Written by: Marvin Jacobo

Those who claim the name of Christ are being watched ALL the time by the urban young people they are leading. Especially those of us who have the title of “leader” must be aware that every person in our ministry is a role model (called “exemplars” in the Indigenous Leadership Research Project) all the time.

Exemplars can come in all kinds of shapes and sizes; from acquaintances, to friends, to the building janitor, to the bus driver, to the hostess of the house where your outreach meeting meets.  We know from our research that each ministry member that comes in contact with an urban young person sets either a positive or negative example of what a Christ follower should be.

We found from interviewing the 81 young leaders that as they grew in their relationship with Christ the influence of exemplars (even family members!) decreased over time BUT the influence of mentors (a significant other who guides the youth intentionally toward Christ) increased over time.

In the early stages of a young person coming to Christ role models and family members carried a strong sway.  But as the youth developed in their relationship in Christ, the influence of friends and family diminished and the influence of their mentor strengthened. In fact, as a young person grew in their faith, the only relationship that grew stronger in influence was that of their mentor.

Knowing that every relationship in the neighborhood is built on trusting human connections, the young growing believer and the mentor committed to spend purposeful time together mutually investing in each other’s life and faith. The more time the young believer spent with the mentor, the more radical life change occurred.

Questions for you to consider:

• Intentionally train your volunteers, young people and staff to embrace the idea that they are influencers all the time.  Your team should understand the implications of this research.  When youth experience a group of people who are “positively different and loving” compared to other relationships in their lives, they are influences to make a first time decision for Christ. 

• Help your team understand the important difference between a role model (exemplar) and a mentor.  According to our research, role models can help lead people to Christ, but it is actually mentors who help urban youth grow spiritually once they have received Christ’s forgiveness.  This suggests that ministry programs that lack mentorship will have urban youth who will likely make a first time decisions for Christ, but will fail to grow into lifelong followers of Christ.  Being a good example to urban youth at a ministry program is an insufficient level of influence to help those youth make long-term spiritual decisions in their lives.  Urban youth MUST be mentored relationally in order to grow spiritually. 

• Develop a plan to help urban youth be intentionally mentored by a more mature Christian.  Don’t just hope that mentoring relationships will naturally appear on their own without some orchestration from you.  Be intentional about naturally transitioning urban youth into mentorship relationships with mature Christians.  Have this element of your ministry be a regular part of your ministry team meetings and strategy. 

• Don’t let up on mentorship.  Since we now know that excellent Christian mentorship is the key element of raising indigenous leaders, don’t get distracted by the other elements of your ministry program.  Club, camp, prayer and bible studies are all important elements of a thriving urban youth ministry, but make sure that Christian mentorship is foundational within each of these elements!

What about you? 

What have you done to help your ministry team understand their role as exemplars?

What has worked well to help them be the best influencers for Christ they can be?

What methods or tools have you used to train your team in building trusting relationships with young people?

Have you been intentional in your training or have you just trusted that they would learn to develop relationships on their own?

How are you training your team to mentor young people? What tools are you using? Do you meet regularly with them for development in this area?
In what ways can Ephesians 4. 11-13 be applied to this discussion?

What thoughts or comments can you add to this portion of the conversation?

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