group magazine: January-February, 1999
Making the shift to relationship-driven ministry. plus: Why mentoring is worth the effort; 49 ways mentors can show they care; 52 weeks of mentoring activities; and the eye-opening results of a mentoring survey we gave to 150 young people.
In a mentor-driven youth ministry, all programs are merely contexts for building relationships between adults and young people.
by abe bergen
It was already dark when Aaron walked outside, headed for the outhouse at his family’s summer beach cottage. He lit a candle for light, then dropped the match down the hole. What he didn’t know was that someone had used a pail of gasoline to clean a lawnmower engine earlier in the day and had dumped the mixture down the hole. The outhouse was full of gas fumes, and the smoldering match ignited them. The fireball engulfed Aaron, singeing all the hair off his face and giving him second- and third-degree burns.
The cottage was more than two hours away from the nearest hospital. So the police led Aaron and his family on a high-speed race to the emergency room. Less than five minutes from the hospital, Aaron summoned his strength, turned to his mom and said, "You've got to phone some of our friends from church immediately when we get there and ask them to get a prayer chain going. And don't forget to call Erv and tell him what happened."
Erv had been Aaron’s mentor for two years. They’d spent countless hours together fishing, boating, ice-skating, going to hockey games, and eating fast food. Even though it was 1 a.m., Aaron knew Erv would want to know. In fact, he was certain that Erv would be at the hospital as soon as he heard about the accident.
Aaron was right. Erv came to see him every day in his hospital room. And as Aaron’s burns slowly healed over the next six months, Erv often visited him at home to play cards or watch movies. The two met through a mentoring program sponsored by their church’s youth Group. Through the program, they met once a month for an activity or conversation. Erv’s loving commitment forever impacted Aaron’s spiritual growth.
Program-driven approaches to youth ministry are having trouble competing with the entertainment options now available to kids. Fun events, special trips, and inspiring speakers just can’t match a mentor-driven strategy for impacting today’s teenagers. Why? Because mentoring is unabashedly relationship-focused, and kids crave authentic relationships. In a mentor-driven youth ministry, all programs are merely contexts for building relationships between adults and young people.
A mentor-driven approach may or may not translate into a formal program. Some of the best mentoring relationships happen naturally when the chemistry between a teenager and an adult is just right—when common interests or compatible personalities make getting together fun and powerful.
It’s hard to imagine effective youth ministry without a mentoring component. And the Bible agrees. Paul encouraged Timothy to grow in his faith, helped him develop his ministry gifts, and supported him when he stepped into leadership. A person will always beat a program in meeting a young person’s changing needs.
For adults used to a program-oriented youth program, a mentoring strategy will require a crucial mental shift. They’ll need to learn how to see kids’ potential and invest in helping them reach it. That will take time, energy, and patience. And it will require something less tangible: a determined belief that they have the ability to give something valuable to young people. That means they’ve experienced life and learned from it. They know how to encourage others’ spiritual growth because they’ve experienced that encouragement themselves.
Jesus limited his intensive mentoring to 12 disciples, even though he mentored many others in less intensive ways (for example, Mary, Martha, and Lazarus). Likewise, I think there are four primary roles mentors play that reflect different levels of involvement—from light to intensive.
1. Role model—To be a role model, you must be known. And to be known, you must relate to kids in natural, relaxed environments. That means having fun together, enjoying common experiences, and talking openly about issues that surface. It’s possible to mentor many young people simply by being yourself. Mentors impact others by the way they live out their faith, make decisions, express their beliefs, or show concern for others.
2. Guarantor—A guarantor is someone who has gone before—one who "swims across the lake and shouts encouragement from the other side." A guarantor focuses on creating a safe place for others to share their struggles, doubts, and questions. Personal sharing is at the heart of this kind of mentoring. Guarantors must be willing to vulnerably share something from their past that might be helpful to others in the present.
3. Spiritual friend—In the role of a spiritual friend, a mentor can help young people clarify their thinking about faith issues. How? By asking kids penetrating questions and listening for their crucial questions. Both the mentor and the mentee expect to talk about spiritual issues, so the questioning process doesn’t seem intrusive or inappropriate.
4. Spiritual guide—Spiritual guidance is the most intensive mentor role because it requires an adult who’s willing and able to stimulate and nurture a young person’s growing relationship with Christ. A mentor who’s a spiritual guide is more directive than a spiritual friend, and the relationship will likely have more structure than any of the other mentor roles. The two might study the Bible together or develop a spiritual accountability that challenges the young person to grow in Christ.
To the extent that mentoring becomes a central strategy for youth ministry in your church, you’ll see young people empowered for life and ministry. Adult mentors are vital for passing on the faith to the next generation. ˙
Abe Bergen serves as Director of Youth Ministry for the General Conference Mennonite Church. He was a mentor to Erik for seven years. Abe and Elaine (married 27 years) are grateful to Ronn, Ken, Brenda and Sonya, who have been mentors to their children, Jeremy and Rachel.
Helping Young People Become More Like Jesus
by Pamela J. Erwin
"We did this…in order to make ourselves a model for you to follow."
–2 Thessalonians 3:9
I recently spoke with a young woman who is now a senior in college. I was her youth leader for three years, and we spent a lot of time together. She and I and another young woman met weekly during her senior year in high school. We studied Scripture together and talked about their dreams for after high school. We had many significant conversations during that year.
As this young woman and I caught up on each other’s lives, we both kept saying, "Do you remember when we did…?" or "Do you remember when this happened?" I was impressed by what she felt was important about our relationship. What she remembered, all these years later, were the ways I had showed her I cared about her.
Every year thousands of young people graduate from high school and go to college. For many of them who spent years involved in church youth Groups, college is a time of moving away from their faith. The efforts of youth ministers and adult volunteers may seem to have been in vain. The talks and programs we thought were so good (and probably were!) may seem to have left no impact.
What young people do remember are the times we opened up our lives to them. They remember the adults who, through their actions and attitudes, told them they mattered. Personal mentoring relationships are the key to nurturing young people into adults who reflect their full potential in Christ.
When my son, Shane, was in middle school and high school, he was active in our church’s youth Group. He spent a significant amount of time with one volunteer adult leader. Nelson was a counselor at most retreats and camps, and he was available whenever a young person needed advice or counsel. A couple of years ago, I remarked to Shane that he had developed into quite a "Southern gentleman." He smiled and said, "Thanks. I guess I always wanted to be like Nelson. I like the way he treats people." Shane had begun to imitate the behavior Nelson had modeled for him.
Why add a mentoring program to your already full youth ministry?
1. Young people make better choices when adults mentor them.
Numerous studies have shown that young people who are involved in mentoring relationships with positive adult role models are far more likely to make positive life choices. For example, a recent study by Big Brothers Big Sisters of America showed that young people with mentors were far less likely to begin using illegal drugs or alcohol. This and other studies have shown that a teenager with a mentor will be
more likely to stay in school,
more likely to attend class,
more likely to go to college,
more hopeful about his or her future, and
less likely to hit someone.
2. Teenagers need close adult relationships.
In today’s society, people are increasingly isolated from one-to-one human contact. With e-mail, voice mail, fax machines, and a variety of other electronic wizardry, we now can "interact" with people without actually talking to or seeing anyone. We have the ability to connect with our world through computers, the Internet, and a seemingly infinite number of cable channels–all from the privacy of our own rooms.
For teenagers, this lack of personal contact is particularly serious. Teenagers have far fewer caring adults involved in their lives than they used to. And during adolescence, young people are in desperate need of adults to encourage them as they develop emotionally, physically, and spiritually.
3. Teenagers need adults to help them develop lifelong faith relationships with Jesus Christ.
Accountability and responsibility happen in the midst of strong relationships with peers and adults. Youth workers who pour their lives into teenagers create lasting impressions that are vital to the lifelong choices young people must make—living on far beyond flashy programs. The intimate connection between young people and committed Christian adults provides impetus for sustained, growing faith.
Pamela J. Erwin is coordinator of Youth and Family Ministries Program and adjunct professor at Denver Seminary in Denver, Colorado. These sidebars are adapted from Intensive Caring: Practical Ways to Mentor Youth, copyright © 1998 Group Publishing, Inc., P.O. Box 481, Loveland, CO 80539.-0481
Ways Mentors Can Show Teenagers They Care
Help them discover new things.
Remember their birthdays.
Look in their eyes when you talk to them.
Listen to them.
Tell them their feelings are OK.
Share with them strengths you admire.
Give them choices when they ask your advice.
Suggest better behaviors when they act out.
Delight in their discoveries.
Share their excitement.
Mail a card or a letter to them.
Call them to say hello.
Give them space when they need it.
Discuss their dreams and nightmares.
Laugh at their jokes.
Answer their questions.
Tell them how terrific they are.
Create traditions with them, and keep them.
Use your ears more than your mouth.
Make yourself available.
Find common interests.
Apologize when you’ve done something wrong.
Keep the promises you make.
Point out what you like about them.
Catch them doing something right.
Ask for their opinions.
Have fun together.
Tell them how much you like being with them.
Let them solve most of their own problems.
Be excited when you see them.
Praise more; criticize less.
Buy them small gifts (such as stuffed animals) that represent something you admire about them.
Let them tell you how they feel.
Admit it when you make a mistake.
Tell them how proud you are of them.
Believe in them.
Delight in their uniqueness.
Accept them as they are.
Let them teach you.
Daydream with them.
Celebrate their firsts and lasts, such as the first day of school.
Love them–no matter what.
Source: Copyright © 1996 by Search Institute, Minneapolis, Minnesota. All rights reserved. Used by permission.
52 Weeks of Mentoring Ideas
1. Take a walk around a lake.
2. Talk about your very first job.
3. Go to the library together.
4. Explore the Internet together.
5. Go to a movie.
6. Get together with friends from work.
7. Go in-line skating (or skiing or biking).
8. Make dinner together.
9. Go bargain hunting.
10. Go to church together.
11. Go to a concert.
12. Talk about credit cards.
13. Talk about your first date.
14. Work on homework together.
15. Go grocery shopping.
16. Change the oil in your car (do it yourself or take it to a shop).
17. Talk about college.
18. Visit a local college.
19. Go for a hike.
20. Talk about ways to find a job.
21. Go holiday shopping.
22. Talk about relationships.
23. Go to a play together.
24. Take tours of friends’ workplaces.
25. Make popcorn and rent a movie.
26. Do a pretend job interview.
27. Talk about what you’re learning about God.
28. Talk about balancing a checkbook.
29. Celebrate your birthdays together.
30. Talk about personal values.
31. Visit a music store together.
32. Talk about balancing work and life.
33. Talk about the things you’ve learned when you’ve failed.
34. Talk about networking.
35. Research colleges or technical schools together.
36. Go out to dinner together.
37. Visit a sick friend together.
38. Talk about dying.
39. Invite his or her family over to dinner.
40. Visit a bookstore.
41. Talk about the future.
42. Talk about balancing a budget.
43. Talk about career options.
44. Talk about how you decided on the job you have.
45. Share funny stories about your childhood.
46. Go to a health club or gym together.
47. Work on a difficult puzzle together.
48. Share what you’ve learned about a particular Scripture.
49. Visit a museum.
50. Have a picnic in a park.
51. Work on job applications together.
52. Visit the zoo.
The Impact of Mentors on Kids
Group asked 150 Christian teenagers to tell us about the spiritual mentors in their lives: Who are they? Why have they made an impact on you? What’s something a leader has done that’s turned you off? We’ve compiled kids’ responses here. The results of the first question were easy to report. For questions #2 and #3, we Grouped together like responses, then gave a sampling of those responses.
An Overview of Our Findings:
•Parents, youth leaders, and kids’ friends are most often mentioned as mentors. Once again, the powerful impact of parents on teenagers’ faith development surfaces.
•A mentor’s relationship skills, spiritual example, and character make the biggest positive impact in kids’ lives. All spiritual impact is funneled through relationship—a leader’s strong relational skills open the door to kids’ spiritual growth.
•A leader’s rude, mean, or obnoxious behavior is the biggest turnoff to young people—followed closely by a spiritual or moral failure, and hypocritical living. Obviously, mean people don’t attract kids. But we were stunned by the number of times kids mentioned being turned off by spiritual leaders’ "swearing."
1. What people have been spiritual mentors in your life?
2. What’s something a leader has done that has made you want to be like him or her?
•He takes us to McDonald’s.
•He led me to Christ in a non-pushy way.
•She reached out to me and helped me through some tough times.
•He’s nice to everyone and makes a point to say "hi" even if he’s busy.
•She’s always joyful, kind, and has time to talk to you. She’s a great encourager.
•He picked me out of the crowd to come talk to—and sent me letters.
•She’s shown me love even when I’ve done wrong stuff.
•He showed compassion for someone everyone hates.
•He loved me unconditionally and challenged me to grow.
•She remembered my name.
•She respects me and knows how to have fun.
•He lets me make the wrong decision, then helps me get forgiven and correct the problem.
•I watched my youth leader lose sleep, exhaust himself, and basically pass out from giving his all for my youth Group.
Positive Spiritual Example—27%
•He has decided to devote his life to teaching the Word.
•She worships God plainly no matter what.
•He has stood out and stood up for Jesus.
•He’s completely strong in Christ, and not ashamed of it.
•When a leader walks what he preaches, it really helps me have respect for him.
•She totally doesn’t care what people think of her—in everything she does, she glorifies God.
•She loves God.
•He lives an obviously Christian life.
•She showed me you can be fun, loving, and godly all at the same time.
•He has stood up for what he believes, not caring what others think.
•She shows what faithfulness to God can do in your life.
Positive Character and Personality—26%
•He’s strong—not afraid of life.
•She’s real—she means what she says.
•She’s so focused on where she’s going, and what needs to happen for her to get there.
•He takes a stand against R movies and drinking.
•She’s given her life to missions.
•He’s been through hard times, but he still loves and trusts God.
•She stood up for her rights to prove a point.
•She never let anything get to her.
•He refused to bad-mouth the church when they fired him.
•She admitted her sins.
•My youth leader has shown me that it’s possible to be humble and stand up and lead at the same time.
•He keeps going no matter how hard things get.
•He’s knowledgeable and knows how to help others understand the Word.
•She showed God to be great.
•He makes his teaching fun and interesting.
2. What’s something a leader has done that has made you NOT want to be like him or her?
Rude, Obnoxious, Overbearing, or Boring Behavior—50%
•He used God and religion as leverage to make me do what he wanted me to do.
•He blew up at me.
•She was more caught up with having fun with the youth than being a role model. We need people to look up to, not hang out with.
•She yelled a lot, acted extremely intimidating, and acted fake.
•He treated us like second-graders.
•He was way too serious and boring.
•He picked favorites—treated some people better than others.
•She read entire chapters of the Bible at one time.
•He wouldn’t do any activities that would make it fun to learn about God.
•He was in a bad mood from little sleep.
•She became prideful in her position, gossiped about other people, used "lost" people as examples of what not to do, and condemned people who needed forgiveness.
•He jumped to conclusions and persecuted someone based on those assumptions.
•He told me to shut up!
•She laughed at someone who wasn’t doing something right.
•He was rude and ignored me.
•He was so self-absorbed that, to boost his own ego, he drove away teenagers who desperately needed God.
•She talked like she didn’t really care what we learned.
•He always teased us about really sensitive issues.
Spiritual or Moral Failure—33%
•He did drugs and got caught (mentioned often).
•He committed adultery (mentioned often).
•Bill Clinton—you know what he did (mentioned often).
•I’ve seen and heard him cussing (mentioned often).
•He "performed" for the youth Group instead of ministering.
•She broke the law.
•Some leaders I know have really bad tempers they can’t control.
•He didn’t tell the truth about his sin.
•He’s been hypocritical—hasn’t really lived the Christian life.
•She acted one way in a Christian setting and another way elsewhere.
•He taught something, then did the opposite of what he said.
•She was totally acting different in her home life than when she was supposedly "leading."
•He stays at church for 12 hours or more at a time.
•She devotes too much time to church work.