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Generation to Generation

Generation to Generation

Two men sitting on steps laughing, one older, one younger

It’s a funny thing isn’t it how some of the things that become the most meaningful and significant in our lives start out seemingly by accident? Mentoring is one such thing for me – something I stumbled into by accident and out of necessity, that has gone on to take its place at the core of who I am and what I do.

Many years ago I was a rooky youth pastor feeling overwhelmed and out of my depth as I faced the question of how to nurture faith in the lives of the young people who were coming week in and week out to our youth groups, and who were a key part of our church community. I soon realised that even though we had a strong team of wonderful volunteers, to do this well and deeply, more was needed.

As I looked out at our church congregation, I saw many people who would never volunteer themselves as youth leaders (often under the misapprehension that if you were over 25 you weren’t suitable for the role!), but who had years of experience of lives lived faithfully with God – the long obedience in the same direction that Eugene Peterson writes of – who would willingly spend an hour every couple of weeks chatting with a young person.

And so our mentoring programme was born! There isn’t time or space here to describe the impact this had not only on the young people themselves, but also on their parents, on those who had stepped forward as mentors, and on the church community as a whole, as meaningful relationships were built between the generations.

Strong foundations were laid, character was formed, relationships were built, faith was deepened and not just in those being mentored.

The sharing of lives

In Paul’s letter to the church in Thessalonica we have a great picture of what this relationship can look like and the skills and characteristics needed. More than any other I think this letter gives real insight into Paul’s pastoral heart, and his desire to nurture faith in the next generation.

Paul sums up his, and his co-pastors, with the Thessalonians in 1 Thessalonians 2:8 “We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us.”

This led me to ask, how do we live out this commitment to the young people in our families, churches and communities today? What are the necessary skills and attributes of a mentor who will be a reliable guide and co-traveller on the path to maturity that we’re all walking? How do we ensure good practice, working within our safeguarding frameworks*, that encourage young people to grow as Christian disciples?

I think Paul hit the nail on the head! It’s about sharing not just the gospel, but our lives as well. Without a doubt teaching and programmes absolutely have their place, but it’s when these things are seen lived out in the lives of those who claim to believe it – that is when it comes alive, when it is inspiring. It’s when young people have the opportunity to share their stories, their hopes, their fears and where they see God at work, that faith is deepened, not just in their life, but also in the life of their mentor.

So, how did Paul say they did this? He says that they encouraged them – spurred them on in what they were doing and how they were growing, they comforted them in the difficulties they were facing, and they urged them to lead a life worthy of the Lord.

He also talks about three attributes that they demonstrated as they lived amongst them. Firstly they behaved with complete transparency, their motive was clear and they had no hidden agenda. Secondly, they lived lives of integrity, what they were teaching and encouraging is what they were seeking to live.

A great foundation to build an intentional mentoring programme on.

Hope for the Future

Half a lifetime later I remain convinced that mentoring young people really does have the potential to change a generation. My prayer continues to be, that as a community of God’s people going on the adventure of faith together, with the privilege of walking alongside young people at a most vital time in their lives, that we will see God do more than we could ever ask or imagine in their lives, in our lives and in the lives of our communities. As we invest in a few, and they go on to invest in a few, God’s kingdom will come and lives will be transformed and communities will be enriched.

* Mentoring programmes for under 18s need to be held within the Safeguarding policy and procedures of your church or organisation ensuring that all is done safely and well.

The second edition of Ruth’s book Growing Young Leaders: A Practical Guide to Mentoring Teens (BRF) was published in January.

Ruth Hassall lives in the middle of a field in the North West of England, primarily with sheep as her neighbours. She is a freelance leadership coach and trainer with experience of working with individuals, churches, organisations and dioceses. Over the years she’s had the privilege of holding some wonderful roles (along with some interesting job titles!) working with, and learning from, people of all ages in many different settings. The second edition of Ruth’s book Growing Young Leaders: A Practical Guide to Mentoring Teens (BRF) was published in January.

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