Being a Bible class teacher for children or teens is an important responsibility. You are helping them learn what God wants them to know so that they can build a strong faith foundation and grow to their full godly potential. Most Bible class teachers in a church setting only have about an hour a week with their students – enough time to have some impact, but not the time you need in most cases to make a truly meaningful difference in someone’s faith journey.
To impact your young Bible students at that level, you will need to move from being their teacher to becoming a mentor. Mentorship is modeled perfectly by Jesus in his interactions with the Apostles while he was here on Earth. You can’t just snap your fingers, however, and suddenly have Bible class students who are willing to be mentored by you. It requires intentionality, patience, perseverance and lots of love. Sometimes you will see positive results for your extra investment of time and in other cases your mentorship will seem to have little impact. Yet I believe mentoring students should be the goal of any master Bible class teacher.
So how do you begin the process of moving from teacher to mentor? It may vary slightly with each student you target (the sad reality is that you won’t have enough time to adequately fully mentor a large group of students, but you can help those other students find other godly mentors), but there are some basic principles that will help with any young person.
- Let them see the love in your eyes. There is a saying that children want to see a parent’s eyes light up when they enter the room. In the same way, your students need to see your love for them in your eyes. If you look at them with indifference or disapproval, they won’t have a desire to spend even more time with you than they already do.
- Make yourself available. Get to your classroom early. Stay a few minutes extra after class ends. Attend the performances, games and activities they have. Take your Bible class on field trips. Visit their homes. Have their families over to your home. Most young people want to take their time opening up and sharing about their lives. They want to know you will give them the time they need, and investing in them before you mentor them is a great way to show you are willing to be available when they need you. (Many mentors have a 24/7 availability for emergencies with their mentees.)
- Actively listen to them when they talk. Put down the devices and give them your full attention. Show an emotional response and empathy to what they are sharing. Look them in the eyes. Ask appropriate clarifying questions. Let them know you are there to listen.
- At least at first, ask permission before giving advice. Advice is best heeded when wanted. Asking permission shows you don’t intend to control their lives, but rather give them godly advice as assistance in making their choices in life. If they say no initially, that’s okay. When trust is established, they will begin allowing you to share your thoughts.
- Remember mentorship is about coaching and guiding, not controlling. You are not the parent and should not behave as if you are one. You are the adult who listens and gives feedback. Don’t demand they follow your advice or attempt to give consequences or lecture when they don’t take your it.
- Be respectful of your mentees’ privacy. Most people who minister to young people have an unwritten rule they follow… anything shared is kept between the student and the mentor unless the information shared shows the child is in some sort of danger. In those cases, offer to go with the young person to share the information. If that offer is refused, inform the student that you need to let the parents know, because it is ultimately in their best interest.
- Don’t forget to have fun together. No one wants to spend a lot of time with someone who is always serious and insists on constantly having deep conversations. Go out to eat. Tell funny stories from your own youth. Do something fun or interesting together. Create a dynamic where your mentees look forward to spending time with you.
- Encourage them to practice spiritual disciplines like Bible study and prayer independently and share your enthusiasm for doing them yourself. You may not always be available to your mentee. Helping them develop habits that will help them be healthy spiritually can help them bridge any gaps in your mentorship.
- Keep in contact periodically when mentees move away or go to college. The relationship dynamic will change because of the distance, but they need to know you are still in their corner. Remind them periodically you would love to talk on the phone with them, take their texts or see them when they visit in your area.
Effective mentorship takes a lot of time and effort, but it’s a great way to continue to point your Bible students to God long after they have left your class.