I confessed on the Baptist Women in Ministry blog a few months ago my obsession with The West Wing television show (THANK YOU, Netflix!). Like many fans of the show, my favorite President Bartlett quote is “What’s Next?” During one of his early campaign events, he asked the question, and when one of his staffers kept bringing up an issue previously discussed, Candidate Bartlett said, “When I ask “What’s next?” it means I am ready to move on to other things.” 

In the past few weeks as I have been pondering and making plans for our 2019 Mentoring Cohort, I finally realized that the idea of this mentoring program grew out of my own question about “What’s next?” For the first few years of my tenure as executive director of Baptist Women in Ministry, I spent long hours helping women find places of service. I contacted search committees, sent out resumes, and coached women through the process, and many of those women were called by a church. For some of them, it was their first ministry experience. I celebrated those callings with much joy, thinking of them as great successes–Baptist Women in Ministry was making a difference; Baptist Women in Ministry was getting women into pulpits and ministry placements.

But not long into my tenure, I began receiving calls from some of those same women. They confessed to feelings of doubt. They questioned their giftedness and calling. They were struggling in their new role. They weren’t sure if they were doing this ministry thing right. Some of them were overwhelmed. Others felt lost. I soon realized that assisting women in finding ministry positions was not the only goal. Baptist Women in Ministry’s goal had to broaden beyond the ministry search and ministry placement to equipping, encouraging, and providing resources for new ministers. We needed to always be asking “What’s next?”

After a woman is called to her first pastorate, she needs someone with pastoral experience to coach her through those early months, someone who can help her prioritize, someone who can think with her about sermon preparation, someone who can cry with her after her first disastrous committee meeting. And this woman pastor needs pastor colleagues who can ask the questions that she has not yet even thought about, who can share helpful resources, and who can group text with her and send her funny gifs on her worst days of ministry.

After a woman is called to her first associate church position, she needs someone to help her navigate her new relationship with her pastor, she needs someone to talk with about painful comments parishioners make about her shoes or her make-up, she needs someone who will assist her if she has to stand up to the church bully. And this woman needs associate pastor colleagues who will cheer for her when she preaches her first sermon in her new church, who will check on her after a stressful week, and who will understand what is like to carry heavy ministry loads.

Mentoring groups became BWIM’s “What’s next?”

In 2011, BWIM began hosting informal mentoring groups. We didn’t have the money or capacity for more than these informal groups and volunteer mentors (Leadership Team members were often the “volunteers.”) But in 2017, we launched an official mentoring group program–with a three-day retreat, higher quality technology, and amazing mentors. In January 2019, our third mentoring cohort will begin a year’s journey together, and Julie Long, our soon-to-be associate director, will oversee this new cohort.

Applications for the 2019 cohort are open until Friday, September 15. If you are new to ministry (three years or less in ministry or three years or less in a ministry role new to you), you should be asking “What’s next?” . . . and thinking about how to best prepare yourself for a long-term, sustainable life of ministry. Finding a mentor and a peer group to share the journey, I hope, will be part of your “What’s next?”

Visit the BWIM website for more information and the application.

Pam Durso is executive director of Baptist Women in Ministry, Atlanta, Georgia.