I feel like I need to offer a dozen caveats to what I’m about to write because I really, really don’t want the people who genuinely need a mentor for their child to be hurt. But I do want to raise an issue that I’ve noticed as a pastor. So this is definitely the Middle School Pastor talking right now and although I want to be very gracious, what I am about to say is very critical. Your kids need YOU, mom and dad, far, far, far more than they will ever need a mentor!
Here’s the problem – as a pastor we get many requests for mentors for kids. The reasons are often genuine and in many cases a kid will really benefit from a mentor, but I have a new rule, I won’t allow any children to be mentored unless the parent is open to mentoring as well. The reality is usually what is a kid needs is a parent with some specialized skills to make it through a difficult season of life. In Middle School Ministry we have cell leaders and we do want our cell leaders to develop authentic and meaningful relationships with kids, but those relationships should be back-up reinforcing what kids are already receiving at home.
I get worried when parents, who are admittedly at their wit’s end, ask for a mentor for their child to deal with something that is a parent’s job to deal with. When you look at Deuteronomy 6 you don’t see the mandate of instructing children being given to the leaders of Israel, it is given to parents. So let me just outline a few areas that are a parent’s job to talk to their kids about.
- Becoming a Christian. Please teach your kids about Jesus and what it means to have a genuine relationship with Him. And if you have, don’t then assume your job is over, discipleship is also the role of a parent.
- Sex, purity and dating. You had better believe we teach kids at age-appropriate times about sex, purity and dating, but do you really want the church to be the first place your child hears the word “masturbation?” Nope, you should be educating your kids. Plus I may have a different idea of what is appropriate for dating than you do, so it is good to talk to your kids about dating and then when they come home and say “Pastor Thom had a girlfriend in grade 7” you already have a foundation from which to dismantle my stories.
- Discipline. If your child doesn’t behave, having a mentor really won’t fix that, you will. The reason? A mentor might see your child and hour or two a week and you see them all the time!
In short, the church is not responsible to parent your children! However, we do have a mandate that we take very seriously, each ministry does. In Middle School Ministry our mandate is
- Students to love church
- Students to find belonging
- Students to find answers
- Students to meet with Jesus
See these things are on us. We want your kids to love coming to church, meeting their friends, talking with their leaders, exploring truth together and experiencing our amazing Lord Jesus! This is what we train our cell leaders in as well as how to reinforce your job as a student’s parent.
That being said, there are actually times when kids need a mentor. Who might those kids be and what could a mentor do?
- Kids without a parent. It’s hard being a single parent and when you are alone, as a single mom, trying to teach the value of purity to your 12-year-old son, you might want to call in some back-up. Now I’m adamant that any parent can (and should) have the sex talk with their kid, regardless of gender, but I do acknowledge that sometimes a boy needs a male to speak to and a girl needs a female. That’s fine! That’s normal and even healthy. But the bulk of the work still rests with the parent, and the mentor just gives that little extra attention that brings it home for a kid.
- Kids in a difficult season. I also believe that we need to shepherd and pastor kids through hard times. So when divorce looms on the horizon, or someone gets sick and is in the hospital, we need to get a kid a mentor to help out. The problem is that many parents see mentoring as a long-term commitment and that isn’t necessarily healthy. Seasons are just that, seasons. Some are longer than others but often a kid needs to know that someone knows what is happening and that when they want to talk there is a safe person.
I know that I can speak for the other pastors on staff at Southland when I say we love your kids and we want to help you in whatever way we can. But you need to know that far more than any mentor they might need, each kid needs a parent who is emotionally available and skilled to take them through difficult times. If you don’t feel like you have the skills you need right now, then you’re on your way by reading these blogs! And believe me, we have resources for you! We have books and seminars and we actually love meeting with parents to help them think about the best way to guide their children – so ask!