What is Mentoring?

“I seriously don’t know what I would have done without you in my life, Mr. B. I don’t know if I would have made it.”

These words hit me in a profound way as I sat across the table from my young friend (now in his twenties) and he shared with me the impact that our mentoring relationship had on his life.

“Often times when I’m making a big decision in life, I’ll think about you and what you would say about what I’m thinking about doing. It’s crazy. I remember all of those conversations over the years.”

Okay, he was laying it on pretty thick. But, even if I only had a fraction of the impact on his life that he described, I would take it. The fact is, I really enjoyed mentoring him. I think my life was blessed and transformed much more than his was. We spent nearly a decade building an intentional friendship through the Learning and Mentoring Partnership, or LAMP, program in Pittsburgh where we had been matched together through a church and school partnership. Over those years we had the opportunity to do all kinds of fun things together, and lots of ordinary things too. I had the privilege of seeing him graduate from high school, against all odds, and he has really gone on to do some pretty amazing things with his life considering the many challenges that he faced as a child.

Our mentoring relationship clearly had many positive outcomes for both of us. Throughout the United States, youth mentoring relationships are showing outstanding results in the lives of vulnerable kids. But, what is mentoring? How does it really work? Mentoring, in many ways, is very simple. Mentoring is an intentionally established, meaningful relationship that is built between an adult and a child over the course of months and, hopefully, years. The best mentoring relationships last for a long time, often well into adulthood. There are many different types of mentoring relationships, including informal, formal, group, one-to-one, school-based, site-based, family-to-one, community-based, and more.

Adult volunteers almost always go into the mentoring relationships thinking that they are going to make a difference in the life of a child who could use a little bit of extra support in life, and, almost always, the adult ends up getting much more out of the relationships. Sometimes it takes some time for the fruit of mentoring to show itself in the lives of the kids being mentored, but almost always the kids show signs of academic, social, emotional, and spiritual growth as a direct result of the mentoring relationships.

Regardless of the type of mentoring, it is important that mentors demonstrate consistency and perseverance in continuing to invest in the lives of mentees. And it is important to have high standards for the mentoring relationships, especially in formal mentoring programs. Mentors should be screened, trained, and supported well throughout every part of the mentoring relationship cycle. Under the right circumstances the relationships turn into life-long friendships. That’s what happened to me with the young man that I mentioned earlier, and that’s what is happening throughout the youth mentoring movement that is growing across the country. Mentors of all kinds are impacting the lives of marginalized youth.

There are millions of children throughout the United States who are waiting for a mentor, though. Organizations, such as churches, can serve as an excellent pool of volunteer mentors to help to ensure that all kids growing up in America who are in need of mentors can get matched up with a caring adult. Most mentoring matches take place once a week for between one and four hours at a time, and the mentoring activities don’t need to be anything glamorous. All that adults need to do is take the time to intentionally invest in a young person. It’s as simple as that. Churches, in particular, are stepping up to get involved in mentoring in cities and other regions around the country. The mentoring movement is growing and now is a great time to join!

Come to the Imagine Conference to learn more and get involved!

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Dr. Bryan McCabe, Pastor of Transformational Urban Leadership, North Way Christian Community


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