Growing faith

In the second of our ‘Growing faith’ articles Ruth Hassall, author of Growing Young Leaders: A practical guide to mentoring teens, reflects on the importance of nurturing the faith of young people and encouraging them to grow as leaders.

22 May 2022

Generation to generation

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.

‘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’, relationship with the Thessalonians thus:

‘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.’

1 Thessalonians 2:8

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.

‘Paul hit the nail on the head! It’s about sharing not just the gospel, but our lives as well.’

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 the attributes that they demonstrated as they lived among them. First, they behaved with complete transparency – their motive was clear and they had no hidden agenda. Second, 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, 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.

This article first appeared on the website of the Christian coaching and mentoring network and is reprinted here by kind permission of the writer.

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.

This fully updated second edition of Growing Young Leaders offers practical guidance for all those mentoring 13- to 18-year-olds in a faith context, with a view to nurturing them towards leadership roles. Linked to CPAS Growing Leaders–Youth Edition course, it also works as a stand-alone resource.

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Lord Jesus Christ,
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in your name.