Tag Archives: mentoring

Being a safe place

This post from two weeks ago included some thoughts on asking good questions and listening well, thoughts that were continued in the comments section. Asking good questions and listening well are two really important skills to develop for all who work with youth – whether you’re a youth pastor, volunteer leader, mentor, bible study leader, teacher, or parent.

But no matter how good we become at asking good questions and listening well, kids won’t talk to us about anything meaningful unless they trust us. Several years ago I encountered a situation with a youth I met with that I felt was over my head – too messy for me to handle alone. One of the first people I went to for counsel was my father. I am incredibly blessed to have parents who are a great sounding board for my decision making, and they have helped me process situations throughout my entire ministry career.

During that conversation, my Dad said something that has stuck with me ever since, and helped shaped one of my biggest priorities as a youth worker. He said that he believed, as a parent, that what this girl needed most from me was to be someone she could trust.

I believe that one of the most important roles I have is to be a safe place for students. I want to show trustworthiness – that I am interested in my kids, accept them, do not judge them, and will not gossip about them. My hope is that when something goes wrong in their life, they will feel safe to turn to me to talk about it. One of the most dangerous situations our youth get in is when they feel isolated – that there is no one they can talk to.

One of the biggest compliments I got as a youth leader was when a kid I was mentoring referred a friend to me. She told her friend she didn’t know how to help her, but that she should talk to me. That told me I was hitting the mark – I was seen as safe.

Part of being safe is not preaching at kids. This is part of listening well, really. Sometimes what a kid needs is not the answer, but someone to listen to and empathise with how they are feeling. It’s also better to help them think through a situation and come up with a way forward on their own than to give them the “right answer”. Teaching them to think through a situation to a wise conclusion is far more valuable than telling them what to do.

Being a safe place does not mean watering down truth. What it means is developing a relationship to the point that such counsel will be accepted and listened to. Building safe and trusting relationships with youth is like preparing the soil of their hearts to be receptive to the seeds that are sown in their lives. Unless there are people they trust, no truth told to them will take root and grow.

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Posted by on October 3, 2011 in Leading Youth


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Mentoring Leaders – a challenge for youth workers

I recently read “Mentoring Leaders” by Carson Pue as part of my post-grad studies in urban youth ministry. I’d like to share some insights with you and hear what you have to say on the topic.

Pue’s model of how leaders are mentored:

  1.  Self Awareness – the process of becoming more aware of self and of God. In this stage we become not only more aware of our gift mix, but also of our shortcomings. The process of admitting our faults, fears, and insecurities leads to a greater awareness of God’s grace, and security as his children. (This also relates closely to John’s recent series on Self Assessment).
  2. Freeing Up – the process of becoming the leaders God wants us to be. In this stage needs are named and individuals begin to consider where they are looking to get needs met; many of us look somewhere other than God to meet our needs.
  3. Visioneering – the process of defining our vision for life. This is an individual process, but it is important for mentors to come along side as the leader waits and seeks God for a life vision and for Him to bring it about.
  4. Implementing – the process of walking alongside leaders as they begin strategically moving towards vision.
  5. Sustaining- the process of walking alongside leaders as they continue walking.

As my volunteer base turns over quite often (every 6 months), it is not often I have the opportunity to walk alongside a new leader for a significant amount of time. My mentoring role focuses more on middle and high school students.

I have been blessed this past year to be part of a year-long leadership network, called Refocusing. It meets together for 4 retreats throughout the year, and includes teaching and consistent year-long small groups. These small groups provide a safe place to discuss leadership difficulties. The purpose of the year-long program is to clarify values and vision. This program has brought several women leaders into my life who have walked with me and challenged me this past year.

I feel that Refocusing has provided a good base for helping me think through my vision for youth ministry to TCKs  both in my current ministry context of Phnom Penh, and also as we consider what it looks like to impact South East Asia through Youth in Asia ministry.

I think that the busy, hectic lives we lead prevent us from being the best mentors we can be. Busy-ness, and the exhaustion it often leads to, limits our effectiveness. We also often live life in such a way that we don’t have transparent relationships. My experience of walking with Tanya in both a deep, transparent friendship, and ministry context provides me a framework for what leadership accountability looks like and the role of deep, transparent, accountable friendships look like.

Being mentored significantly increases our effectiveness as mentors ourselves. Having mentors in our lives helps us see from the mentee perspective, which is invaluable to helping us understand the perspective of those we come alongside and try to help.

For me, carving out the time and space to spend alone time with God, and living life at a pace where that alone time is beneficial, will take concentrated effort. A mentor would be helpful in that process to help me set goals and track progress and challenges. Unfortunately, the mentors who came into my life this year are leaving Phnom Penh this year, and the process of finding new mentors will begin again.

In “Mentoring Leaders” there is a section on functioning from your core as a child. Pue describes ways that we can live from an orphaned point of view or, instead, from the Child of God point of view. It is important to be are aware that our security and identity as God’s children is a growing, vibrant process; it does not become static, nor do we ever arrive. I’m back in the US at the moment, and during a recent conversation with my father I realised how very quickly and easily I start feeling once again like an insecure 14 year old girl, looking to hold his attention.

Although I’ve heard it said before, and probably even said it myself, it is only spending time alone with God where we can gain his perspective on us, his acceptance of us based on what Jesus has done. Only once I am secure in this can I face the insecurity that comes out of my lacking relationship with my parents.

Questions to think about: 

What keeps us from maximizing our leadership effectiveness as a mentor?

What helps us increase our leadership effectiveness as a mentor?

How is God nudging you to grow as a mentor and leader? 

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Posted by on April 27, 2011 in Leadership Development



Longevity: the most important factor in effective TCK work

The vision for Youth in Asia is “resourcing and support youth work in Asia”. My personal slice of the vision is to see “career” youth workers planted on the field across Asia to serve TCKs, and to keep them there long term.

I’m coming to the end of my 6th school year working with TCKs in Beijing. I’ve connected with TCKs from around China through youth camps and conferences in Beijing, and with TCKs in Cambodia (and most recently, Thailand and Vietnam) through short term work in south east Asia. TCK work is not a hobby or side project for me; it is what I do – my career, if you will.

I’m becoming somewhat of an expert on the lives and needs of TCKs living in Asia, and it is my goal to serve them and minister to their needs. When I plan events or trips to visit youth groups, I do it with this goal in mind. I have come to the conclusion, however, that the best way I can do that is work toward placing and keeping TCK workers on the field across Asia.

Longevity is an effective factor in any ministry (or any job, for that matter). We all know that. The longer you do something, the more you learn about it, and so on. I would argue that in TCK work longevity is vitally important.

When it comes to TCKs, I would take a young and inexperienced youth worker who will stay 5 years over an experienced youth worker who will stay 2 years. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’ll take the 2 year guy as well! I’m just saying that I think that longevity will provide for a deeper impact on kids than almost anything else.

Why? Trust

Most TCKs take a long time to open up to new people. In most cases, I’d say it takes 18 months of consistency to get a platform to speak to long-term TCKs. If you stay 2 years, you only get 6 months where you can really speak into their lives. If during those 6 months they know you’re about to leave, chances are you lose a lot of that impact, too.

Not all TCKs are the same, obviously, but there is definitely a huge barrier to trust when they are accustomed to seeing people come and go constantly – why bother investing deeply in a relationship when the person isn’t going to stay? Why put yourself in a vulnerable position and come to rely on someone who will leave you?

I believe it’s possible to learn a lot from someone you know a short time, and to really benefit from a mentoring relationship that lasts only a month or two, but that’s from a mature perspective. For a TCK who is in the midst of a million losses, that’s a difficult conclusion to come to emotionally.

There are two exceptions I would make to this: ATCKs and teachers. A youth worker who grew up overseas themselves will be accepted in much more quickly – they have a platform to speak from because they “get it”. A teacher who teaches TCKs in school and then works with a youth group outside school will get more space to speak into kids’ lives than someone else because they have far more face time with the kids.

My story

I had been a youth worker in Australia for years before moving to China. In fact, I started mentoring teenagers when I was still a teenager myself. When I moved to China I had no intention of continuing in youth work; I was transitioning to “real life” – finishing university so I could start climbing the corporate ladder.

When I visited the youth group ReGen for the first time in 2005, I felt like I was home. By the second week, I was hooked. Within months it was clear that THIS was the reason I was in China. I loved (still love) those kids! But I could feel this…resistance. There was a barrier between me and them that didn’t match up to my previous youth work experiences. I started to listen to their stories, trying to understand their lives and what made them different to kids at home.

I began to see how transient life can be for them – how many people leave. I realised that unless they believed I was around for the long haul, there was little reason for them to trust me or let me in. I took two weeks to pray and think so that I could come up with a date – so I could say I will be here until x.

I chose a date a little over three years in the future, based on when a certain group of kids would finish high school. Then I started telling them. I was clear that I had no certain plans, but that I would be around at least until the summer of 2009 because that’s when you graduate. I thought it was important to be clear that I was staying for THEM, not for a job.

I was amazed at how quickly that made a difference. I wasn’t instantly bosom buddies with everyone, but I didn’t sense that same resistance all the time.

As I’ve discussed this idea with TCKs I know, I’ve heard a range of timelines – how long before they’ll trust a youth leader. Those timelines have ranged up to 3 years. That seems so long, but then I think back – how many kids did I engage with weekly for 2-3 years before they first opened up about real and significant hurts they were carrying? It took that long for them to trust that I was staying, that I was going to keep being there for them. How many kids did I think I knew, only to discover there was so so so much more going on beneath the surface where so few adults were ever allowed?

Therefore, regardless of how harsh it may make me sound, I will keep saying this: I believe longevity is the most vital factor in TCK work. It might not be comfortable for youth leaders to hear, but I believe it is the heart cry of many, many TCKs all over the world.

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Posted by on April 25, 2011 in TCKs, YiA Vision


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