It’s not just a student thing though, it’s an everyone in the church thing. We all need mentors, we need to be discipled, we need role models, we need counselors, advisors, guides.
Last night I sat in the living room of one of my high school student leaders from a local FCA club. We were chowing down on some $5.99 Dominos 2 Topping pizza (a critical element in high school ministry). Typically each Sunday night I host 5 or 6 high school guys at my house and we eat pizza, tell stories, and then dig into some intentional dialogue or serve in our community. I don’t know if it’s quite an MC but it checks a lot of the boxes. My motivation for such a group? I care about these guys, they’re more than just a group to me, they’re my mentees and little brothers in Christ.
As the story goes, a bunch of the other boys couldn’t make it so there were only 3 of us. I had some prayerful goal-setting exercises lined up for the night, however, I used pizza time to ask John (a current senior) “Hey man what do you think the missing element is in high school ministry and/or high school student life in general?” His answer came pretty quickly, “Oh easy, Mentoring” he said. I asked him, “what do you mean by that?” He said, “I feel like a lot of kids really need someone to talk to about life, decisions, and stuff without feeling like they’re going to be judged. A lot of people only talk to their parents but it’s huge to have someone else you respect to talk to. Even if they say the same thing I think my parents might say, at least I know it must be good advice and a lot of times I just don’t really want to hear it from my parents.” He finished with a kind word to me, “I think kids need someone like who you have been for me, it’s super helpful.”
I reached out to a junior female student, Sydney at San Diego State and asked her the same question about what’s missing in student ministry. Her response “student ministry becomes all about getting people to show up, but rarely about bridging and bonding in connections. It’s so important for leaders to foster deep mentoring relationships with students, and also student to student. Students come back because they want to bond further and be built up.”
Life on Life
I’m in total agreement with John and Sydney’s assessment. Mentoring is critical. Life on life. It’s not just a student thing though, it’s an everyone in the church thing. We all need mentors, we need to be discipled, we need role models, we need counselors, advisors, guides. In an over-stimulated age, we need guides to help navigate the constant noise and distractions screaming from every angle and device.
Chap Clark in his book HURT 2.0 says “From education to youth sports to media to parenting, just about every institution has become more complex, more demanding, and more relationally disengaged.” Mentoring is the opposite, less complex, more listening, more relationally engaged. “The most significant help we can offer,” says Clark, “is to walk beside even one young person.” Clark suggestions for providing the necessities: nurturing organizations and programs (church basics), a stable and loving presence (family), and intimate relationships (mentoring).
Good News to Students
I’ve heard it said, if you start with the wrong question, you’ll assuredly get the wrong answer. I believe too often our starting question is “What do we want our student ministry to look like?” A great question but possibly missing the point and turning students into data points or projects in our vision building. I prefer the question(s), “What do students need the most? What would be Good News to these students?” That may take you in a different and unique path. I hope it does. Would we proclaim the gospel to any other people group in our world without considering the medium of the message? Of course not. In my opinion, the best medium for the gospel message in teens and young adults lives is mentoring. That shifts the scorecard for “youth ministry”. That means we need to equip others to do what we do and walk through life with students. That means we may need to move some resources away from attractional events and into reproducing, training, and equipping mentors & guides. Or maybe not, but it’s worth considering.
How am I living that out? Students are in my home often, at my table, helping put my kids down, serving in the senior center down the street, watching my wife and I argue and say sorry and forgive, looking at scripture, thinking, talking about life while having their voices heard and valued. I finally have enough years under my belt, letters from parents, visits from former students back from college to know I have an irreplaceable position in their lives. They’re still growing, still asking questions, still chewing on life issues with me, even asking me to officiate their weddings and give pre-marital counseling! I’m joyful knowing it won’t end there. Someday soon it’ll be conflict with spouses, challenges with children and as I’m seeing already; equipping them to do to others what I’ve done in their lives. And I’m not an isolated or special case at all, I’m just giving you a taste of the fruit I’ve seen personally to inspire you.
The love languages of teens are consistency and presence. Those two combined with the Holy Spirit equal mentorship. If you don’t currently have anything going on with teens, go find some you like (and they like you), show up, be consistent, listen and watch it grow. And when you feel like you’ve learned some lessons, invite some more people to do what you do and equip them for it. Hey! That kinda sounds like discipleship doesn’t it? Mentoring, like Nike says, “Just Do It.” Show up.
How would your ministry change if you shifted your scorecard towards mentorship?
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