Part of our calling as youth workers is to mentor students in our ministry. Youth workers often call this by all sorts of things such as student leadership, discipleship etc. One of the most important things to remember is you CANNOT mentor every student in your ministry. Some may hear this as freeing, others may still feel the twinge of guilt in the pit of their stomach. Either way as youth workers we need to be honest about what we can do with our limited resources. This means selecting those students whom you either connect with or you see leadership potential in. It is so important to have adult leaders involved in your ministry; just because you can’t mentor ever student doesn’t mean you can’t find a mentor for every student. It pays for the long term health of the church and the youth ministry. Many of these adult leaders will be there long after you leave. If these adult leaders have positive healthy relationships with students it can ease transitions in leadership and help to stabilize a wobbly ministry.
If we decide to try and mentor every student on our own, we are doing a disservice to our ministries, our students, and our family. Going it on our own might sound appealing at first because it is easier but it displays a lack of trust in our volunteers and eventually leads to burn out. So find the students you connect with and train your volunteers to pour their lives into the other students.
Mentoring a student looks different depending on your context but there are at least three marks to a healthy mentoring program. The first is that the program should be goal oriented. Students and leaders should work collaboratively to write age appropriate goals. These goals must be ownable, reachable, and measurable. Second, the mentoring program must have an articulated purpose. In the church we often create programs without an articulated purpose; we wrongfully assume everyone understands a shared purpose and is working towards the same goal. Lastly, leaders and students need to be held accountable for their mutually agreed upon goals and responsibilities. Leaders should fully understand what they are being asked to do and they should be held accountable for it.
Mentoring is the heart of youth ministry and I believe every youth ministry should work hard to help students engage with loving and caring adults who want to see the best for them. I would encourage you to see how you can incorporate mentoring into your youth ministry program.
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.