Relational Mentoring



I know that my title is somewhat redundant. By definition, mentoring involves joining someone else’s life in a relationship. Jesus did it with his disciples. We should take note.

A recent article entitled “59 Percent of Millennials Raised in a Church Have Dropped Out—And They’re Trying to Tell Us Whyis a challenging read to anyone in the older generation trying to connect with the next generation.

The author, Sam Eaton, is a millennial, and he gives 12 reasons why millennials are having a hard time connecting to the church. Three of them bear mentioning here.  One is that church feels exclusive and “cliquey” to outsiders, where well intentioned people do not make the effort to be compassionate and welcoming to the next generation.

The second reason is that millennials are “sick and tired” of hearing about values and mission statements. They want the church to stop using Christian mumbo jumbo. Jesus’ imperatives to us can be condensed into four words: “Love God. Love others.”  With those four words, the task is complete. Mission accomplished.

Thirdly, they want to be mentored, not “preached at.”  “Preaching just doesn’t reach our generation like our parents and grandparents.”

Eaton continues: “Millennials crave relationship, to have someone walking beside them through the muck. We are the generation with the highest ever percentage of fatherless homes.”

Eaton’s conclusion is to “ask the older generation to be intentional with the millennials in your church.”  I concur, but it must be relational, not something that you can make a “program” out of.

I just returned from a trip to Africa – Togo to be exact. I brought a young man with me.   I have been meeting with him for about 6 months in Pinehurst.   He was, as a friend of mine described, my “Timothy”, only his actual name is John Mark. So, that makes me his Barnabas. He is in the picture above with his friend, Ben, who was our translator.

Our role at the gathering was to provide worship for leaders from ten West African countries.  The other mission was to spend time together and to learn from others as well as each other.

The worship was important, but the results of our trip were unexpected.  Due to a series of missed and cancelled flights, we were stranded in Morocco for 3 days until we could get a flight to Togo.

We spent three days hanging out in Casablanca.  John Mark was watching me every moment.  Most lessons of life are caught, not taught.  He saw me handle the adversity of messed up travel plans and having to improvise our plans based on our situation.

We made the best of it.  We survived. He learned that not all travel goes smoothly. He said this was the first time he had ever had an experience like this.  I told him that I’ve travelled over 4 million miles and this was my first experience, too.

John Mark didn’t have a father for the last 11 years.  In a way, he got a picture of a mentor/father that he had not seen nor experienced before.  He saw the good, the bad, and (hopefully) not the ugly. My imperfections surfaced for him to see – including trying to hold my temper at the incompetence of the airline in rescheduling our flights.

At the end of our trip, John Mark was grateful for all that he had learned, not just from me, but from the other leaders during our training sessions.  He was permitted to interact and participate, and I think it may have transformed him in a way that content transfer cannot.

In Togo, John Mark found two other young men at the gathering who quickly bonded and became friends. One was the translator in the picture above, and the other was an Anglican minister from Nigeria.

It was fun to observe them kidding each other.  John Mark said he was surprised at how quickly he had made friends, particularly in a foreign country with people he had never met before.

The takeaway from our experience was similar for both of us. While it was aggravating to get stuck in Morocco for three days and miss the first day in Togo, I am convinced that it was God’s plan for us to spend time together, taking our relationship deeper.

Had we made it to Togo on time, the meetings would have eclipsed our time together.  The meetings in Togo went from 8:30 in the morning to 6 in the afternoon with only time outs for lunch and two coffee/tea breaks. During the breaks, we spent most of our time meeting with the other 30 participants from West African countries.

The challenge here is to realize that relationships take time and effort. To build a relationship with the next generation, you may have to extend yourself into doing something together.  Going to Sub-Saharan Africa may not be possible for you, but there’s lots of things that you can do with a mentee in your own backyard to enhance your relationship.

MENTOR TAKEAWAY:  Spend time “outside the lines” with your mentee doing something together.  It’s a way to build a relationship.

FURTHER STUDY:  Sam Eaton’s article on Millennials and the church can be found at:

WORSHIP:  Listen to a popular African song by Odegwu  song that we sang in Togo suggested by my African friends.

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