Mentoring in the context of church means nurturing relationships between youth and specific adults for the purpose of nurturing faith in youth through a strong relationships within congregation.
Why do we mentor youth?
- Because we care about the youth in our families and congregations: our sons, daughters, nieces, nephews; the friends of our children and the children of our friends.
- Jesus calls us to both be and make disciples in Matt. 28:18-20. Nearly 80% of all Christians became Christians as youth. If this is the case, youth should be our primary field of mission!
- Youth today need desperately to be accepted and blessed by the adults in their lives. As they search for identity and significance, it is vital that the church offer them identity as members of the Christian community and significance through the development of their gifts within the faith community. When youth have mentors, this vital work is not left to chance.
- Youth yearn to be accepted by adults. Only in our culture and only in recent history has society expected adolescents to separate emotionally from their parents and other significant adults. Youth do not want or need this separation. They need and want to be accepted by their community. They need the adults in their faith community to tell them they matter and initiate them into the community of believers that is the body of Christ. It is our responsibility and our privilege to introduce them to Jesus and membership in Jesus’ body.
- Today, social observers like Mary Pipher and Michael Gurian tell us teens need to be mentored by people other than their parents, people who are a part of the community that cares for and supports them. Church is the ideal setting for this!
The Mennonite Church has recognized the importance of mentoring relationships for some time already. The digital handbook, One-on-One, explains how to set up a mentoring program and how to be a mentor.
How to lead a mentoring program
At least two people should work together to coordinate the mentoring program. This spreads the work out and gives the coordinators someone else to confer or brainstorm with. The best time to match youth with a mentor is sixth or seventh grade because middle school/junior high is the time of life when youth are most likely to have the time for a mentoring relationship. Provide this age group with organized mentor-mentee activities, and then encourage them to continue meeting on their own when the student is in high school.
Encourage group activities
In the past, we have mainly thought of mentoring as a “one-on-one” activity. It will be safer–and more comfortable for most people–to build the mentoring relationship by doing activities with other mentor pairs. It is a good practice to have gatherings of all mentors and mentees several times a year. In between, youth and adults can go out to eat, attend events, and do fun activities together with one or more other mentor-mentee pairs. It is also a good idea for mentors and mentees to include the rest of their families in a few activities.
Responsibilities of the mentor coordinator:
1. Oversee the process of matching youth to mentors.
2. Plan and host at least four gatherings a year for junior high-aged youth and their mentors.
3. Provide ideas, advice and a method of reporting activities for the mentors, incorporating child protection measures.
4. Provide ideas, encouragement and accountability for all mentors, including mentors of high schoolers.
5. Be alert to opportunities within the congregation and community for mentors and youth to relate and serve together.
6. Work with other youth leaders in the congregation to coordinate the overall youth ministry efforts of the congregation.
If you have questions about leading a mentoring program in your congregation, write to shanapb [at] mennoniteusa.org.