimes take one for the team. … And you say, maybe there’s something else going on in that person’s life—the one with whom you have conflict—that you don’t really have access to, that their anger may not always [come from] the issue at hand, but it could be something else entirely. And that’s helpful to me. That comes not from a book; that comes from years of seeing it unfold.

What advice would you give to a church or pastor about mentoring?

Jeff: Play ping pong every day.

Bud: We actually do that!

Jeff: It’s as simple as having a relationship first. Be friends first. … Bud doesn’t ask me to share what’s going on in my life. Bud doesn’t make me ask him questions that are tough. I voluntarily come into his office and do that because we are friends and have a good relationship. That would be the first thing I would say: whoever you’re mentoring, whether it be another person on staff or another member of the church, before you get into the nitty gritty, you need to develop a relationship.

Bud: Jeff does [relationship building] very well with kids in his programing—making sure those kids know that Jeff is … their youth group leader, but they can call him and talk to him about anything because he values them as people. So, people take precedence over all those other things. And that means it gets messy because people get messy. … And if you’re willing to wade into that, that’s where the fruit of ministry really starts to show itself.

BEFRIEND

If this interview inspires you to develop an intergenerational friendship or mentoring relationship, contact Anna Radcliffe, RCA coordinator for Next Generation Engagement, for more ideas about how to get started. You can reach Anna at aradcliffe@rca.org.

About the author

Jennifer Knott is a writer and editor for the Reformed Church in America’s communication team.