Shortly before this edition of Havurah went to press, a co-worker read the copy, including the lead article I’d written and said to me, You know, Melissa, your article and advice on young adult ministry are good, but for the lead, it might be good to let a young adult raise the issues.” And so, appropriately enough, my daughter gets the byline for the lead in this edition about mentoring young adults. But I still have a few things to say, both as someone involved in young adult ministry and as the mother of two young women.
“Show me a word and I’ll show you how it comes from the Greek,” says Mr. Portikalis in the movie, My Big Fat Greek Wedding. While the word “mentoring” does originally come from Mentor, (the loyal friend who advised Odysseus and his son Telemachus), for each of us, our first mentoring relationship begins with our parents.
However, in God’s family, the responsibility to raise up children who will carry on his name does not begin or end with fathers and mothers. Rather, our messianic community as a whole must commit to helping the next generation of young Jewish people become a continuing expression of God’s faithfulness.
But as some of us look in the mirror and pull out yet another gray hair, we face the fact that our movement is aging and the next generation is already here. How are we, who sometimes feel as though we still don’t have it all figured out, going to help our young people?
Paul, the Mentor of Mentors
The Apostle Paul well understood the need to raise up new faith communities. We do well to look at his example to see what our attitude, responsibility and actions should be toward the next generation.
I Thessalonians 2:7, 8: “But we proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children. Having so fond an affection for you, we were well pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God, but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us.”
In this verse, we notice several things, many of which are addressed in the articles in this edition:
1. “We proved …” Young people are looking for “proof ” of our love. We need to be consistent, to hang in there with them, and be longsuffering about their problems. Ministering to a younger person takes time and a commitment to stay committed.
2. “… to be gentle among you…” The mentor should not be forceful or preachy with the young adult.
3. “… as a nursing mother tenderly cares …” One usually is more apt to think of correcting a younger person; here Paul is talking about nurturing.
4. “… for her own children …” The community needs to regard its young people as “ours.” They are the responsibility of all of us. 5. “…having so fond an affection for you…” Love such as this can’t be artificial; it is something most of us will need to pray for. 6. “…we were well pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God …” Being “well pleased” means you don’t see this responsibility as a chore, but the natural extension and outcome of relationships.
7. “…but also our own lives …” Ministering to younger people may require time, home, food, advice, lending them your car, offering prayer, being inconvenienced, and most importantly, giving them yourself. Perhaps this is why most people shy away from involvement in the lives of young people; it’s messy and costly. After all, the Greek root word for mentoring means to give one’s life away. But the chief reason for doing so is because our young people have “become very dear to us.”
Whom are we Speaking to, Anyway?
Try drawing a picture of a 17-25 year old. It’s hard not to make them look like smaller adults, isn’t it? But they are only just becoming adults. Most of us get impatient with the developing, in-progress stage. But in areas of faith, thought, and messianic identity, young people desperately need our patience more than our criticism.
This next generation of Jewish young adults is:
- learning to think abstractly.
- feeling the tension between their own beliefs and those of others.
- trying to fit faith into their emerging identities as young adults and as Jewish people.
- experiencing that their struggle’s chief export is doubt.
So how do we engage postmodern Jewish young adults and impart God’s truth to them? When we commit ourselves to mentoring a young Jewish person, we need to:
- use stories and imagery. The language of the postmodern world is story and emotion, not logic and reason.
- look for fresh ways to convey truth – be up on the latest films, music, art, and literature. Read what they’re reading, see what they’re seeing, listen to what they’re listening to.
- show authentic faith, genuine love and unconditional acceptance. These can never be counterfeited, only copied.
The most commonly heard question at high school and college graduations is, “So what are you going to do with your life now?” Young adults deal with an enormous amount of pressure to know who they are and where they’re going by the age of 25. As a result, performance often outweighs the need for character development.
Young people’s real needs are to discover who they are in Messiah, what God has made them passionate about and how the gospel can heal the brokenness they see and feel around them. A good mentor’s focus should be on character development, rather than competency. Showing genuine love and respect for young people for who they are and where they are right now will give us a platform from which to address character issues and development.
If not us, who?
With all the busyness of our lives, can God really expect ALL of us to minister to the next generation? Better questions are: if not us, who? If not now, when? Are we ready to give away our lives to others for the sake of a continuing story to our Jewish people? Will we help the next generation carry on the faith and present to a dying world the reality that you can be Jewish and believe in Jesus? We can hardly afford not to.