The heart of youth ministry: Peer Mentoring

Peer mentoring is one of the most effective tools in our youth ministry tool box. I have witnessed peer mentoring turn around struggling youth programs, give students a clear vision for leadership, and even make a place for the “leper” in teen culture. Peer mentoring is the process by which a youth ministry utilizes students within its existing programs to lead and mentor other students within the youth ministry.

Mentoring is a great way for students to learn boundaries, develop leadership skills and deepen their relationship with Christ.  It can take on many different forms; for example in my home church our middle school students help with our children’s Church program, our high school students help with our middle school program, and college students work with our high school students.

Over the years, I have found there are at least three main components to a solid mentoring program.  The first component is the mentor must be “responsible for and to something”. Mentors need to clearly understand their responsibilities; I believe that if you don’t have clear expectations for your mentor the mentor will not be successful. Before launching a mentoring program define responsibilities so you will be able to measure success.

The second component is a “stretching activity”. I know you probably are saying isn’t mentoring stretching enough? Yes, but if we don’t challenge our mentors they won’t grow.  A stretching activity can be anything from sharing their faith story in a group, or leading an activity, or meeting with a small group of peers. Activities like these will be a catalyst to help our student mentors to grow. These student leaders will effectively challenge their peers to new depths of spiritual growth. Student leaders will soon change youth group cultures to become more accepting, loving environments.

The third component to a peer mentoring is a clear system of oversight. Mentoring is messy; any time we truly get involved in people’s lives roles can quickly become muddled. Students have an innate creditability with other students and without proper supervision can quickly get in over their head. It is important to be in contact with your peer mentors on a regular basis to guide them through difficult situations, help them to maintain appropriate boundaries, and intervene when necessary.

Peer mentoring is a messy endeavor for any youth ministry but it will return more dividends then you can imagine. So consider if your ministry is ready for peer mentoring, and what it might look like in your unique setting and context.

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