Recently I had dinner with a new friend. We discussed all things ministry, church, worship, and dating over some delicious margarita pizza. For a first time get together, we hit it off pretty easily. That’s a blessing in itself because you never know if your first time meeting up with someone is going to be painfully long and awkward, or easy and refreshing. I left feeling refreshed and grateful for the handful of new friends the Lord has blessed me with over the past year and a half.
Among our other topics of conversation, she asked me about mentoring young girls. Basically, she was curious what I had seen work and what hadn’t in my short time in ministry. While I love this question, and actually receive that exact question in my email inbox often, I liken it to parenting. (Since I’m a parent and all, you know.) I’m no expert whatsoever, but I’ve learned that there is no formula, and the experience is different for everyone. However, over the few short years I’ve had the privilege to mentor some young girls, there are a few things that have never fallen short. Because I’m always looking for ideas, and because I don’t mind sharing what I’ve seen be effective, I thought what better way to share than to post a blog.
I know for a fact many of you are doing the thing and have the same question!
I am curious, however, how many of you out there specifically work with high school girls? Whether it be by volunteering at your church or an organization, or those of you who might be on staff at a church serving in some type of girls ministry role. So, let’s consider this post a roll call, a little advice, and a place to give ideas. How does that sound? (Of course, these ideas can really be applied to any mentoring relationship.)
I’ll start by sharing what’s worked for me:
1) Be Real:
I don’t know if you know this, but you may think because of their young age that girls don’t pick up on if you’re faking it or not. But I’m telling you, they know. They pick up on it. They can smell a fake a mile away and they want nothing to do with it. So what does this mean? It means that although you might be their mentor and they the mentee, they want to know you! They want to know that you are not perfect. That you do not have it all together. That you sin. That you don’t always spend an hour in the word each morning. That you get mad and irritated with your family. That you have friend issues. That you are struggling to survive just like them. It means you speak these things to them. Obviously, there is wisdom and discretion in what you share and to what extent and how many details, but that doesn’t mean you can’t own up to your crud, too. It takes two to tango. Take that rare opportunity to learn from them as well!
2) Ask Questions: (Ask hard questions!)
How are you? That’s a very vague and empty question. A question anyone can hide behind. I have learned over the years that the more specific the question, the better and more effective. This actually took me a while to learn and ironically, one girl that I dearly love was always so annoyed when I asked this question that she would ask me what I meant and what did I really want to know? I’m so grateful for her honesty because it broadened my horizon of questions. Asking the hard questions is also vital, because who else is doing it? I think sometimes we don’t want to ask the hard questions because that can get messy, but discipleship is messy. To throw some conversations starters out there, here are some good questions:
– How is your relationship with your friends? Is there any drama or gossip that you need to set straight? (If you have or know a high school girl, I can almost promise you there will be drama of some sort.)
– How is your relationship with your parents? Siblings?
– How is school?
– How is your relationship with your boyfriend? Who’s holding you accountable? What are your boundaries?
– What Bible study are you doing right now?
– Are you harboring any sin? Struggling in secret in any way?
3) Never FORCE them to talk:
While you are there to mentor them, hold them accountable and be real with them, there is nothing worse than someone forcing you to talk. I promise you, over time, they’ll say what they need to say when the Lord gives them the grace to do it. Gently encourage them, for sure, but don’t ever make them feel threatened.
4) Create Safety:
Each girl needs to know that you are a safe person. They need to trust you. Trusting someone takes time, especially if you’re starting this relationship from scratch. This means they are free to tell you anything with zero judgment or condemnation, only grace and love. This goes hand in hand with sharing your life as well. The more you share, the less perfect you are to them, the greater the chances of them opening up to you.
5) Go through a book together:
Sometimes as a high school girl, an older mentor whether it be in college, just out of college or older, can be intimidating. Because of the intimidation, they’re less likely to speak up and just be themselves around you. The book you read together gives you an opportunity to approach certain conversations or topics that could otherwise be awkward or just plain hard. Your book can be your guide. Some great resources for you would be your youth pastor, LifeWay or even Christian Book Distributors.
6) Know what teenage girls struggle with:
This may seem like common sense, but we have to know what we’re dealing with here, what our target audience is. We have to be in the know. While you were once a teenager and have struggled with similar things, because of the rapid speed of technology and the effect it’s had on the way we do things, we need to understand their world. You can be certain a few sensitive areas include: identity, body issues, friendships, dating, family, faith, and all things dealing with relationships whether it be emotional, mental, or sexual. And while we’re at it, you can certainly add in communication these days. How in the world do they communicate besides instant messaging, texting, and any online chatting? It’s a big world out there.
7) Pray with them:
Don’t just pray for them, pray with them. Have you ever denied prayer? I know we all want it and need it, but unfortunately, something about praying out loud for someone on the spot scares us. However, although I sometimes felt awkward as a young girl, nothing meant more to me than the ladies that never let me leave their sight without praying for me. Not only does this teach them how to pray, how to love and what it looks like to be discipled, it also gives them a chance to receive that prayer and those blessings first hand and to hear what you are praying. There is power in prayer. There is power in praying out loud. And there is certainly power in praying with the girls.
8) Listen to them:
This may be the most redundant of all to you, but in all seriousness, the more you give them the time of day and listen to what may seem mundane to you, the more they’ll be willing to tell you. Listen, no one is going to open up to you until they know you care. And not just that you care about the hard, serious things, but that you care about the homework they loathe, and their favorite place to shop. The more you genuinely hear them out without cutting them off, the farther your relationship will go.
9) Do things with them:
One really great way to build a strong relationship is to just do everyday life with them. Go see a movie, take them grocery shopping with you, go shopping together, invite them over for dinner with your family, hang out at the pool, and so on and so forth. It doesn’t always have to be a formal one-on-one get together. In fact, it’s in the “mundane” that real life and real discipleship happens. This is also a really great way for them to see a peak into your real life.
It looks so easy on paper, but mentoring, discipling, however you want to label it is easier said than done. But we were called to make disciples, each and every one of us. I’d love to hear from you guys. Y’all are a wealth of wisdom! What are some things you’ve seen work for you?
Oh, and for a little encouragement, there is truly nothing like investing your time in a young girl, only to watch her go off to college and do the same to the younger girls around her. The Lord doesn’t always allow us to see the fruit of our labor, but when He does, it’s the sweetest, most rewarding gift ever. Your investment will be worth it, dear friend. Do not grow weary in doing good!