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4 Things Every Teen Needs in a Mentor

Several times this week in conversations with other adults, I’ve brought up something that we have taught our summer camp counselors for years. It is that as mentors, we need to wear at least 4 different hats or roles as we invest in students. Sometimes these hats shift in a moments notice, sometimes they go in seasons. But nonetheless, we all need to be all four at various times.

PASTOR: this is the role when you’re the spiritual advisor. You’re directing them back to God’s Word, the leading of the Holy Spirit, and how faith might play into their life at this juncture. Every Christian parent, mentor, and coach wears this hat when they guide their child or player into the image of God. When we delegate this hat to only those with this as their professional title, we abdicate the power of God in us to shape the life of a student.

PAL: everyone loves this role. It’s what sometimes a younger leader working with teens may default to. It’s mistakenly seen as the goal quite often. However while it’s not the summation of what a mentor is striving to be for a student, there is great wisdom in being a trusted confidant and friend. The pal role is fun, it’s just not the only role we have.

PARENT: even if your’e not actually the parent, you’re sharing the wisdom of life. This is what parents do. Parents provide and protect for their kids, often relying on the wisdom of their own experience to guide their actions. When a mentor shares their “been there, done that” wisdom with a student so that they can move their life towards a preferred future, they are acting like a loving parent. Every student needs this kind of wisdom from their mentor.

POLICEMAN: no offense to cops- but in mentoring, no one really likes this role. It’s the “I’m sorry, but you can’t do that” role. It’s the “because I said so” statement of a parent. It’s the laying down of the law, the correction of the wrong doer, and the disher-outer of consequences. It’s not fun, but it’s also not negotiable in leadership. Every loving mentor has to draw lines and say, “I’m sorry, but if you want to do that, I can’t go there in support of that with you.”

So, if you’re a mentor of any kind, here’s a couple of questions to process these roles:

1. Which role do you most naturally default to? What does that tell you about your own passions?

2. What is the hardest role for you to embrace? What steps do you need to take to increase your effectiveness in that area?

3. Can you think of specific times when you’ve had to wear one of these hats for a season? How do you know which role is most needed and when?

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Brian Berry is a proven veteran of student ministry. He serves as the generation ministries pastor at Journey Community Church near San Diego, California, where he works directly with the high school ministry and oversees a staff that is responsible for infants through teens. Brian is also a frequent blogger, writes and teaches for youth workers, and is the author of both As for Me and My Crazy House and Criticism Bites. He speaks at various conferences, camps, and retreats for a variety of audiences. He is married to Shannon, and they have five kids.