The goal is that at the end of four years at Calvin, each student will have grown to be more like Jesus. As a mentor that is a challenging and intimidating charge. Here are some resources and reading materials to guide you as you guide your student.
Mentoring our students in their faith can seem daunting. Mentors may not feel equipped for this task, might worry that they don’t have the right answers, or wonder what impact, if any, they may have.
Start with the basics: Pray for your relationship and for the Holy Spirit’s guidance. Stay rooted in the word so that you have fresh spiritual growth to share. And remember that at its core, Christian mentoring is about reflecting Christ’s love to your student, sharing what God has done in your life, and modeling the life-long faith journey. Listening and loving outweigh any answers you might be able to provide!
Ultimately, it’s not about what WE say or do but about what Christ does in and through us.
Understanding this generation
For many Christian church youth group graduates, the transition to college or university is rocky at best in terms of faith retention. Previous studies indicate that 40 percent to 50 percent of all youth group graduates fail to stick with their faith or connect with a faith community after high school.
Rather than only attending their own Sunday School classes, worship services, small groups, and service activities, young people appear to benefit from intergenerational activities and venues that remove the walls (whether literal or metaphorical) separating the generations. Churches and families wanting to instill deep faith in youth should help them build a web of relationships with committed and caring adults, some of whom may serve as intentional mentors.
Only one in seven high school seniors report feeling prepared to face the challenges of university life. Few students seem ready for the intensity of the university experience and the perfect storm of loneliness, the search for new friends, being completely on their own for the first time, and the sudden availability of a lot of partying. One pervasive struggle for university students is finding a new church, as evident by the 40 percent of university freshman who report difficulty doing so. Young believers’ need for greater preparation is heightened by the powerful influence of their initial post-high school decisions. Young people retrospectively report that the first two weeks of their freshman year set the trajectory for their remaining years in school.
A recent study revealed the youngest generations of adults in America are also the most stressed. In one sense, this is no big surprise, given the economic and social factors influencing quality of life and near-future prospects for Millennials—adults ages 18 to 29—and for Gen Xers, whose scores are virtually tied with those of their younger counterparts. Stress relief can be found through our stories of God’s faithfulness.
Recognize which stage of faith development your student is in
Four basic identity phases
- Diffusion—don’t know, don’t care
- Foreclosure—opinions inherited from external forces (eg, their parents)
- Moratorium—challenging the beliefs they have inherited, questioning
- Achievement—identity has been defined after thinking through why they believe what they do
Moratorium is very common, especially for freshmen. Understand that questions and doubt are part of growth. Allow students to wrestle rather than teaching them to apply our own conclusions. Be patient.
One of the primary challenges facing the church today in passing on the Christian faith is simply helping family members communicate with each other in ways which reflect and embody the loving, merciful and saving activity of God in their lives….“Caring Conversation” refers to the multiple and varied ways in which the living and active Word of God breaks through into our day-to-day communications with others. Ways that “caring conversations” can begin:
- inquire about and name the presence and activity of God in their lives and in the world around them;
- discuss and reflect upon the great stories of faith and their relevance to our lives;
- caringly and respectfully listen to one another, engaging each other’s hurts, joys, concerns and dreams in the light of their Christian faith;
- give one another the gift of focused and undivided attention (Listen more than speak)
- affirm, encourage and bless one another both through verbal and non-verbal communication
- Look for everyday moments to connect Bible stories or God’s life/presence with what is happening, or with what is said.
- Share “highs” and “lows” of your day or week.
- Make a point of talking about what happened in church, chapel, Bible study.
- Ask: “How did you see God working today?”.
- “When I think of you I thank God for …”
- Share stories of how God has worked in your life
Listen, Listen, Listen
“On this relational thing, so much of great discipling is also being a great listener. That’s very hard for us who see ourselves as experts, and whose business is talking. Someone is talking to us and we’re already thinking of the next thing we’re going to say. Years ago Eugene Peterson said pastoring is not that hard. He said you have to “listen people’s stories out of them.” Often we don’t do a very good job of listening to people’s stories because we think we have to solve their problems, to fix them.” ~Dr. Reggie Smith
Asking good questions
“Good disciplers also know how to ask good questions, even when people only want answers. Often we have to ask people good questions to help them understand what’s motivating them deep down. In educational speak we call this “creating disequilibrium.” We throw people off balance. In my own discipleship experiences, I grew the most when I was pushed so hard that it threw me off balance. It felt like I was in a wrestling match being pinned to the carpet. The trick is to push people enough to throw them off balance, but to also help them regain their footing.” ~Darwin Glassford
While teaching young people the “dos” and “don’ts” of Christian living is important, an overemphasis on behaviors can sabotage their faith long-term.
When asked what it means to be Christian, one-third of subjects as university juniors (all of whom were youth group graduates) failed to mention “Jesus” or “Christ” but rather emphasized behaviors. This and a few related findings suggest that students tend to view the gospel as a “do” and “don’t” list of behaviors instead of a faith that also transforms interior lives and beliefs. “Jesus Jacket” is the phrase the FYI team coined to describe how student respondents frequently view their faith. In other words, they hold the perception that faith hasn’t changed them internally but is more like a jacket they wear when they feel like practicing certain behaviors. One of the dangers of reducing Christianity to this sort of external behavior is that when university students fail to live up to the activities they think define Christianity, their feelings of guilt can make them quick to toss the jacket aside and abandon their faith altogether.
Parents and leaders eager to build Sticky Faith in youth need to exemplify and explain that while particular behaviors and practices are part of the faith, the focus is on trusting (not just obeying) Christ along with explaining how he leads, guides, and changes us from the inside. In particular, young people better navigate their faith journey when adults share the challenges of their own spiritual paths—complete with past and present ups, downs, and turning points. More here.