By Steve Prokopchak
It all began with our book Called Together. We called it premarital counseling, but over time it became a way to mentor the next generation into healthy marriage relationships. The mentoring was reinforced by our ongoing connections after the wedding day in what we referred to as postmarital counseling. What started as counseling book turned into loving mentorship of the next generation of marriages.
For years Mary and I have mentored young couples into not only marriage, but also leadership. We love working with the next generation. We love their enthusiasm, their willingness to learn, their uncanny ability to see through facades or cover-ups, their honesty, and their humility. They think differently than we do. They challenge us to be authentic. They quickly realize prejudices or judgments. They want to grow and improve. They desire a greater level of intimacy in their marriages and with their children. They thrive on meaningful connection, a meal around the table, and casual confrontation. They want to hear our stories and hear how we have learned through various life experiences.
Many of us are called to provide this same gift to the next generation. Our honesty sets the stage for growth in the mentor and the mentored. The whole process communicates value as these moments are pondered and thought through for future use and personal challenge.
Cautions in the Mentoring Relationship
- Make sure you live what you speak. Insincere mentors are not appreciated. The next generation does not accept the adage, “Do as I say, not as I do.” Detecting hypocrisy is a specialty of the next generation. The integrity of your life will speak louder than any words you use.
- Do not look down on or speak down to the mentees. They will notice rather quickly that you do not respect them or meaningfully listen to their ideas. Position yourself to help them to feel important rather than trying to earn a position of respect for yourself.
- Avoid being boring. Find what they like and enjoy talking about. Discover their gifts and encourage them in the “direction they should go.” (See Proverbs 22:6.) Work at having fun and being light-hearted. The next generation enjoys laughter, fun activities, and nonsterile meeting places.
- Be yourself—not something you are not. The next generation has a keen ability to see right through a fake response or insincere attitude.
- Stick to the mentoring style you are comfortable with, but at the same time, read the environment correctly. In other words, do you need to teach, advise, disciple, counsel, question, give spiritual direction, or just listen quietly? Be clear on expectations rather than assuming you know what is needed or desired. Too often we rush in with answers because of our “wisdom” and do not allow a mentee to discover his or her own answers.
- Be particularly careful of implying immaturity. No one likes to be told they are immature. While these young people very well may be immature in some areas, they need not be lectured on the same.
- Remember that every generation has its own views and feels those views are right. This can be a challenge, especially when it comes to political or theological differences. There may be certain topics you purposefully stay away from unless they are brought up by the mentee.
- Recognize that your generation may have a different view of work, work hours, and work responsibilities. The next generation is looking for a more balanced lifestyle. They do not want to burn out. They view technology as a tool that can help them decrease their workload.
- The next generation will challenge the “older” generation in good ways and some not-so-good ways. Stay open and free of critical judgment, but do not compromise who you are and what you believe.
Areas for Clarity
- Be clear on expectations. Do not assume the needs of your mentees, but rather allow them to explain their goals. Discover what they desire from mentoring and discuss some things you might desire. For example, if you give an assignment and have a particular time frame in mind, share that up front, or you might find yourself becoming frustrated by what seems like a lack in effort. Clarifying expectations will avoid this.
- Be clear on the goals or desired outcomes. You might ask, “What do you hope to gain from our connection?” or, “What end result will let us know that we have completed an area of need?” This line of questioning helps define a clear beginning and a clear ending. We need to know the parameters of both.
- Encourage new thoughts and new ideas without trying to explain why they will not work. Give them a chance to learn from attempting different things. While we may bristle at a particular idea, they may see it as brand new, never done before, or the greatest idea ever.
- Provide lots of process time. Does your mentee like to process verbally or go away and think about your input? Some use more words than you are comfortable with and it may irritate you.
- Remember, mentors empower rather than express power over. We are not in this relationship to convince someone how powerful, important, intelligent, or talented we are. We are in this relationship to empower others and bring them to a place of confidence and self-respect in knowing who God says they are and desires them to become.
Before Starting a Mentoring Relationship
- Be comfortable with who you are and who the mentee is. To be clear, you need to like this person. If you know them and have frequently questioned their work ethic or life choices, you may not be the right person to mentor them. You both need to be comfortable.
- Be honest with yourself and the potential mentee up front. “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought” (Romans 12:3). Do not attempt to augment yourself into someone you are not. If you are not the right person to mentor them, help them to find the right person.
- If you are unfamiliar with an area of need, state your felt inadequacy. Again, it is better to be honest than to misrepresent yourself. It doesn’t mean you should not talk about a certain area you are unfamiliar with, but it does mean you may need to refer them to someone else for certain areas of life. This honesty will be appreciated.
A Biblical Precedent
We all need good theology in our lives. Mentoring gives us opportunity to pass on the values of the Kingdom of God to the next generation. If there is anything of value to pass on, it is the truths of God’s Word.
In Joshua 4:1-9, the children of Israel set up twelve stones as a memorial. The stones would serve as a reminder of what God did for them when they crossed the Jordan River. Their stories and life-giving messages were to be passed on to their children’s children. But a huge disappointment is recorded in Scripture regarding Joshua’s generation. It says, “After that whole generation had been gathered to their fathers (through death), another generation grew up, who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel” (Judges 2:10). It seems that the intentional mentoring of the next generation was either missed or tragically inadequate.
Our Ultimate Goal
I always find it challenging to realize that how my children view me as a father will directly affect how they view their heavenly Father. In other words, if a father is mean-spirited and demeaning, children will often see God that way. If a father is grace-filled and firm, but fair, they will often view God in the same way. That means as mentors, we need to continually receive healing from our father wounds and become more like our heavenly Father so we can bear His image to our mentees. In turn, they will bear the image of their heavenly Father to others.
For more about this topic, read the book The Cry for Spiritual Mothers and Fathers by Larry Kreider.
About Steve Prokopchak
Steve serves on the DOVE International Apostolic Council and has been involved in the Christian counseling field for over 20 years. He earned a master of human services from Lincoln University. He is the author of several books, including Called Together, a premarital counseling workbook. He also travels throughout the world teaching and imparting to the lives of many, especially leaders. Read more about Steve or catch up on his blog.