How to do Relational Discipleship

Youth Specialties
May 30th, 2016

Why Relational Discipleship?

Almost all of us can look back on our faith journey and think of a few people who were instrumental in our coming to know Jesus as our Savior. Very few people today come to know Christ on their own—it usually happens in relationship. Maybe it was parents, a friend, youth leader, camp counselor, or a combination of several people who helped us understand who God is and how to have a relationship with him. But coming to faith is only the first step in discovering God. Left on our own, we may struggle on that journey, which is why relational discipleship and mentoring is vital.

In the Gospels, we see Jesus modeling this type of ministry with his disciples. He didn’t just choose these men and then let them figure it out themselves—he poured into them for more than three years through his teaching, fellowship, and his sharing of life and ministry. We have the same opportunity with the students in our ministries.


Any student can benefit from a mentoring relationship, so how do you choose a person to mentor? This can happen a few ways. I begin with prayer. I pray that God will lead me and give me his eyes to see. I look for students who seem eager to grow, are open to being challenged, and who connect well with me. If I know these students don’t have mentors, I approach them to see if they’re interested in meeting with me to be mentored.

[bctt tweet=”A potential danger is to feel as if you have to mentor everyone, which is pretty much impossible.” username=”ys_scoop”]

Mentoring is a commitment that takes time and energy. You may have a great relationship with a student who needs a mentor, but if you’re already mentoring several students, you might want to help that person find someone else to mentor them. Evaluate your schedule and decide on a realistic number of students you can mentor, and then stick to that limit. This will keep you from becoming overwhelmed, and it will ensure that the relationships you do have are high quality.


Now that you’ve chosen a student, how do you mentor him or her effectively? Here are some guidelines that will help this process be successful:

  1. Build the relationship. It’s important to get to know each other. At the first meeting, share you faith story and ask the student to share his or hers. This way you can gauge where that student is in a walk with Christ and also allow the student to see who you are. In addition to your regular meetings, take the student with you as you do some of your everyday activities. This could include grocery shopping, working out, running errands, or serving together outside of church. While these may not seem to be traditional mentoring settings, they can continue to help you build and deepen your relationship with the student.
  1. Talk about goals and expectations. It’s good to ask the student what he or she hopes to get out of your time together. It’s also important that you cast a vision for how you wish to use the time. Together you can create a list of goals. Some of your goals might be to check in regularly to see what’s going on in your student’s life, read the Bible or a Christian book together, talk about specific struggles with sin, discuss how your student might share his or her faith with non-Christian friends, or begin to figure out how God has gifted this student. Also determine where and how often you’ll meet. I typically meet once a week with students, but for you and your students, maybe twice a month or once a month is more realistic. I’ve found it to be helpful to have a consistent place to meet. Coffee shops, restaurants, or even parks are great places. It’s wise to meet somewhere public, because it offers built-in accountability and a change from being at church.
  1. Don’t be afraid to challenge. The students you meet with most likely want to be challenged and trust that you love them and have their best interests at heart. Challenge them to be more than they are, encourage them when they mess up, and love them no matter what they do.
  1. Don’t make mentoring about you. Sometimes youth workers use the time and undivided attention of a student to talk about their own issues or reminisce about when they were teenagers. While some transparency is helpful, make sure you’re not focusing on yourself. If what you’re sharing directly relates to something your student is going through and will be helpful to them, great. If not, this may be the wrong time and place to share. Determine a healthy balance.
  1. Parent awareness. Seek parents’ permission to mentor their children. I’ve found many parents understand the concept of mentoring, already believe in the process, and are completely on board. But there are some parents who may not really understand what mentoring entails or why you want to meet with their children. Educating parents about the process of mentoring is an important step. In my ministry, we have a mentoring permission form that students must have signed by a parent. It defines mentoring, discusses the benefits of mentoring, and lists practical details that include how mentoring will take place in public with a youth leader and how all mentors have had a background check. This form also has a place where parents can give permission for a mentor to drive the student to and from mentoring sessions. The more you can partner with parents in this process, the better for everyone.
  1. Equip and train other leaders.[bctt tweet=”Part of a youth leader’s role is to equip and empower volunteer leaders to do ministry.” username=”ys_scoop”]Expanding the role of mentor to your other youth leaders allows more students to be mentored, allows more adult leaders to use their gifts for ministry, creates an environment of discipleship in your ministry, and shows that you’re committed to the deeper growth of your students. I encourage all of my adult volunteers to mentor at least one student in our ministry. And if you want to have adult volunteers mentoring students, you need to train them how to be effective mentors and have resources available for them to use in their mentoring sessions.

The Payoff

As youth leaders, we have a lot on our plates, and mentoring students is time consuming and can be draining. But it’s worth the time and energy. Mentoring will renew and energize you for ministry, help you develop deeper relationships with students, will remind you why you got into youth ministry in the first place, and—most importantly—can change the course of a student’s life for eternity.

I’ve had the privilege of mentoring hundreds of students during my time in ministry. Many of those relationships are still strong today, and those former students still allow me to speak into their lives and continue the process of discipleship. Many of my former students are now mentoring others for the Lord—it’s amazing to watch that multiplication process take place. Jesus gave us a great model of discipleship to follow—let’s take advantage of it and help build Christ’s kingdom on earth.

frank newburnFrank Newburn is a husband, father of 3, and youth director for Wesley United Methodist Church in Bloomington, IL. His ministry focuses include mentoring and discipleship, student leadership, and missions and has over 25 years of youth ministry experience. You can contact Frank at FNEWBURN@WESLEY-UMC.COM or check out his ministry at HTTP://WESLEY-UMC.COM/WESLEY/INDEX.PHP/GET-CONNECTED/YOUTH.

Youth Specialties

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