As I get older I realize I don’t have the time or energy to do everything I want to do. That means I sometimes have to make difficult choices regarding how I spend my time. Difficult choices are necessary if I’m going to have maximum effectiveness in life.
This principle applies with mentoring middle school boys. In a perfect world I would spend 45 hours every week mentoring middle schoolers one-on-one, 1 hour each with 45 different students. But the requirements of my personal and professional life do not allow for that, so I have decided that I can regularly mentor only three students at a time. It’s tough trying to choose who those three will be out of so many potential students.
You may have to do the same thing. If you’re a volunteer youth leader or oversee both middle school and high school ministry at your church, you probably have little time to devote to mentoring. So, with your limited time, how do you choose what student(s) to closely mentor?
Here are 10 factors I prayerfully consider when deciding if I should mentor a particular student (in no particular order):
- Have I known this student long enough to get a fairly complete picture of who he is?
- Does he appear eager to grow and/or has he verbally stated a desire to grow?
- Does he regularly attend ministry programs and activities?
- Does he have at least average conversation skills?
- Is it likely that his parents will be supportive of me mentoring him?
- Does God seem to be calling me to mentor him?
- Do I enjoy being around him?
- Do I feel like he could benefit from what I have to offer?
- Is this a good time for me to mentor one more student?
- Is now a good time for him to be mentored?
If I answer “yes” to most or all of those questions for a student, I first approach his parents in an email and explain why I would like to mentor their son, what it would require of them as his parents, and what the next steps would look like to get the mentoring process moving.
Then I ask for their permission to ask their son about mentoring. I like to ask the parents first because I need their blessing and support if mentoring is going to be successful. Plus, I want to give them a chance to say no before I ask their son so they don’t have to look like the “bad guy” by saying no.
Usually the parents are more than happy to say yes, and from that point I privately talk to the student about what mentoring is, why I think it would benefit him, and what it would look like for us to have a mentoring relationship. If I do a good job of explaining it, he will usually agree to officially start mentoring.
I don’t consider the students I choose to regularly mentor as “better” than other students. Nor do I consider the vast majority of students who I can’t closely mentor as inferior or any less worthy of mentoring. It simply comes down to the fact that I have limited time and resources and can’t mentor everyone.
That’s difficult to swallow because there are a ton of guys in my ministry who I would like to mentor more closely. But I have had to accept my limitations. It’s even more difficult because there are lots of students whom I would answer “yes” to all the questions above. I find comfort in knowing I can still have a positive influence in a bunch of different ways on guys and girls in my ministry even if I’m not mentoring them one-on-one on a regular basis.
Be prayerful, thoughtful, and methodical if there are middle school students in your life who you could mentor. If you are a parent, you could be just as prayerful and methodical in finding a mentor for your son. What mentoring relationships should you be considering or developing today? Own the fact that you can’t mentor everyone, but if you choose carefully you could make a significant impact in a small handful of lives.