It all started with a simple instruction. If they call and ask you to talk, say yes. Keep your calendar open. You are to make time for this. Make yourself available. Never did I dream that when I said yes to this instruction, I would open a new ministry.
There is a hunger for the younger generation to connect with us. They want to be heard. The tattoos, the piercings, the beards, the clothes: they are all decorations. They are not reflective of their heart. These adornments don’t mean the same thing as they did when we were young. For most of them it is self-expression and fashion. They are making a statement, “I am an individual, and I’m not like you; take time to hear me.” They want to be reassured. They want your friendship. Yes, this involves a cost. It involves your investment. But isn’t it worth it? The next generation needs to stand on our shoulders to better see where they need to go.
These coffee meetings take on the personality of my mentee with a little dash of me. I let them direct the content of our conversation, but steer the conversation with open-ended questions like, “What did you want to talk about today?” and, further on in the conversation, “Why do you think or feel that way?”
“How can I help you?” Some will come with a piece of paper with points listed to make sure they cover everything. Others will meander through the conversation with ease. Even on my most difficult days, the appointments delight me. Our conversations vary from light to serious. We share laughter and, at times, tears.
I use this time to focus on them. Listen, and do my best to understand. Is there an underlying concern that needs to be unearthed? Does anything in what they're saying raise “red flags” of any kind? Instead of an interjection of correction, I make a mental note to pray over that area. I ask the Holy Spirit what His opinion is in regards to this subject. If correction is needed, I ask Him to lead the way. I ask Him to direct me as to when to speak and when to pray. I have to guard against my natural tendency to speak first before I've prayed about what is being said. That is why I love the book of James, especially James 1:19 (NLT) “Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.” As a mentor, our words hold weight. Over time, we develop and nurture a trust relationship with our young friends. A thoughtless objection could erode that trust; be prayerful in everything you say and do.
James also reminds us to ask for wisdom (James 1:5). If we ask, God will give it to us. The millennial generation speaks with bravado. Brazen comments can appear disrespectful, when the source is passion. Gentle rebukes are best received once the trust is established. This takes time. Be patient, and let the fruits of the Spirit grow and emanate from you. Nurture the gifts the Lord has given you, and you will, in turn, be better able to nurture others.
We also don’t want to send them in the wrong direction with a quick expression of our opinion. You may not realize it, but when you speak they hang on your words. An established mentor relationship is a partnership. You are more than a friend. It is much better to be truthful and say, “I don’t know” or “I’m not sure”. If she asks for your advice, your mentee wants your opinion. This opinion needs to be thoughtful and expressed out of wisdom - not a quick response. Many times they already know what God is telling them. Ask them to express what God is communicating to them. Through a series of questions they find the answer. This is delicate ground, especially if they don’t like what they have heard. Do not become the “mouth-piece of God” for them. This is way too much responsibility for you and you will fail. If this becomes our role we become a god-figure to them. This is dangerous for both of you. Our job is to direct them toward Jesus and away from dependence on us. Mentoring is temporary, but the friendship that is built can last a lifetime.
As the relationship deepens, more intimate situations will be shared. Our conversations run the gamut of faith, family, career, love, marriage, and ministry – deep and important life direction topics that inspire each of us to move forward. We concentrate on the next step, allowing the focus in each one be to bring a sharper, truer vision of God’s big picture for their life. That may sound intimidating but it is not as intense as it may appear. Remember: we always can voice our own uncertainty. Even the apostle Paul saw God’s plan dimly. 1 Corinthians 13:12 (NLT) “Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.” You don’t need all the answers, you just need to be present.
As we close our time together, I always ask “How can I help you?” and “How can I pray for you?” This refocuses both of us on why we are there.
What do you think? Continue the conversation with me in the comments below.