This monthly column looks at God’s work in schools: through schools’ work and in children’s education as they think Christianly about what they study 


Have you ever encountered that game, Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon? It’s based on the hilarious theory that you can name any actor and find a connection back to Kevin Bacon within six moves. That game is a great pastime for movie buffs who’ve talked far too late in the night. (Not that I’m just recalling times in my own life, you understand…) Anyway, I bring it up because I think you can play the same game with the great school’s ministry mainstay, mentoring.

My theory is that no matter where you start in terms of schools’ ministry practice, you will inevitably conclude that mentoring of one form or another is what you should be doing within four moves. Let’s play it for a moment now:

  1. RE teaching leads to opportunities to invite young people to groups.
  2. Groups lead to opportunities for deeper conversation.
  3. Deeper conversations uncover the reality of what a student is living with.
  4. Mentoring.

Or how about:

  1. School-based sports ministry leads to opportunities to coach young people.
  2. The school will likely match you up with young people struggling with emotions.
  3. Attendance and respect.
  4. Mentoring.

Or maybe: 

  1. Assemblies lead to large numbers of young people knowing you.
  2. Senior leadership teams think of you as a safe pair of hands who’ll give some time.
  3. They approach you to meet with a student who they think you’ll click with.
  4. Mentoring.

I’m being a little silly, but I think you get the gist. Even if you’re not explicitly doing school-based mentoring, I guarantee you’re doing something similar, calling it discipleship or chaplaincy. The truth is that we’re all doing it to a greater or lesser extent, and that’s precisely how it should be. Suppose you’re a children’s or youth or schools’ worker, and you’re not mentoring or disciplining anyone. In that case, you are doing whatever you’re doing wrong.

Please understand me: I’m not talking specifically about meeting with a specific student in school. I’m saying that in some way, there has to be some ‘one’, at least, you’re passing something on to.

Ideally, if I had my way, we’d all have a small handful of people, young and otherwise, that we meet with to listen to, empathise with and pass on whatever wisdom God has gifted us with.

Be a mentor

In my context, mentoring is an integral part of the puzzle. I don’t currently have a large team, but that doesn’t change my commitment to mentoring. In any given week, I aim to spend time in mentoring or discipleship relationships with around six people, alongside the rest of my work. Three will be young people, two will be people who work alongside me, and one will be further afield – someone outside of my context I can input into. In addition, I will aim to meet with someone who stretches and challenges me once a week too.

In your context, the ratio of time given to mentoring may differ, but as a principle, passing on what you have is so central to your mission that you must decide how much time you can devote.

“your primary outcome is to enable the young person to get back into their regular routine”

Be inspired

Assuming the main point of this article is to encourage you to devote a proportion of your time to mentoring young people, there are some helpful principles you’ll need to consider, most of which I’ve learnt from other practitioners who work at a range of levels. If you’re interested in making mentoring part of your schools’ ministry, you could probably do with spending time with people like them. This isn’t an exhaustive list by any means. You can consider this an off-the-top-of-my-head list of diamonds who’ve made a difference in my mentoring approach.

Learn to release

As I’ve spent time developing a methodology for mentoring and how I train others to do it, I’ve come to realise the primary aim is to release the person you’re devoting time to. When we mentor, we’re releasing people in three ways:

  • Releasing from past difficulty.
  • Releasing for present success.
  • Releasing towards future independence.

In schools’ work, we do that by making sure the young person is the focus of the relationship as we work to release them.

We meet with young people alongside their usual curriculum, with the specific aim of helping them to overcome an issue or deal with a changing situation. Our primary outcome is to enable the young person to get back into their regular routine, released to be successful, without being dependent on us in the future.

1. Relate: meet with the right person

Not every young person is the right fit for every mentor. Make sure you’re meeting with someone you feel you can understand and help.

2. Energise: begin with the right attitude

Supporting young people is about giving them a safe and welcoming place where they are the focus. This will not be possible if you don’t prepare to energise them in your time together.

3. Listen: to them and yourself

Hearing what a young person is trying to say to you is sometimes hard, but we must listen and be discerning. This is especially important when it comes to understanding when a young person is making a disclosure to you.

4. Equip: your equipping and theirs

Feeling equipped for the task at hand is essential. At the very least, each person mentoring must have basic relevant skills and the backing of an accountability structure. You must also plan to equip the young person using good, tried-and-tested resources and programmes.

5. Analyse: what you’re doing

Although paperwork is not the most exciting thing to do, notes must be taken. If for no other reason than to make sure that you remember key information about the young person.

6. Submit: be open and honest

Our work with young people must be open, well communicated and reviewed. We submit to authority for the sake of our safety, the young people’s safety and the ministry’s future impact.

7. End: know when to stop

It isn’t realistic to suggest that a mentoring relationship could last for ever, especially when the aim is to release the person you’re mentoring into their own success.