For anyone about to make the jump from youth to adulthood, it can be hard trying to pave a path towards success. With all the colleges, employment, and volunteer opportunities out there to explore, many young people today feel overwhelmed with choices—it can be hard to weigh options and ultimately make informed decisions.
I’ve often heard the popular verse from Jeremiah 29:11 recited during times of transition. Many high schoolers going off to college or starting a new job find comfort in its message: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
Guidance from God is a wonderful thing—that’s what we all want. We long to know what we should do and how to go about doing it. Believe it or not, many students and young adults feel the same way.
But what many young adults are missing out on is the reality that words of wisdom from the Lord often come through the mouths of others.
Particularly, through the mentorship relationships God has placed in their lives…
The meaning of mentorship
I’ve been thinking on this while watching my daughter’s progress through Wheaton College. She is a student in the conservatory there (and, of course, you can watch her sing here!) Her father thanks you in advance for watching and sending job offers!
Her journey started me thinking more about mentoring and learning.
You see, many consider learning to be something done only in the classroom. We grow as people when we find new facts or acquire fresh information. Certainly, this kind of growth happens in part through reading books, writing papers and going to lectures. But a lot of it also happens on accident—when we least expect it.
You see, learning happens most often through doing life alongside others. It’s people, I would argue, not books, from which we glean our most valuable life lessons.
That’s been the case with Kristen. It’s been several professors, but one in particular (Dr. Carolyn Hart) who’s been that significant influence on her life.
Yesterday, I went by the booth of my alma mater at the convention I am attending— and it was not the learning that I remembered. (My undergrad degree is in science, which has not been super helpful in my current area of work.) However, I can name the name of professors that, well, mentored me. They taught me to think, to care, to grow, and more.
You see, we learn best in community and are blessed to be influenced by those around us. These influencers come in the form of casual friendships, sure. But they also come through relationships with those who students might refer to as mentors.
Mentors—in academic settings, the business world, church, or anywhere really—are just people willing to use their wisdom and experiences for the good of those around (and under) them. Often, these are leaders who both see and want opportunities to pour into young lives. This means mentors take part in overseeing mentees growth spiritually, emotionally and, at an institution of higher learning, academically as well.
So, I’m convinced we need more people mentoring more people. That does not have to be older to younger, but it usually is. And, since I am a professor, I’ve been thinking of it in an academic setting, but it is true anywhere that leaders are made.
Mentoring means making new leaders, thinkers, creators, and more.
Balancing motivation and care
Leo M. Lambert, the former president of Elon University, offered some reflections on the 2018 Strada-Gallup Alumni Survey, Mentoring College Students to Success. He shares the ways that mentoring relationships are a form of social capital. They give those who have them a certain ‘leg up’ on their peers. He shares:
My instincts tell me there is a strong connection between the reported level of academic challenge students experience and the strength of mentoring relationships students form with faculty… My two decades of observation as a college president tell me that students seek challenge from (and work extra hard for) faculty members whom they hold in high esteem and who provide the right balance of challenge and support.
That was certainly my situation.
For young adults, mentors aren’t just people who provide emotionless advice and stern motivation. In fact, it’s just the opposite. Mentees most often want this older/wiser/more experienced counterpart to not just care about their success, but them as an individual.
It’s not about pushing and pulling young people towards worldly achievements and accomplishments. For mentors looking to really make a difference, it’s actually not about helping students valuing what the world values at all. Instead, it’s about helping mentees—future doctors, lawyers, preachers, ministry leaders, and restauranteurs—come to see their lives as not their own, but God’s. In his hands alone, their future endeavors are fully secure.
The journeys we’re all on ultimately belong to Jesus, but mentors can help along the way.
Becoming a mentor
So, what if you are a young adult and you are saying, “Yes, I need this”?
Respondents from the Strada-Gallup poll gave feedback on many factors surrounding the topic of mentorship. But the data also indicated that generally, a low percentage of students are taking part in these relationships in the first place. Only 43% of Strada-Gallup poll respondents agree in some form that they’ve received high quality mentoring.
In academic settings, where you would think that mentoring would most likely take place, not even half of students are being given all the tools they need to successfully complete their degrees. One reason I like being in a smaller academic institution is the higher number of mentoring opportunities.
Unfortunately, this is not just an academic reality. We need professors, church leaders, and others to step up and offer themselves in service of a young leaders. Not only for the student’s benefit, but also for their own. Often, it’s not the mentee alone who learns and gains valuable influence from the experience.
If you were mentored, you know the value of it. If you were not mentored, you probably know you missed out.
If you have some experience to share, why not volunteer to be a mentor? And if you want mentoring, don’t be reticent to ask for it.
Ed Stetzer holds the Billy Graham Distinguished Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College, serves as Dean of the School of Mission, Ministry, and Leadership at Wheaton College, is executive director of the Billy Graham Center, and publishes church leadership resources through Mission Group.