Mentoring the Next Generation
Mentoring is something that every youth pastor wishes they could build into their youth programming but mentoring is not a program. It’s a plan between 2 or 3 people to start a relationship of mutual trust and responsibility for the purpose of building character, purpose and hope into the life of another.
We see mentoring in many facets of life. In business, in education, in art and in coaching and training. Jesus demonstrated mentoring through his work with his disciples in the gospels. There is no doubt that God desires for us to live and grow in community and he demonstrated mentoring through his son Jesus.
The simple truth of it is, students need it, their parents need it and ultimately, you need it. Every teenager needs someone in their life who can build into them. Some students have this with grandparents or Uncles and Aunts but in this global society family units are being spread thin and there are less people to walk with students through some of their more turbulent years.
As a parent I am grateful for the number of people who have walked with my kids during some of the difficult times in their lives. Home life, no matter how good it is, still leaves opportunity for confusion in the life of a student. Sometimes, they just need someone outside of the regular authority figure to go to when things get mixed up.
Qualifications of a Mentor
1 Timothy 3:2 – 7 is a good start.
Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task. 2 Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate,self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not given to drunkenness,not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4 He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full[a] respect. 5 (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) 6 He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. 7 He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.
These are the qualifications for a pastor and I think they can apply in principle to anyone looking to mentor youth. We don’t need to get all hung up about being married or having children. If a young adult would like to mentor students I’m going to look for the same qualities as above. Above reproach, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, etc. Qualities I want to see modelled to our youth.
In this day and age it is also very important that anyone who takes on a 1 on 1 mentorship situation with a minor has had a police check done that also covers a vulnerable persons sector. The parents and the church are putting a lot of faith in the mentor but that situation can go sideways fairly quickly if the proper background checks are nt performed.
Expectations for Mentoring (What do we do?)
Mentoring models vary, I like to give this simple explanation. Meet, eat and do life together. Teenagers are often just as scared of you as you are of them. Often, unless the teenager feels safe they will not want to carry on a conversation. It helps to feed them. First reason, most teenagers are always hungry and even the ones that aren’t will appreciate having something to distract them. If they drink coffee take them to starbucks, if they like burgers take them to McDonalds. Find a neutral territory to hang out a just chat.
If you are lucky enough to find a student who is into the same stuff as you this might be even easier. Some mentors play video games with their students, or sports or some form of creative endeavour. If the student is into it, and you try it, even if you are no good it will still mean the world to them that you made the effort.
Shouldn’t we also learn something?
Once the relationship is established many students would appreciate digging deeper into scripture with a mentor. You can read through a simple bible passage study, a book study or a video study together. This whole learning together process can vary from person to person but the learning and studying is important to the spiritual formation of the student.
If you do not feel qualified to teach something ask your pastor for some resources. One of the best places I have found for video studies is RightNow Media. It has an archive of hundreds of great video studies covering a variety of great topics.
As you get closer to a student and they begin to reveal more of their thoughts and especially their heart to you it will become clearer where they are spiritually. Coaching conversations in a mentoring relationship are about identifying where students feel “stuck.” Stuck is not an issue, it’s simply a description of the plateau we currently find ourselves on. Your job as a mentor is to identify the current plateau and find ways to help your student grow beyond their current place.
There are 3 types of Coaching Conversations that are important for students who are feeling stuck. Only two of these conversations should be attempted by a mentor.
A Discipleship Conversation
If a student admits that what they are most concerned about in their current situation is something spiritual this is an invitation to have a Discipleship Conversation with a student. This shows up when a student admits to feeling far from God, or wanting to learn more about the bible. Sometimes a student will admit that they used to hear God more. These are all indications that a student might need a discipleship conversation. In a discipleship conversation all a mentor would need to do is find a bible study or video series that answers some of the student’s questions or concerns. Walk through that study and assess whether the student still feels stuck spiritually. Often they will have identified a different area of their life where they feel stuck.
A Coaching Conversation
If a student complains about feeling stuck in a decision making process. Strugging with paths, decisions or directions in life that is a coaching conversation. When a student admits to wanting to make better decisions or to discern their purpose that is a coaching conversation. A coaching conversation is one of the most difficult of the three conversations to actually have. That is because generally a coaching conversation when done right will have the mentor asking about a thousand questions. Questions that will push the student to move their thought process forward. These questions are hard to formulate but you will know you are having success when a student gets a revelation of something new that they never realized before.
Most mentors will try to impose their own answers on the student. Usually it is because the mentor is trying to help, and often it is because the mentor has grown impatient with the difficulty of a coaching conversation. This is known as a Directing Conversation and it is actually not the purpose of a mentoring conversation. A student can ask an opinion and a mentor can give it but, it is not appropriate for a mentor to actually push their opinion on the student. The whole point of a coaching conversation is for a student to decide for himself the next step they are willing to take to move forward.
When it comes right down to it. When a student decides something on their own they are more likely to follow through. Follow through is the magic ingredient in moving someone beyond being stuck.
A Counselling Conversation
If during the time of determining where a students feels stuck a student mentions, depression, anxiety, an eating disorder, suicidal thoughts, or something else that is considered clinical then it is time for the mentoring relationship to move into the counselling conversation. I have very strict rules for mentors in this situation. DO NOT TRY TO BE A TRAINED PROFESSIONAL COUNSELLOR. There are people who are skilled and trained at having these types of conversations. A mentor should encourage the student to seek professional help in conversation with parents or guardians.
In the context of a Counselling Conversation the mentors whole purpose is to continue to walk alongside the student in support as they go through counselling. DO NOT ATTEMPT to be the counsellor or undermine what the counsellor or the parents are trying to accomplish and instead support and encourage the student in the counselling process.
How long should a mentor stay in a specific type of conversation? Usually weeks, or months until the student no longer feels stuck in the particular way they originally mentioned.
It is important to understand that most mentors will naturally gravitate to one of these conversation styles. It is crucial for the development of the whole student that the mentor try to develop skills in all three conversation styles.
Mentors Change the World
I have seen the impact of mentorship in the lives of students. I have personally witnessed the change that can that happen when an adult takes the time to work with students in a mentoring relationship. I have included 3 questions for you to think through if you are interested in mentorship.
Pause and Consider:
- What examples of mentoring have you seen in your own life?
- Which parts of 1 Timothy 3 resonate with you? With these qualities as the measuring stick, would your closest friends say you qualify to be a mentor?
- Which of the conversation styles do you feel that you are most comfortable with? Is there one that you feel as though you would definitely struggle with?
If you are considering becoming a mentor I would encourage you to meet with a pastor from your church who can put you in touch with some parents and students.