In a previous blog, we examined a phenomenon within the Adventist Church known as “the leaky bucket syndrome.” Church members – particularly young people – are leaving the Adventist church in concerning numbers. A 2014 report Leaving the Church by the Office of Achieves, Statistics, and Research examined different elements of former Adventists’ relationship with and departure from the Church. According to this study, almost two thirds (63.5%) of respondents left the church when they were young adults.
What can be done about this alarming trend?
One solution may be the implementation of spiritual mentoring. In his book “Why Our Teenagers Leave the Church,” Roger Dudley suggests that the reason Adventist young people leave the Church is not primarily doctrinal, but instead is relational (Dudley, 2000, p. 99). It seems that Adventist youth are seeking meaningful relationships, specifically with spiritual mentors who are able to live out their faith, as well as guide the next generation in their Christian walk.
Author D.J. Tanner (2011) 1 lists ten advantages to having a spiritual mentor. He suggested that a mentor can:
- Become an understanding supporter
- Become a role model
- Engage in a relationship that promotes spiritual growth
- Provide increased accountability
- Be a source of encouragement
- Be a helper in times of crises
- Help the mentee establish and achieve goals
- Provide counsel for life decisions
- Have an impact on other areas of life
- Gain the opportunity to give back.
In his chapter entitled “Faith Transmission and Mentoring: The Greatest Want of the Church” in the book A Fresh Look at Denominational Research: Role, Impact, & Scope, Kelvin Onongha describes a study conducted among various leaders from the three regions of Africa—East-Central Africa, Southern-Indian Ocean, and West-Central Africa divisions. (All of these leaders were part of a Doctor of Ministry cohort.) A survey was administered to these leaders, and the primary questions this study sought to answer were:
- Does mentoring play a significant role in discipleship?
- Is faith transmission advanced through mentoring?
Every respondent—no matter the region they were from or the leadership position—indicated that mentoring is greatly needed in the Adventist Church. All respondents also agreed or strongly agreed that mentoring others contributes to faith transmission in the Church. Respondents were also in agreement that mentoring is vital to discipleship.
The mentor-mentee relationship is not, however, a one-way street. Onongha also writes in his chapter, “While [the mentoring relationship] helps mentees grow in needed areas of their lives, it likewise helps strengthen and reaffirm the faith experience of the mentor.”
The mentor-mentee relationship is one of give and take. Mentors must have both time and energy to invest in a relationship; the ability to be objective and thoughtful; strong communication skills, which includes being a good listener; the gift of giving good counsel; the ability to relate to the mentee’s life; and the gift of speaking truth – even when it’s hard.
Mentees, on the other hand, must be willing to take the necessary steps for growth in their spiritual life and must be committed to making changes. While the mentor takes on the roles as a teacher, the mentee becomes the student. This requires humility and openness to learning on the part of the mentee.
However, not every mentoring relationship is a spiritual mentoring one. Onongha writes, “For spiritual mentoring to result in faith transmission, the relationship should be based upon certain essential elements between the two parties.” He suggests that these factors include open and deep communication, accountability, reciprocity, entailing give and take between mentor and mentee, and thoughtful analysis of the mentoring relationship (Kuhl, 2017). Of course, keeping Christ at the center of the relationship is also essential!
If, as a church, we are committed to stopping the flow of the “leaky bucket” and desire to making our church a place where young people feel welcomed and that they are a part, mentoring relationships are a great place to start.
Created in collaboration with the Institute of Church Ministry.
- Tanner, D. J. (2011). Mentoring moment: 10 benefits of having a spiritual mentor. Biblical Patterns for the Christian. Retrieved from https://biblicalpatterns.wordpress.com/2011/10/28/mentoring-moment-10-benefits-of-having-a-spiritual-mentor/