Mandatory Mentoring

Mandatory Mentoring

Whether you’re a full-time, part-time, or insane volunteer youth leader, you’ve heard it before. We need to be connecting with students. Yes, is it important for students, but this discussion is about the irreplaceable value for you in mentoring students. It seems so basic, so foundational, and so simple but this incredibly vital and powerful action often gets lost in the midst of schedules, programs, planning, meetings, personality types, and a hundred other things. If we’re honest, some are better at relationships than others. It’s like they are hardwired for socializing. It’s as if God put them on this earth just to remind all of us what “connecting” is really supposed to look like. And then there are others who find it ulcer producing to have a prolonged conversation with anyone, let alone a teenage student. Regardless of who you are, God made you for relationships. Nothing new, I know, but a good reminder still. After all, God tells us that the world will know that we are His by the way we love one another (John 13:35). Then in 1 Corinthians 12:26 Paul talks about the church (us) rejoicing with one another and feeling sorrow with one another. We are made to be connected, but that is sometimes more easily said than done. I found myself in this situation a couple of years ago. Direct hang-out and mentoring time with students was nearly squeezed out of my schedule entirely until my senior pastor stepped in (in a good way) and made connection time a mandatory priority in my schedule. Here are a couple of important lessons I learned along the way.

1.Mandatory means priority.

Maybe you are the type of person who foregoes details, strategy, and release form chasing in order to pursue connecting and mentoring time with students. If so, this one probably isn’t an issue for you. But I needed a firm hand to hold me to the fire of mentoring students. I had to build 9+ hours of student connection into each week. Believe me, this was a hard transition as none of the other tasks that I was juggling were allowed to drop. It forced me to look at how I could bring students alongside what I was already doing. I began meeting with students to review my upcoming lesson. During one series, I took the time I normally would use for message prep and used it to mentor a group of students so they were teaching. Making student connection time and mentoring mandatory forced me into a much better place, both for my students and me. I knew them better. They had more opportunities to fail and succeed. And they grew more. Do yourself a favor: make mentoring a student mandatory in your schedule. Add it to your calendar first, then let the other things fill in around it.

2. Not everything needs to be a Bible study.

I had to relax. I don’t know about you but there was always this voice in my head telling me I needed to make every connection a Bible study. After all, I was on the clock. I was receiving hard-earned tithe dollars from our church members and attenders. These connection times certainly needed to involve more than video games, fast food, and watching YouTube. But then again, maybe not. As I just relaxed and eased into hanging out with students, questions came up naturally. Defenses came down, walls crumbled, and conversations were freer. I witnessed first hand how relational credits in the bank (from simply “being” with students) paid off in their desire to ask for and receive advice.

3.Always be on the lookout for God moments.

Yeah, yeah, it looks like I am contradicting myself after saying not everything has to be a Bible study, but life is filled with those God moments. One of my favorite verses since becoming a parent myself is Deuteronomy 11:19, “Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up” (NIV). Always keep your eye out for those moments to glorify God. Even better yet, always look for those moments to steer students to recognizing God’s fingerprint in their lives. Unless you are looking for those moments, they will more than likely slip right by you.

4.Gain an accurate picture of the core of your students.

These days there is an overwhelming supply of youth ministry resources, ideas, and advice (this blog post included). Read all the books you want. Read all the blogs you want. Even creep on all your students’ Facebook and Instagram accounts you want. You will never really know a student until you spend regular time with him or her. Everything else only helps piece the outer framework of the puzzle together, but in order to see the complete picture, you need to see the core of your students’ lives. Spending real, regular, face-to-face time with students helps you see the core . You’ll understand your youth, your context, and ultimately how you can reach their hearts better.

5. A reminder of the power of listening.

And finally, never forget to listen. Especially in the amplified culture where our students live day-in and day-out, we need to be a listening ear for them. Listen to what they are saying, not just for the trigger that will allow you to share your nuggets of wisdom. Let them take the floor, stand on their soapbox, and vent if need be. Be genuine and be true, but listen intently.

None of us got into youth ministry to run the best program ever, to lead the best small group discussions ever, or even host the smoothest event ever. We are in youth ministry to see God change lives. I encourage you to make mentoring students mandatory in your schedule for them, you, and your ministry.

What other tips would you share for healthy mentoring??


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