The Bible provides amazing guidance on not only personal growth in faith, but how to prompt the growth of the church. The word of God is a documented history of mentorships, each major character in God's divine plan passing the mantle of leadership to a younger generation. In this episode of ANN InDepth, host Sam Neves is joined by Gary Blanchard, the World Youth Director of the Seventh Day Adventist Church, and Benjamin Lundquist, the Youth Director of the Oregon Conference of the North American Division, to discuss the importance of mentoring leaders within the church.
The gospel is a living message that is meant to move and be shared with the world, this can only be done through intergenerational discipleship. When contemplating how to mentor future leaders, there is no better place to look for examples than the Bible. Each leader, from the Old Testament to the New Testament, follows similar patterns of mentorship, with people of the gospel being guided by the spirit to teach leadership to the next generation of believers. Yet this leadership is not simply a manual or list of rules to follow in order to gain influence, but is a character built through relationship, time, and effort. Blanchard confirms this need to foster the proper character by saying “Training leadership character is the most important thing, Jesus exemplified this… same with Elijah, same with Moses, same with the apostle Paul and Barnabas.” Mentorship is not simply for the benefit of the individual being mentored, but requires much from the mentor. To be mentors, we must enter with the humble understanding that we mentor to ensure those we teach exceed us. As Blanchard puts it, “You know you’re a good leader if you mentor a young person. You know you’re an awesome leader if the young person you mentor becomes better than you.”
So how do we mentor our young people? Lundquist summarizes by saying “If you want to maximize the impact of mentoring you gotta have a long term mindset.” Jesus spent three years with his disciples, preparing them for leadership. In the same way, mentors must practice what Lundquist calls “withing”, where true leadership isn’t offered in a one-and-done process but a willingness to commit to their young people and grow with them in their leadership. This is a personal investment that not only allows for leadership to be developed on a character level, but frees both participants from a one-size-fits all standard of leadership that can radically spread the gospel in unconventional ways. By adapting the leadership role to the personal skills of the young person, their true abilities can thrive. Not only this, but spiritual intimacy requires authenticity for both, opening to a deeper relationship in Christ that encourages the people in our church, promotes investment in the gospel, and breeds new forms of community.
Leadership is influence. The power of that role goes beyond titles or degrees in theology but in person to person investment that allows for a ripple affect that extends the reach of influence outside the immediate church. Even within the church, allowing young people to practice leadership by running a program or directing a service, gives them hands-on experience under the guidance and encouragement of mentors who are ready to help. Lundquist speaks of his own experience by saying “If I am running a program and I’m not involving young adult leaders in that programming I am stealing their opportunities for growth and development and hindering them from being who God called them to be.”
Allowing intergenerational relationships to be built is so crucial. Not only does it mend the gap between the previous and future generations, but it builds important skills in communication that make for better leaders. Mentors must be authentic with the young people they mentor, and allow themselves to be open to growth and change. It is important to note that, as Blanchard states, “not every young person is going to connect with you”, yet this is the opportunity to move towards leadership ministry, a larger pool of mentorship that provides options in finding the right mentor for the right person. The ripple effect of mentorship is astounding, providing larger outreach and greater confidence for not only the young people, but the church itself. As Neves states, “If the church sees that you love them, if the teens see that you love them, then people are not going to put barriers against whatever it is that God is calling you to do.”