Mentoring is a powerful tool in youth ministry. The intensive, personal guidance of one of more students can have a lasting impact on their lives and the lives of those around them.
Ideally, every student in your youth ministry has a youth leader for a mentor but in practice, that’s not always possible. When you don’t have enough youth leaders to ‘cover’ every single student, you have to make some tough choices. So how do you choose students to mentor?
Prayer and the guidance of the Holy Spirit have to be your starting point. Don’t pick names at random, but do it prayerfully, waiting for God to naturally bring someone to you.
Looking back at the students I’ve mentored over the years, very few were chosen intentionally by me. Most of those relationships grew out of God-given situations and encounters, with me being led to slowly invest more in those students. I’ve simply trusted God to bring the rights students into my focus and I never had to go looking for them.
Don’t pick just the popular students
What I would strongly advice against is to only mentor the popular kids. This sends a very damaging signal to the other students, who may feel like they’re not good enough. That’s probably the same message they get in school and that’s not something you want to reinforce. On the other hand, you don’t have to pass over the ‘loud’ students completely as well. Just don’t pick them because they’re loud or popular.
Look for gifts
If you have students with obvious gifts, that could be a good place to start. I had a student once with a clear gift for leadership, which is why I chose to mentor him. That doesn’t mean you only have to pick the students with leadership abilities, it can also be a gift for serving, for worship, for organizing or creativity, anything really.
One student in my youth group was very creative and always came up with great ideas for youth services and ‘special moments’. Mentoring her was a privilege and I learned as much from her as she did from me!
Take care of the troubled students
Students who are in a tough spot (for instance because of a bad home situation) definitely need guidance as well, though not necessarily in the same kind of mentoring relationship you’d have with a gifted student. It all depends on your definition on mentoring then, which in the case of troubled student may be more of a pastoral mentoring than anything else.
This is one type of mentoring you really need to be gifted in. Personally, I’ve often ‘matched’ these students with youth leaders who were more pastorally gifted, because I often lack the patience to be in this kind of mentoring relationship. If the same goes for you, that’s fine, as long as someone is taking care of those students!
There has to be a click
You can’t mentor someone you don’t have a personal click with. You can try, but the relationship will never be as effective as when you do naturally bond.
There’s a danger here however, and that is that you end up mentoring only those that are like you in gifts or personality. Let’s face it, research has shown that we tend to like people who are like us, so the chance of us clicking with someone who is completely different from us is smaller than with someone who looks like us (and I don’t mean in appearances and I’m definitely not referring to ethnicity here!). That’s something you’ll need to be aware of, so stay open for the possibility that God is bringing someone completely different from you on your path.
Opposite sex mentoring
Another issue is the question whether a youth leader should mentor someone from the opposite sex. I’ve written about this in another post.
What other factors do you take into consideration when choosing students to mentor?