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How mentoring aids us all

11 March 2022

Mentoring teenagers for leadership is not only vital for God’s Kingdom tomorrow: it also enriches church life today, says Ruth Hassell


IT HAS been more than ten years since I first began writing about mentoring young people for leadership, and more than 20 years since I accidentally stumbled into it as a life-giving and hope-filled practice — not just for the young person being mentored, but for all involved. Half a lifetime later, I remain as convinced, if not more so, that mentoring teenagers for leadership is not just a nice idea, but an essential one.

I cannot imagine that anyone would deny that, nationally and internationally, we are facing a leadership crisis. Each day seems to bring fresh news about some moral failure or event that leads us to question the trustworthiness and integrity of those charged with the leadership of our communities and nations. There is a dearth of leadership, and, sadly, the Church is not immune to these challenges.

I don’t think these challenges are new — every generation has faced them — but, as they multiply around us, on our watch, we need to be intentional about addressing them, strengthening leadership for today and investing in the leadership of tomorrow.

We don’t just invest in young leaders as a response to the prevailing leadership crisis, however, there are many other compelling reasons why the teenage years are a key time to encourage the leadership conversation.


To build leaders, start early

SOMEONE once said that to build leaders, we need to start early. There are many thoughts about why this is the case.

• The teenage years are a key time of talent formation: the organisation Gallup did some research into this area, and discovered that our talents (including leadership talent) are formed by the time we reach early adulthood.

• It is during the teenage years that our character is being formed: things begin to take root that shape the person that we continue to grow into.

• Things that we do, and activities that we participate in, during our childhood and teenage years, are more likely to continue into adulthood.

• The teenage years are a time of preparation for navigating the world that is unfolding before them — leadership is a skill that can help individuals for the rest of their lives.

Mentoring offers a great, intentional space for formational conversations to take place: conversations about character, about gifts and talents, and, ultimately, about discipleship — looking at the question of who it is that we’re following, before we begin to think about who we are leading.

But it’s not just for formational reasons that it’s a good time to be thinking about these things. Many of the teenagers in our churches are already holding leadership positions in their schools, sports teams, and community groups. And let’s not forget that, throughout history, culture-shaping movements often began with young people, and continue to do so.

My experience has shown me that young people are longing for someone who will walk alongside them, nurture them in their faith, and encourage them in the part they are to play in the Kingdom today, besides preparing them for the future. It provides them with genuine leadership opportunities, where they are not thrown in too deep but supported as they grow in their gifts.


Developing a mentoring network

WITHOUT doubt, teaching programmes and events have their place in youth ministry; but discipleship and raising leaders does not happen effectively in crowds: it is when faith and experience is seen lived out by those who believe it, that it comes alive, and inspiring.

It is when young people have the opportunity to share their stories, their hopes, their fears, and where they see God at work, that faith is deepened — not just in their life, but also in the life of their mentor.

The wonderful thing about mentoring young people is that you don’t need a massive youth group or large numbers of youth leaders to do it: it’s an opportunity for those who would not necessarily get involved in the week-by-week youth ministry to get alongside just one or two, and share their experience and life of faith.

So, if you are thinking about developing a mentoring network in your church, here are a few practical things to consider.

Appoint someone to oversee it. Establishing a good, healthy mentoring network takes planning and intention, and needs someone to have oversight of who is meeting with whom, and to act as a contact point for all involved.

Safeguarding. It surely goes without saying that any mentoring network that involves under-18s needs to be run according to your church’s safeguarding policy. All mentors need to go through the DBS process, and receive safeguarding training, in the same way that any youth and children’s volunteers would. All mentoring conversations must be held in a public/visible space.

Involve parents and guardians. Ensure that parents and guardians are fully informed about what and who is involved in the mentoring network. They should know who their child is meeting, and when and where those meetings are taking place. Arrange for parents to meet the mentor, and to have their contact details.

Training. Many people would not naturally put themselves forward as a mentor, and feel anxious about what is required and whether they have the necessary skills and experience. Mentoring is a skill that can be learnt and developed, however, and providing regular training for mentors that offers teaching and opportunity for reflection, helps people to feel supported in taking it on.

Embed it in your culture. Culture is formed by the stories we tell; so talk about mentoring, let people know that it is part of your life together, and share the stories of growth and life.

Mentors. When looking for people to be mentors, I think Paul’s reflection (1 Thessalonians. 2) on how he and his co-workers got alongside the Church in Thessalonica offers a helpful framework.

He says that they “encouraged” them — spurred them on in what they were doing and how they were growing; “comforted” them in the difficulties they were facing; helped them to see that failure is part of growth; and “urged” them to lead a life worthy of the Lord, lives that are growing in Christlike character.

Paul also talks about the three attributes that they demonstrated as they lived among them. First, they behaved with complete transparency: their motive was clear, and they had no hidden agenda. Second, they lived lives of integrity: what they were teaching and encouraging is what they were seeking to live. I think this offers great insight into the heart of a mentor.

Third, alongside these qualities, mentors need also to be ready for mutual learning: this is not a one-way relationship, even though the focus is on the young person.

Young people understand the trends of the next generation in a way that we can’t; they ask great questions that challenge the status quo; they are technologically smart, and have been raised in a fast-moving world. They are zealous about things that matter, they are full of faith, and they are fun! We need to support them to lead today, and, as they lead into the future, we need to be open to the new God-inspired paths that they will lead us on.


Hope for the future

THERE is no denying that we are living in challenging and difficult days, but, as I talk with, and walk and work alongside, young people, I see more than a glimmer of hope for our future. My prayer continues to be that, as a community of God’s people going on the adventure of faith together, with the privilege of walking alongside young people at a vital time in their lives, we will see God do more than we could ever ask or imagine in their lives, in our lives, and in the lives of our communities.

This takes time, and it takes intention — it’s a costly sharing of lives. But hasn’t that always been the way that Jesus set before us? As we invest in a few, and they go on to invest in a few, God’s Kingdom comes, lives are transformed, and communities are enriched.

Ruth Hassall is a freelance leadership coach and trainer with experience of working with individuals, churches, organisations, and dioceses. The second edition of her book Growing Young Leaders: A practical guide to mentoring teens was published in January by BRF/CPAS at £7.99 (CT Bookshop £7.19); 978-1-80039-128-4.

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