When I consider the topic of mentoring, I think the operative question is not, “Who instructed you?” but rather, “Who is walking alongside you?” Mentoring is less about information and more about relationship.
The Apostle Paul made the distinction in his letter to the church of Corinth in 1 Corinthians 4:15: “For even if you were to have ten thousand teachers [to guide you] in Christ, yet you would not have many fathers [who led you to Christ and assumed responsibility for you], for I became your father in Christ Jesus through the good news [of salvation]” (AMP).
The Message translation says it more directly, “I’m writing as a father to you, my children. I love you and want you to grow up well, not spoiled. There are a lot of people around who can’t wait to tell you what you’ve done wrong, but there aren’t many fathers willing to take the time and effort to help you grow up. It was as Jesus helped me proclaim God’s Message to you that I became your father. I’m not, you know, asking you to do anything I’m not already doing myself” (1 Corinthians 4:15-16).
How do we move from being just an effective teacher that our students see once or twice a week to the role of spiritual mentor who will continue to bear influence on their life—even after they have graduated our class/ministry?
Whether you are approaching this subject as a children’s pastor wanting to mentor your students or as a ministry leader wanting to mentor the leadership potential in your volunteers and future leaders, here are a few mentoring principles that can help you mentor the next generation effectively:
1) See beyond the “diamond in the rough.”
Mentors always their eyes open. Mentors notice hidden talents, character qualities, and leadership potential in others, and are intentional in going to the student and making themselves available. They realize that some students will be a diamond in the rough at first glance (and probably not your first choice)—completely insecure, timid, or perhaps overly confident.
2) Provide guided instruction.
Keep them close. Guide them through new challenges. Show them and teach them without stifling their own creativity and development. Remember the job of the mentor is not to create a carbon copy of himself/herself, but to develop the student’s own unique gifts and abilities.
3) Provide them with accessibility—to you, to resources, to knowledge (share your secrets to success), to opportunities.
Open for them the door to resources and people that will develop them. Bring them along in your own journey. Let them listen to you, sit in meetings, be a part of the creative process. Expose them to the process behind what you are doing. This must go beyond task-oriented assignments to exposing them to the mission and purpose behind what you do and why you do it.
4) Do not be afraid to delegate authority.
Provide students with opportunities to put their talents to work. Be ready to scaffold support as needed, trust them through their success or failure, and provide plenty of flexibility so that they can grow from the experience.
5) Ask the right questions.
Allow the students time to process their own learning journey.
Ask questions such as:
• How did you feel?
• Why do you think you responded in that way?
• If you could go back, what would you do differently?
• What do you think would have given you a different outcome?
6) Be intentional and consistent.
Mentoring is not confined to a season. I believe that if done correctly, it can be a relationship that lasts a lifetime. Be intentional with their development. Pray for them, and pray with them. Be consistently present in their life, regardless of the season. Remember, you are vested not only in their present but also in their future, which will greatly impact your future as well.
Bottom Line: Mentoring is more than a seminar or a three-point strategy. It’s an intentional and committed response to the promised potential of the next generation. It’s about growing people and consequently growing your future!