At World Youth Day in Rio Pope Francis said, “The best instrument to evangelize young people is other young people.” If the same logic is followed than the best instrument to bring forth youth ministers for God’s Church is other youth ministers. The reality is that there are not enough people who are answering the call to serve as professionals or volunteers in the Catholic Church today.
Could professional youth ministers investing more deeply in mentoring relationships now, bring forth a fruitful harvest for the next generation? I know that I am sitting in my Youth Ministry Office today because I was first mentored by my high school youth minister, 20 years ago. I now have one of my former interns studying to become a professional youth minister. Someone saw a gift in me and nurtured it. I have been blessed to be able to do the same for someone else. Now, you can too.
There are many avenues by which we can be effective mentors. A few common examples can be through peer ministry, student interns, and by collaborating with other professionals in the field. Before entering into a mentoring relationship it is key to understanding that mentoring, when done effectively, is a two way street.
This Buddhist proverb sums it up well, “If you light a lamp for someone it will also brighten your own path.” These three tips will help to illustrate this point.
Be a Good Teacher & A Humble Learner
A master teacher is one who is always humble enough to keep learning. Part of the fruits of the mentor-mentee relationship is the exchange of knowledge. If it wasn’t for my teen interns, I would not have an Instagram account or know what an amazing teaching tool Kahoot! is. If we go into a mentor relationship thinking that it’s a one way street then we are really missing out. Whether it’s a teen or a new YM whom we are mentoring, they come with their own set of skills and experiences that they can share with us. We only need to remain humble and aware enough to allow them.
Encourage Gifts & Let Them Fail
Be a gold digger! As a mentor we are placed in a unique position to acknowledge and encourage the gifts our mentee has to offer the Church. Be open minded about what those gifts could be. Not every youth minister can be Jackie Francois Angel or Bob Rice.
Trust me, it took me several years of youth ministry to make peace with the fact that I was not gifted at leading praise and worship music with a guitar. That’s ok! If praise and worship was an important component of my job then I needed to seek and nurture that gift in someone else so they could share it with the Church. Through the mentoring relationship we can help the mentee see where they shine and where they struggle.
This involves giving teens tasks that take them out of their comfort zone. An effective mentor will know when it’s safe for the youth ministry program to allow the mentee to fail. With proper follow up, the mentee can either learn a new skill to prevent failure in the future. The mentee may also learn that he/she does not possess that gift and that there are other ways of achieving a similar outcome.
Mentors Should Be Mentees
As long as we want to learn, grow and perfect our craft then having a mentor is a must. There appears to be this misconception that mentors are only for the young, the new, the inexperienced. Yet that is not true. Mentors are for those who strive to learn, improve, and be challenged. The key for those who have been in the field for a while is to realize that our mentor may change. The one whose guidance shepherded us as a new youth minister may not be the same once we are a decade deep into the field. If you are looking for a mentor think of those whom you admire. Look for people who have the skills that you may need or desire, then ask them to teach you. Being a mentee will make you a better mentor because it will remind you what it’s like to be placed outside of your comfort zone, to be critiqued, and to improve through humility.
Mentoring is how the Kingdom was built. Christ came with a very specific mission, to bring about the Kingdom of God. One of the chief ways He achieved this goal was through listening, teaching, encouraging, challenging, and serving alongside the twelve disciples.
As youth ministers, we have the same goal, to work as laborers in the vineyard of the Lord to bring about His Kingdom. If it was a good method for Christ, then it’s a good method for us.