Marginalise parents in youth ministry at your peril. They are the linchpin to effective, long term discipleship, and the primary Biblical institution for passing on the truth of the Gospel to young people. They are not, however, the only part of effective youth work. They are not peers or pastors for instance. They are not replacements to group discipleship programs, or evangelistic meetings.
So are they mentors?
What Is A Mentor?
At it’s core, a mentoring relationship is between an older, wiser, more experienced person who has cultivated a relationship of trust and positive-behaviour modelling to a younger, developing person.
More specifically, mentors need to have a degree of detachment, neutrality and independence from the person being mentored. This gives them not only increased objectivity, but also the security of not making themselves a hyper-dependent God replacement.
There is also peer support, where we are continually encouraged to build one another up, but I’m unsure you could really count this strictly as ‘mentoring.’
Can Parents Do This?
Logically you could argue that they can, and sometimes do. That said, my instinct and experience tells me that parents have too much at stake, or are too personally invested to have that required objectivity. Their children are their own flesh, and their hopes or expectations for their children can all too easily bleed through.
Parents are integral to the life of a young person. This means they are often a topic that needs to be discussed with a mentor in ways that couldn’t/wouldn’t/shouldn’t be done directly with a parent. Not for secrecy, but again for objectivity. This is the same reason that therapists don’t treat their own family.
Parents also have a long term organic journey will their children that predates and will probably outlast the mentor. They grow with their children as parents and people, and the relationship turns in several directions as they both develop. This isn’t always stable and has it’s own sets of rules, norms and variable conditions that might not be helpful or secure in a mentoring relationship.
Finally, in today’s church climate, you cannot guarantee that the parent will have the Christian background or values needed to speak that Deuteronomy 6 truth into their children’s lives.
Who Are Our Biblical Models?
Moses was mentored by his Father-In-Law, Jethro, and Ruth by her Mother-In-Law, Naomi – but these are probably the closest parent-child mentoring relationships we see. These are very particular cases without the pre-existing childhood relationships in place.
There was also Moses and Joshua, Elisha and Elijah, Eli and Samuel, Barnabas and Paul, Paul and Timothy, Elisabeth and Mary, and Jesus with Peter, James and John.
Should Parents Do It?
There is certainly a lot of mentoring that parents can (and should) do. They are commanded to teach truth, walk with, listen to, not exasperate, and to condition their children to walk with God. They should be the first people to introduce a young person to Jesus and should always be an open, safe place to share openly with. Should.
It takes a community to raise a Child though, and a body of Christ to develop a healthy church member. The wisest parents I know understand this and they get that they cannot be all things. They realise that having a mentor for their child is not a snub or a replacement, but a healthy partnership that supplements and develops levels of accountability for parents.
How Should The Parent and Mentor Relationships Compliment Each Other?
Although not always possible, the mentor and parent should form some kind of relationship. This is important for safeguarding reasons if nothing else!
This partnership sows seeds of trust and develops the organic clarity that’s needed to distinguish the two relationships. It’s not the parent’s job to pry into the things being discussed (outside basic appropriateness and safety), and it’s not the mentor’s job (ever, ever, ever!) to replace the parent. *Note: This is still true for lone-parent, adopted, divorced, orphaned or unchurched. You are not the parent.
So mentors: Respect the parents. Don’t badmouth them or chip away at their foundation. Offer then support and be a supplement, not a replacement.
Parents: Invite the mentor over for dinner occasionally. Say thank you and show that you respect them and are grateful. Pray for them, and don’t assume they are doing your job for you.
Church: Implement mentoring programs within carefully constructed safeguarding policies. Preach often and share clearly on mentoring relationships in the Bible, and the importance of being one body, looking after each other.
Youth Workers: Don’t necessarily assume that you should be the mentor. Especially if you have a youth club of more than three teenagers! I will write soon on how to develop a mentoring program – but for now, check out the excellent XL mentoring program here – which you can fund through the Cinnamon Network here.