Mentoring needs to start with children

Mentor Children

Mentoring has been a trendy area of youth work and youth ministry over the last decade, however I’m not convinced that most of us have realised the full potential of mentoring.

In the church where I work mentoring is an exciting, purposeful relationship that helps young people grow, develop,  learn and share the journey that is life. Some want to work through specific issues such as anger management; others just want somebody to talk to. Whatever the purpose, our mentoring scheme can help to create trusting and lifelong friendships for any young person.

Over the last decade I’ve seen lots of lives changed by mentoring – the changes in behaviour, self-esteem, spiritual maturity and more and it’s left me with one conclusion.  We need to start mentoring at a younger age.

We constantly hear the challenging and distressing statistics about how many young people are leaving the church.  There is lots of research about just why this is.  Most of the religious beliefs, behaviours and expectations that define a person’s life have been developed and embraced by the age of 13, according to Christian Research.  If there isn’t a firm foundation in the Bible and the Christian life before that, children are more susceptible to succumbing to peer pressure, to doubting the faith and seeing church life as alien to the real world.

The Sticky Faith research from Fuller Youth Institute shows that inter-generational contact in the church is critical for a child to developing a resilient faith.  Take a moment to think about your church. How does it ‘do’ children’s work?  Is it separated away from the youth and adult ministries?  One of the easiest ways to join them together is to have a mentoring scheme that includes children using a combination of young people acting as older sisters and brothers, and adults who can act as spiritual and pastoral parents and grandparents.

I want to challenge you not to see mentoring as a tool to work alongside older teenagers but to instead view as something that children, young people and adults all need to be involved in – both as mentees and mentors.

How do you do mentoring in your setting?

Open Paris Session 1: Student-Led Adult-Mentored Ministry

Open Paris header-v3

Session 1 of the Open Paris Conference was on Student-Led Adult-Mentored Ministry by Timothy Eldred.  As usual, as the session is live blogged I apologise for any typos etc:


Grew up as a church planters child, with no youth minister, but instead, the question how will children serve as part of the mission of the church.  In the 1870s 57 young people were told: “I promise to never do anything in the church that you can do yourself”.  That is what we call youth ministry today.

But how far has the youth ministry apple fallen from the tree if originally it wasn’t about doing things for children and young people when we produce polished perfect programmes for young people to consume.  Aren’t we all sensing a space where young people who aren’t allowed to lead will leave the church.

Student-led is popular, a buzz phrase, but not what it really is, it often is just delegation from adults to young people.  It needs to come from their heart, something they birth, they own.  Jesus recruited 11 young people and 1 adult – only Peter and Jesus in Matthew 17 paid the Temple Tax and you had to be 20 to do that.  Jesus recruited 12 young men, resourced them for 3 and a half years, did life and ministry with them, and when they were half scared and half ready he turned them loose.  We would have done Discipleship 201 as they weren’t quite getting it.  He doesn’t want them perfected, polished, fully capable, he wants them to rely on him and the Holy Spirit, but full of passion.

Purpose of Youth Ministry: to help young people discover, develop, and deploy a God-sized, Christ-centred mission for their life.  Like a school science lab, lots of dangerous equipment and chemicals but under the right supervision can be brilliant.  Using the markings of a football pitch and giving them that space to play in.  Finding out their gifts, skills, how they interact with others – leading to the biggest issue for young people – their identity – that they have a birthright as children of the most high and wonderful God.  Fitting in is fake and artificial, belonging is authentic, a freedom to try new things, not waiting until 25, 30, 35 etc., to do something, and for it to be something that doesn’t necessarily fit within the church roles.

How many of you have a mentor?  A relationship where someone knows enough about you to destroy your life.  What does it look like, how do you meet?  We crave the relationship with those who are nice but not always nice – they tells us not what we want to hear but what we need to hear – it’s slightly masochistic, but we crave that higher authority.  When did we discover the craving of higher expectations and greater responsibility, young people want this now.  The military will put an 18 year old behind a $40 million dollar and we won’t let an 18 year old lead a teen devotion.  The youth worship band reaches to friends in such a different way to how we can even if it actually sounds awful.  We’re promised the Gates of Hell can’t be broken, but we won’t risk a teenager to do the PowerPoint, serve drinks, lead worship, preach.

They want a chance to get dirty, who gave you a chance?  Often we were allowed to do something up front, and yet lots of our young people are gifted, but they’re not necessarily wanting to be upfront.  We don’t connect them with their heart, their gifts.

When we watch Jesus train teenagers we miss the main point – Jesus left – who would have listened to the disciples if Jesus was still there.  No saying to quit, you could get fired, but Burger King always hires, and they pay more, and you will always have teenagers around you so you’ve got a new youth group!

Is there anything you can’t train a young person to do?  No.  Youth ministry is easy as it’s glorified wedding planning or event planning.

God said to Adam you need someone else, even though you have me, you need someone else with the skin suit on.  As a pastor we spend 75% of our time sitting in our office on own, who are we effecting?  We know there is some study and paperwork to do, but to have an impact on people you need to spend time face-to-face.  How are you training your replacement, if you had three and a half years to train your replacement what would you do differently?

How do we integrate young people into the life and work of the church as co-equals, co-owners, and co-labourers?  Aren’t young people as equal as we are at the foot of the cross, we see them develop a sense of passion, we can help them develop something they own.  What would you change?

We gain our identity from our work, our relationships but isn’t being a child of the most high God.  The truth is you’re not important as you think you are – youth ministry is 16 out of 17 according to George Barna that influence a Christian teenager.  You have to influence the home, they may not act like they listen to mum or dad but the home is always the number one mission.

Can relax if a project is not up to scratch as the process not the product is more important.  The process is what makes us who we are, not the product, yet we only quantify the product, not the process and the failure experiences which successful people learn from.

How do we properly fit young people uniquely created by God for significance and service into the cause of Christ?

We’re sperm and egg but we’re also, regardless of faith, made in the image of God, they have issues that break their heart, but they don’t know what, as we tell them (and it doesn’t), yet they have something that God is breaking their heart for.  Something should break your heart, something should piss you off, should bring a tear to your eye.  So what would you do about … (whatever it is that breaks your heart).

Ministering to Children conference: Q&A with the speakers

Just before the end of the conference there was a Q&A with the speakers

How much do you refer to the parents, in resourcing them to disciple their children?
Colin: Who is Israel in Deut. 6 is it parents, God, the church, the nation, all of the above. It is a partnership from all. Anyone who is involved sees it as a partnership between church and parents.
Andy: a leader who was a mum told another child off, and the parent complained, had to work through it. We have to see all God’s children as our children.
Pete: primary role for looking after children is me, and if you’re being paid then people assume you will do it. The more we can do to help parents the better.
Helen: Parents are desperate to hear feedback at parents evening, what opportunities do we give.
Jane: remember the non Christian families as they don’t have parents to help them. Church can provide a safer community, helping families to connect with 20 mums doing toddler groups, become a Christian through Alpha, and now have tough challenges moving forward.

Do you have a stance on non-Christians helping to lead children’s work?
Andy: a bunch of non Christians who were in worship group but not leading, all of them were involved in a mentoring relationship moving forwards toward faith, so no problem so long as in that relationship and have boundaries.
Helen: need to be very clear in boundaries and relationship, and you would never want into be outnumbering the Christians, and sympathetic to Christian faith. Seen many volunteers come to faith, and equally how we do know that our “sound” Christians aren’t having crises of faith etc.
Colin: is it on God’s heart or yours, is it because you don’t have enough people to fill the roles. Anyone can paint but to what standard?

Love the idea of integrating children more fully into church but what does that actually look like?
Pete: that is the heart of Messy Church, an all-age group that meets midweek or Saturday. Don’t go to Sunday church as am a member of the Messy Church.
Jane: preached in a church, did the singing and liturgy, and the Vicar said we will go to groups, if want arty and crafty go here, if film go here, if discussion go here, and if want to listen to Jane go here. As started preaching someone interrupted with a question and ended as a dialogue sermon.
Teresa: a common theme from all-ages in Godly Play is that they have their own spirituality, it is visual and so they taken in from where they are.
Andy: don’t need to dumb it down, too many parishioners don’t attend as think it will be dumbed down,
Colin: what is church, a relationship with God and each other, a discussion with church leaders sounds important.