I received a phone call today from our conference office. We were talking about mentoring. That’s been one of my key words in ministry for many years. I firmly believe that, as Christians, we should all be mentoring someone of a new generation and have mentors in our lives.
These are not always formally developed relationships, however. We ought to intentionally allow these relationships to happen. It has to do with our expectations going into a relationship. What role do you want to play in this relationship?
When you approach a young person with a desire to instruct them, do you hope that instruction will set them straight and send them on their way, or do you hope it will be the beginning of a beautiful relationship? Context certainly plays a role in this.
My family and I were eating at a Chick-Fil-A on our way home from somewhere. A group of young ladies were at the tables next to us. They were having a theological conversation that filled me with joy to overhear! After they left a group of young men sat down and their language was appalling. The contrast was so upsetting that I slid closer to them in the booth and sternly let them know that this was a Christian, family establishment and their language was unwelcome. This was an example of intending to set these young men straight and send them on their way.
Had this scene taken place in my own community, I would hope I would have handled that much differently, intending to build a relationship with these young men. Perhaps I might have connected them with a male mentor either in my husband or someone from our congregation.
There were a couple of young men sitting on the steps outside the church one day. They had a frustrating experience with some local adults and were venting about it. I walked over and greeted them introducing myself. I simply listened to them and asked some good questions regarding their frustrations. I offered an outsider’s perspective, and then words of encouragement for the potential I found in them. I also offered to pray with them, which they accepted. I was able to at least point them in the direction of forgiveness and reconciliation. This is an example of the beginning of an organic mentoring relationship.
It is an organic relationship since we have not been paired up by some program for a specific purpose. No one has required that I follow up with these young men, so it doesn’t have to be an ongoing relationship. However, because I know God desires to use me to reach new generations for His Kingdom, I do follow up with them; also informally.
When our paths cross around the community, I stop and take the time to check in; letting them know by my actions that I care about them and their discipleship. Our interactions are not scheduled, yet I am intentional to build purpose into them. If someone asks them who their mentors are, I don’t know if they would name me among them since we’ve not defined that relationship. However, as that relationship continues, their lives will reflect the mentoring work of it.
We must train our minds to connect our hearts in relationship. Whether defined in advance or by divine appointment, we are called to mentor. We do not have to wait for the pastor or the school to match us with a mentee. We can pay attention to the Spirit and allow these relationships to form organically.
Organic, as a farming word, means the item has been produced without the use of chemicals or artificial materials. Organic crops are grown without pesticides or growth enhancing chemicals; just good old fashioned dirt. A mentoring relationship that happens without the instruction of a program director, is an organic relationship. It can be messier and perhaps slower growing than a formal mentor relationship, but it will reap the spiritual and personal health benefits. So, don’t mind the dirt, just trust the Lord to lead you.
On a similar but different note: Are you trying, or thinking about trying to use older students to mentor younger students? I’ve seen this work really well and also fail hard! Again it is a matter of retraining the brain how to approach that relationship.
Keep in mind that high school youth may have formed an assumption about their middle school peers which harms their ability to serve as mentors. Attitudes such as they are obnoxious, annoying, whiny, or not worth my time will not make them good mentors. When high school students are paired with elementary students, however, they tend to approach that relationship thinking they are cute or fun and they believe these youngsters look up to them. (They may have a bit of god complex which would need to be brought back to earth too.)
As with our own approaches to relationships, the mindset of youth can also be re-trained to produce a healthy peer, mentor experience. It takes intentionality on all parts. Adults must be intentional to train the students. Students must be intentional to approach the relationship with the correct mindset; not believing they know it all, but desiring to journey together in discipleship. Above all we must love one another.