There is not much about middle school ministry that can be considered “finished.” The moment you finish giving a talk, you’re thinking about the talk you need to give the next week. The moment you pull off a fun event, you’re thinking about the next big outing. The moment you graduate a class into high school, there’s a new group of young students just entering your ministry.
On an even deeper level, students are never “finished.” They are always growing, changing, and developing during their middle school years. By the time they move on to high school they are far from being fully developed in any sense of the word. So after meeting with a student for six months or a year or two, how do you “finish” the process of mentoring a middle school boy?
General wisdom suggests it’s a good idea to finish things well in life, regardless of the context. It’s important to finish a race well, to finish a task well, or to finish a commitment well. Mentoring is no exception.
It might seem difficult to think about ending a mentoring relationship. You may feel like you’re giving up on the student or letting him down, but most mentoring relationships cannot last forever. In the case of a middle school boy, he will soon enter high school. Even if you continue to mentor him into high school there’s always the likely reality that he’ll leave town and go off to college someday.
It’s always healthy and usually necessary to end a mentoring relationship at some point, so you might as well do it well. Here are 5 things you can do to end a mentoring relationship well:
- Face reality. Admit to yourself that it needs to end at some point. Be proactive so you can be in control of ending a mentoring relationship as opposed to letting life and circumstances run their course, in which case you or the student may end up disappointed.
- Talk ahead of time. Have clear and honest conversations with the student before you think a mentoring relationship should end. Explain to him why you think ending it is the best course of action. This step is especially important for middle school students, because they are sensitive to any indication that people don’t like them or don’t want to be around them. Honest conversations can help him understand that the end of your mentoring relationship doesn’t mean you don’t like him anymore.
- Assure him that you can still stay connected. Talk about appropriate ways to stay in touch once the official mentoring relationship has ended. In a church context, that means telling him that you’ll still stop to say “Hi” in the halls and have impromptu conversations every once in a while. It could also mean you text back and forth on the phone occasionally or connect on social media, depending on what you decide.
- Keep a long-term perspective in mind. Don’t get discouraged if, when you end a mentoring relationship, the student you mentor doesn’t exhibit all the qualities you hoped to help him develop. Middle school students are far from being finished. You are simply one person who has come along for a short, albeit formative, period of life.
- Set him up for success at the next level. If possible, help him get connected with another ministry in your church or make sure he’s plugged into a small group. That way he can have a “home base” once mentoring is over. You could also talk to other adults who might be able to mentor him in the next phase of his life.
- Have faith. Trust that other adults will step in and help develop him during the next phases of his life. Trust that God will continue working in students or kids long after they are under your care.
- Pray. You can continue praying for students long after you have ended your mentoring relationship. In fact, you can pray for them for the rest of their lives if you want to!
The cool thing is that finishing well sets you up to begin well, because if you’ve had a positive mentoring experience then there are plenty of other younger students who eagerly await your mentoring influence in their lives. At that point you can let the mentoring process start all over again!