In my previous post, I detailed why it is important for young people to form relationships with older believers in the church. Today I want to briefly describe who they should form relationships with. Because of the subject matter, instead of addressing parents, I’d like to directly address those who will be used by God to speak into the lives of our youth.
I suspect that one of the reasons why older people fail to mentor or shepherd the younger generation is because they feel like they don’t have much to offer or that the younger generation wouldn’t be interested in what they have to offer. While this is an understandable fear, the fact remains that whether the older generation wants to mentor the younger one or not, today’s young people need to be mentored (reread part 1 of this series if you need a reminder why). And it doesn’t need to be done by some super saint, corporate CEO, or athletic superstar. It just needs to be done, by anyone who is willing.
I like how Tony Dungy, the former head coach of the Indianapolis Colts and Super Bowl XLI champion, put it in his book The Mentor Leader: Secrets to Building People and Teams that Win Consistently:
We need strong men to build into the lives of our younger men and boys. Not extraordinary people; just ordinary, everyday men who care enough to invest themselves—their time, attention, and wisdom—in the lives of others, whether as a part of their natural leadership environment or as an additional relationship they purposefully undertake. …
The need is clear and urgent for men who … care enough to pass along what it means to truly be a man. …
We need more women as well to step up as role models for young girls, women who will spend time with girls, affirming them and building into their lives what it means to be a woman of value, significance, and values.
I would also add that it’s important for young men to have godly grandmothers in the church and for young women to have godly grandfathers. Those opposite sex relationships need to be more closely guarded, but they should still occur within the confines of group church events. But still, Dungy’s point that we simply need older people to invest in our youth is accurate.
It’s a cliche, but it really is true that your ability matters less than your availability. Kids, teens, and young adults just need genuine people who care about them speaking into their lives. It doesn’t have to just be people who are trained leaders or mentors.
But obviously “being human” isn’t really the only qualification for someone you want having an influence on today’s youth. So what other characteristics should you have? What type of person do you need to be to have that positive Godly influence on a young person? I’ll make it simple with a short acronym: ABC. You simply need to be someone who is:
I’ll quickly unpack what I mean by each of these.
This might be somewhat self-explanatory, especially in light of what was said above. But just to reiterate, basically, you need to be willing to devote the time and effort needed to connect with a young person. It doesn’t have to be a ton of time (it could just be getting a cup of coffee every so often) or a lot of effort (even a kind word and brief conversation when you see someone at church on Sundays could have an impact), but you do need to have the desire to take those steps. Ultimately you can’t be forced to do this. But if you surrender to God, tell him, “Lord, use me in the life of this young person,” and make the effort to build a relationship, I’m confident that God will honor and bless that.
Elsewhere in The Mentor Leader, Dungy states that
Mentor leadership focuses on building people up, building significance into their lives, and building leaders for the next generation.
Hopefully there will be a foundation for you to build on, like there was for Paul with Timothy whose mother and grandmother had given him the basics of the faith. Ideally you’ll just be building on what parents and the Church have already laid and are continuing to lay. (As a side note, it’s important to remember that you are just building on; you aren’t to take the place of the parent in this kind of situation or contradict them or their decisions.) In a less than perfect situation, you might have to be the one to lay the foundation. But the point is that young people constantly have people tearing them down: peers who make fun of them when they fail, media that constantly reminds them of their faults, an inner voice that fears they will never be good enough, or a sense of pride that builds them up with false things, but actually succeeds only in tearing them down. The ultimate goal of a mentoring relationship should be to help the teen or young adult increase “in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.” (Luke 2:52)
According to Dungy,
At its core, mentoring is about building character into the lives of others, modeling and teaching attitudes and behaviors, and creating a constructive legacy to be passed along to future generations of leaders.
To build character in someone else, you must be a person of character yourself. Ultimately, all Christians should be striving to be like Jesus (1 John 2:6) and to meet the qualifications placed on church leaders (1 Timothy 3:1-13; Titus 1:5-9; 1 Peter 5:1-5). There are also general characteristics that should be true of all of us, like Paul’s description of love (1 Corinthians 13:4-8a) and the fruit of the spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).
But specifically as it regards building up the younger generation, Paul says the following in Titus 2:2-5 about the character of older believers who have an influence on younger ones:
2 Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. 3 Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, 4 and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, 5 to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.
Basically, older believers are to be role-models in thought, action, and speech. Young people (whether believers or unbelievers) should be able to tell how they should speak and act from watching and listening to you. It’s intimidating when you think about it, but it’s also not anything we are not already called to.
One additional thing I want to add to this character issue is the idea of accountability. It’s something that Dungy also equates with character, saying
Being accountable is one of the most important things a leader can do. To me, it’s closely aligned with character. It’s hard to have true character if you can’t be accountable.
But it’s also something that we’ve been reminded of recently in college sports news with Jerry Sandusky at Penn State and Bernie Fine at Syracuse. We are called to be above reproach (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:6), and that is especially important as it applies to children. I won’t belabor the point as I’ve already written about the importance of character and accountability as it relates to the Penn State situation, but it is important to review those principles of accountability to ensure that your mentoring relationship doesn’t turn into something that compromises the youth’s safety or your reputation.
As with any new relationship, this can seem intimidating and overwhelming, but it is really just fulfilling the role that we are already called to. Those “older men” and “older women” in the Titus 2 passage weren’t a group of super saints or youth workers. They were just the regular people in Titus’ church. All of us are called to help bring up our teens and young adults in the faith. And really, if you were blessed with children yourself, it’s probably something you wish someone had done or would do for your kids. In part 3, I’ll hopefully make it even less intimidating for you by offering some suggestions as to how to go about initiating those relationships.