“Mentoring” and “intergenerational” have become big buzzwords within the Christian community in the last few years. Research and personal stories reveal a student’s faith is propelled by having a trusted adult (mentoring) and a close peer (small group) walk alongside him or her. It is vital to encourage and nurture these relationships.
Here are seven ways to do that. (Some of these can have overlapping objectives and incorporate aspects of each other.)
- One-on-one mentoring
Books have been written about the importance of mentoring, both in secular and Christian settings. In Scripture, we see it modelled over and over: Jesus and his disciples, Elijah and Elisha, Paul and Timothy. One-on-one mentoring allows the student to be the primary focus of the mentoring rather than it being a specific program or a pre-determined template. One-on-one mentoring is personal. It discerns what God might be revealing to the student..
Mentoring can be defined as “intentional, intensive, time-defined explorations of God’s directives for that individual”, which means it also helps the student become more aware of how to communicate with God. This is a substantial way to support the student in faith formation. However, not every adult has the capacity or time to invest in a student to that degree. Taking on such a role requires careful discernment on the adult’s part. But nearly every adult can find ways to invest into students in some ways (Check out “Sharing Life”).
- Coffee/ice cream meetings
Meeting a student at a neutral place like a coffee shop–somewhere the student is familiar with– lessens any sense of intimidation the student might have. It’s often in these places that the deepest conversations happen because the setting encourages friendly conversation rather than an hierarchical conversation (i.e. like a parent lecturing a child).
- Alpha type discussion groups
One key to Alpha’s success is the template for discussions among the participants. An Alpha facilitator is trained not to answer the questions, but rather encourages the participants to discuss, share and ask questions of one another. A key value to facilitating this kind of discussion group with students is it provides for them a place to bring their thoughts without fear of judgement. They have the freedom to ask questions, disagree, doubt and wrestle with faith.
- Small group curriculum that complements teaching/pulpit ministries
A new concept is rarely understood and integrated into a person’s life the first time it’s encountered. Most of us require multiple opportunities: encountering the concept more than once and in different ways (media). Only then can we apply and practice the concept.. Assuming that the teaching from the pulpit is the primary thought driver for the congregation, it makes sense to reinforce that teaching by providing space for students to further delve into and practice what was shared in the sermon. Complementing the pulpit ministry with this follow-up opportunity allows students to join in and build on what the rest of the congregation is working on, which integrates the youth ministry with the wider church body.
- Book studies
Having a focal point for discussion gives a defined direction. A book study is a focused discussion that helps students concentrate their thoughts and questions because they know what to expect after reading the book on their own. Also, discussing a book helps it feel less intimidating to bring up questions and disagreements because the person offering the ideas (ie the author) isn’t present.
- Integrating students into Life Groups
Having a peer community (whether the students are at the same age stage or multi-generational) builds and supports faith (Eccl. 4:9-12). Providing students with peer group opportunities will both encourage them and enable them to encourage others.
- Leadership teams
Inviting students to lead within a team setting incorporates a variety of the above-listed components into one setting. Having that common goal lends to a purpose for the group. They have opportunities to share, lead and learn from one another. Leadership teams provide space for failure in a safe environment and plenty of opportunities to celebrate successes. Usually, a team includes a leader (or a group of adult leaders) who provide some level of mentoring for each team member. Leadership teams aren’t only focused on accomplishing a task, they also learn to work together and bond with one another as they go through that process.
Community–both within peer groups and between adults and students–is a vital part of faith formation. Give some thought to how you can become involved. What other ways do you facilitate those relationships?