Why Mentors Matter
By Cindy Klick
Experts of all sorts agree that youth need several caring adults in their corner to walk with them as they grow emotionally and spiritually. The six or seven years that teens are part of youth ministry can be likened to a journey over slippery rocks in a river. This time is filled with opportunities for triumphant success but fraught with the ever-looming possibility of a devastating fall. Youth leaders and volunteers can be a vital part of the mentor-rich life raft that helps keep students afloat.
Few youth leaders – paid staff or volunteers – have it in their wheelhouse to connect well with every student. We best serve our youth when we provide them with a web of trained, background-checked folks who are invested in them in ways that are unique to a church family. The more you know about the interests, struggles, and background of students in your church, the better you can serve their needs. Work toward making mentorship a priority by exploring the following possibilities for people you might recruit to be mentors:
- Retired adults often have time on their hands, diverse expertise, and the desire to invest in young people. Invite them to a conversation over coffee and find out what they are passionate about. A middle schooler who doesn’t have grandparents nearby may love sharing ice cream on the back porch or a tutoring session to help understand algebra (bearing in mind the two unrelated adult presence required by Safer Sanctuaries).
- Recent empty nesters have the fresh experience of raising their own teens and often wish to stay connected by serving as a Sunday or weekday volunteer, prayer partner for confirmation or other event, driver, or food server (always in great demand!). Help mentors succeed by offering training in empathic listening skills, safe use of technology, and so on. Include motor vehicle background checks for those who will be providing transportation.
- Young adults in college or the work world who are at least five years older than the students with whom they are paired are a rich source of energy, modern culture, and relevance in the eyes of teens. These mentors must be trained in understanding appropriate boundaries and that they cannot cross the line of romantic relationships or substance use with youth.
- Older high schoolers can be treasured mentors for younger middle schoolers (remember the five-year rule) or tweens in late elementary school. Younger students look up to them and will enjoy the potential for games, advice borne from recent experience, and conversation about school and extracurricular activities. Be sure high school mentors understand the need for appropriate language and dress and are aware they cannot provide transportation for those who are younger. Put in place planned adult supervision and oversight of all mentor relationships, especially those involving older teens.
From retired adults with their wealth of experience to young adults who bring a fresh perspective, mentors offer a unique form of guidance and support. Older high schoolers serve as relatable role models, while recent empty nesters bring empathy and practical wisdom. This variety ensures that teens can find mentors who resonate with them, providing a stable and nurturing environment as they navigate the challenging but rewarding path of personal growth. By prioritizing mentorship and fostering these connections, we not only support our youth in their current struggles and triumphs but also lay a strong foundation for their future as well-rounded, spiritually grounded individuals. This mentor-rich approach is not just a safety net; it's a launchpad for our youth, propelling them toward success and resilience in all aspects of life.