I’ve been mentoring students for a long time, but there are three practices which are foundational to each mentoring relationship I enter into. These are the three legs to my mentoring stool, Listening, Opportunity, and Failure

These three words make the mentoring relationship worthwhile for me. I want hear what kids are saying, I want to give them the opportunity to do what God has gifted them to do, and I want them to learn from and manage their failures well.

If you put these three words to work in every teen mentoring relationship, both you and the person you are mentoring will be fulfilled.


Every mentor has a desire to share what they know with others willing to listen, but mentors have to learn to listen as well. The rookie mentor or the arrogant mentor sees mentoring as a information dump versus a conversation.

Mentees might want to know all the details and crunch bits or maybe they want hear just the big picture and work the details out for themselves. We must learn the art of active listening in order to hear what what our mentees desire to  learn and break it down what we know for their context.

Here’s a video of how I am listening to students in my youth ministry so I can plan what they want heat and mix it with what they need to heart. This simple exercise gives students space to share their desires and gives me a chance to  listen to their hearts.




My temptation, as a mentor, was to do an information dump without giving the teen a chance to do the things they were learning from me. Sometimes, I felt like the old boxing trainer who would tell the hungry young fighter, “You’re not ready kid.”  I did this for selfish reasons, I wanted them to succeed out of the gate so I would look like a good mentor.

What I should have been doing was giving them as many opportunities as possible to skin their knee so they could build a tolerance to failure. The opportunity to build, create, preach, write, etc would have allowed them to shake off the fear of failure and instead embraced failure as part of the growth process.

Jesus didn’t spend all his time on mountain top teaching his disciples waiting for some magic moment to send them out, He sent the 72 disciples he had out to practice/do the ministry ( Luke 10). Jesus gave them some basic instructions and then said, “Go.”

Jesus gave his disciples the opportunity to do big, scary things. He didn’t start them off with walking little old ladies across the road, he gave them power and opportunity and it produced something amazing.

The seventy-two returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.”

Faith (a working faith) without works is dead. If I want a kids faith to grow and increase I have to let them do the work. Christianity is not a class, it’s about putting faith into motion, being lead by the Spirit, and letting kids do what God has gifted them to do in spite of potential failures.


Let’s not make that big deal about failure. Failure is not only pat of learning, it is often the catalyst to learning. I don’t glorify failure, but I do respect it as part of the mentoring process even if teens do not.

I don’t want to see the teens I mentor fail because their failure is my failure. I take it personally if I feel I didn’t prepare them well for a task.

As mentors we must be patient with teenagers for a variety of reasons,

their schedules.

their hormones

their school work

their family needs

Teens may not make every meeting we set up or accomplish every task we give them. These are what we call teachable moments. It’s not that a teen cannot perform a task (although it’s possible) you’ve  given them; it could be because of external factors causing them to lost focus or to diminish the value of the task you have given them. This is where the real mentoring begins.

If we’ll be patient and let failure come at it’s own pace, we’ll discover more about the teen wee are mentoring and lear the real reasons behind missed meetings, stalled tasks, and lack of communication.

Our role is not to train a teen to be perfect but rather how to manage and learn from failure so that they are not crushed by them. Teaching resilience is more important than teach  the skill . Skills can come and go as needed but resilience is a much needed  life skill usable in all situations.

“Enthusiasm is common. Endurance is rare.”
Angela Duckworth, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance

Remember, if they’re failing, their trying. Give them  the needed space and grace to both succeed and fail.

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