For Youth Workers Post

What Is a Mentor?

Craig Mitchell

Think for a moment about a person who had a significant impact upon your growth in faith when you were younger. Picture his or her face. Recall what this person said and did that was significant for you. Take a moment to give thanks to God for this person.

In becoming a mentor, you are seeking, with God’s grace, to become this kind of significant influence for someone else.

Be a Friend

A mentor is a friend and a guide. A mentor is not a teacher who always tells you what you should do. Instead, a mentor is someone who shares your life journey—someone who will laugh with you, cry with you, question with you, dream and pray with you. Keep in mind the picture of two people walking side by side on the road of life—pilgrims traveling with each other and with God.

Be an Example

Sally's CommunityThe word disciple means to be an apprentice. A mentor is like an experienced potter or carpenter who teaches his or her apprentice the craft, not by giving lectures but by demonstrating skills learned from years of practice. To be a mentor to a young person in Christian faith is to allow him or her to watch you live out your faith day by day. This doesn’t mean that you have to be a super-Christian. It does mean being honest and vulnerable about your successes and failures, your hopes and fears, your beliefs and doubts. The way you live can demonstrate to others the truth that God is real and that walking with Jesus Christ brings life in all its fullness.

Be Open

Sharing your journey with a young person means being open about your past, your present, and your future. He or she will be encouraged to know that you had similar struggles as a teenager and that through those struggles you discovered what it means to trust in God. Just as the Psalms reminded the people of Israel of God’s faithfulness in the past (see Psalm 78), your “faith memory” will help the young person to know that God is always with us, that God keeps promises, and that God can be trusted today.

Be a Listener

Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said that what people want more than anything else in life is to be listened to and understood by another person. A mentor is more willing to listen than to talk. The primary focus of your time with the young person is on their relationship with God and their growth in faith. The more attentive you are to the young person’s thoughts and feelings, the more honest he or she will be with you. And be open to what the young person will teach you about God and faith.

Be Encouraging

devozine Teaching Parents TS 76764138One of the words that may have come to mind when you thought of your own “mentor” in faith is encouragement. Most young people already feel weighed down by the expectations of parents, school, friends, and even the church. They don’t need anyone else telling them what they are doing wrong. We know from our own experience that we are most likely to grow when we receive positive affirmation and encouragement. A mentor tries to recognize and affirm the best in their young friend.

Be Caring

Trusting isn’t easy for many young people. Before you begin and during your time together, think carefully about the things that you can do to help the young person feel most comfortable—meet in places where there are other people around; wait until you know each other well and then always ask permission before giving the young person a hug; let the young person decide the depth to which you will share. And if you ever feel uncomfortable or uneasy about things that are happening, talk to someone you trust; and encourage the young person to do the same.

Be Prayerful

Finally, a mentor is someone who prays and trusts in God. Leaders of any kind need to remind themselves continually that it is God who ultimately does the work of transforming lives. A mentor’s role is to trust God’s powerful love, to be open to the Spirit working through each of us, and simply to be present while God works. A wise person described this as being like a midwife who is present to assist with the birth—without having to do all the work! Being a mentor means being present during the spiritual birth and growth of young Christians. And this is a real privilege!

Craig Mitchell is the National Director of Formation, Education & Discipleship for the Uniting Church in Australia. In his spare time, he writes devozine articles and “In the Habit” blog sessions.

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