I am the product of good mentoring. When I was in high school, LoriJo Schepers was one of my mentors. She helped me start an outreach ministry on my high school campus. She provided powerful and effective resources. She was an encourager and a good listener. LoriJo saw something in me and decided I was worth her investment of time, money, and even the occasional rebuking.
LoriJo understands the importance of mentoring. She is the executive director of Barnabas Ministries, a ministry offering mentoring programs for youth in juvenile detention facilities and providing for the needs of abandoned youth. LoriJo says, “Mentoring is a cool thing. It’s not only a ‘popular’ trend for churches and organizations these days, it’s the very model Jesus used with the disciples, Elijah used with Elisha, Moses used with Joshua…. I think you get the picture!”
Mentoring is the one and only time-tested ministry model that works in all ages and in all churches, regardless of size. Let’s look at some numbers. George Barna writes in his book, Boiling Point, that only 3% of churches in America have 1,000 participants or more. That means that 97% of churches in America have less than 1,000 participants. And only 7-12% of churches inAmerica have 600 or more participants. Between 85 and 90 percent of churches in our country contain fewer than 150 participants. So why is it that we develop our youth programs based on what the 3% of American churches are doing?
Why do we always ask: What is Willow Creek doing or what does Doug Fields have going on at Saddleback? While those ministries are obviously accomplishing great things, their program models and modes of ministry will probably prove to be ineffective in 97% of churches in our country.
What our youth need is personal, one-on-one involvement and attention from adults within the Body of Christ. No program-no matter how exciting-will ever on its own transform our young people into Jesus followers. Big events, million dollar sound systems, trips to Six Flags, or combination of purple, pink, and green stage lights will never by themselves result in changed lives.
Small churches have a great opportunity to provide a ministry to students that has insurmountable impact–without spending big bucks to resemble youth ministries found in 3% of American churches. The other 97% of churches have the opportunity to pair students up with adults who are mature in their faith and who are passionate about helping teenagers learn to walk in faith. In my church, we have 10 men waiting to be paired up with boys from the youth group. We have a parent ready to oversee the mentoring effort at our church and continue to match mentors with students.
Why am I so passionate about mentoring? It works. Mentoring has worked through the ages. The word “mentor” has its roots in Greek mythology. Odysseus was going off to battle and left Mentor in charge of his son Telemacheus as well as his palace. While some argue the validity of this mythology, there can be no doubting the effectiveness of Jesus’ mentoring ministry. Jesus mentored his disciples. As Bo Boshers and Judson Poling point out in their book The Be With Factor, Jesus chose the disciples to be with Him and spend their lives with Him (see Mark 3:14). Though Jesus had a public ministry that drew large crowds, His most effective ministry took place in much smaller contexts – healing people, praying in the garden with a select few of His disciples, the transfiguration, encounters with sinful people, and in other various exchanges. Jesus knew the power of investing Himself in the lives of those He came to save. True ministry to both young and old requires us to incarnate the presence of Jesus as we walk side by side with His dearly loved.
Unfortunately, sometimes people have a hard time seeing past the “mega churches” with “mega youth ministries”. A friend of mine was recently fired from his position as youth pastor because the elders in his church didn’t think he was equipped or able to create a “big” youth ministry, which is what the elders wanted to see happen. Not everybody sees the impact that is possible in small churches.
Small numbers all too often crush youth pastors who measure their success by packed auditoriums. Maybe that is why there is such a high level of employment turnover in youth ministry? We strive so hard to be like “the 3%” that we burn ourselves out in the process.
My youth ministry brings in a steady 15 kids on any given night. The cool thing is that I know each one of them on a personal basis. It’d be nice if the numbers stayed the same, but I know they won’t. As we grow, I’m going to need to realize I can’t continue to be the main influence in each of these students’ lives. They need the adults in our church to surround them and love on them and “do life” with them. It’s exciting that there are so many church members invested in my students!
Mentoring has brought me to where I am now. I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for the adults who invested in my life. I see the power mentoring has had in my life, and the impact it is having in my students’ lives. No matter how many ministry models offered by “mega churches”, we can be sure that mentoring has and always will be an effective and powerful means of ministry to young people.