The three Ss of youth mentoring

By approaching mentoring with a safe, simple and structured mindset, you can help young people grow in their relationship with Jesus.

By approaching mentoring with a safe, simple and structured mindset, you can help young people grow in their relationship with Jesus.

For three years Jack and I sat outside the church hall 45 minutes before youth group and chatted about life, Jesus and faith. We would wrestle with things Jesus said, set challenges for the weeks and months ahead, and persistently pray for courage and wisdom. Jack grew over those three years. I was blessed too. I witnessed what Christ was doing in his life and helped another believer grow in their faith. It is a great privilege to mentor young people. 

Mentoring is an intentional, time bound relationship with a young person to help them grow in their relationship with Jesus. These relationships come in all shapes and sizes. A mentoring relationship with a 10-year-old will be different to one with a 17-year-old.

Mentoring is a wonderful compliment to regular youth ministry. In youth ministry our primary mode of discipleship is with groups not one-on-one. We work to harness peer-to-peer relationships for mission, community and growth. Mentoring provides an additional strategy to help specific young people grow. Mentoring does not need to be restricted to youth leaders. A variety of godly people can be effective mentors for young people in your ministry: former youth leaders, parents, grandparents, older Christians.

Paul’s relationship with the Thessalonians provides a wonderful model for Christian mentoring. Paul modelled a godly life, loved them deeply, never burdened them, and used words of encouragement, comfort and challenge to help them grow (1 Thessalonians 2:7-12). Paul was more than a friend or guidance counsellor. Everything he did was to help them live lives worthy of God in their town.

Mentoring comes in all different shapes and sizes, but it is always about growth:

  • Mentoring grows young people in godliness not religiosity. Our goal is to help them to become like Jesus in concrete ways. Reading the Bible together is a key part of a mentoring relationship. The temptation to focus on attendance or ministry involvement needs to be carefully watched.

  • Mentoring grows young people in honesty not duplicity. It provides a framework for real accountability. We help guide young people away from vague answers to specific, concrete commitments. We help them make their ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ be ‘No’ (Matthew 5:37). Mentoring also provides the space for personal reflection whereby the young person can observe their patterns and history and make choices to grow.

  • Mentoring grows young people in courage not excuses. Mentoring the young person invites someone to challenge and push them to grow, whilst giving permission to identify areas where excuses are limiting growth. This will cultivate resilience and risk-taking faith.

  • Mentoring grows young people in independence not dependence. The goal is never for the young person to be reliant on the mentor. The goal is to equip the young person with the tools to make wise, independent and courageous choices. 

My mentor gave me some great advice when I started to mentor Jack. He explained that mentoring fails when the expectations and goals are unclear. He gave me three Ss to remember in every mentor relationship:

Safe

The mentor is responsible for ensuring the relationship is above reproach and that the power imbalance is understood and managed with clear boundaries. The age of the young person will determine the appropriate regularity, timing, meeting location and longevity of the mentoring relationship. The mentor arrangements should be communicated with a staff member and often the parent.

Simple

You need to be able to explain the goal of the mentor relationship in one sentence. Jack and I worked on him growing as a young, robust and active Christian leader for three years. Even though there are many important topics that will help young people grow, choose one to be the focus of the mentor relationship. Remember: clarity is essential for accountability.

Structured  

Each mentor meeting should be consistent. My meetings with Jack went for 45 minutes: 10 minutes catching up and reading a Bible passage, five minutes praying together, 20 minutes talking about the key question for the week, five minutes of personal reflection where Jack worked on articulating his next step and then five minutes of prayer. This worked for us because we did it each time we met. A consistent structure helps the young person know what will happen and the goals of the meeting.

Mentoring young people is privilege. It can be a short-term strategy that produces a lifetime of fruit. Could this be a strategy you could use in your ministry?