God is nudging us into mentorship relationships

Written by Tara K. Ross

I have developed a potluck aversion. Given that shared meals are a church staple, I probably shouldn’t be confessing this in a magazine article, but it’s true for me, so it may be true for others.

Now don’t get me wrong, there are many relational and delectable benefits to potlucks. There is the flexible timeline, the acceptance of all culinary contributions, the endless laughter, and the comfortable community. All of these aspects are lovely. Familiar. Safe.

But, like any feast, an uncomfortable bloat arrives when we know we’ve had too much of a rich and decadent thing. And for me, that’s where the aversion started.

During one of my more recent potluck experiences, the bloat turned to unease when two young women showed up an hour late. Starbucks coffees in hand, they hovered by the dessert table for maybe half an hour and then left, making off with the last homemade cinnamon roll I had been drooling over. Clearly, these 20-somethings didn’t see a reason to stay.

The younger generations are not only leaving the potlucks early, but they’re leaving the Church in droves. By the age of 20, only one-third of youth previously active in the Church continue to attend on any consistent basis, according to a 2017 report from LifeWay Research. The report goes on to say that of those who drop out of regular church attendance, only one-third will decide to eventually come back. The question we need to ask is why?  

Somehow, we’re missing a key element in the discipleship journey when teens graduate from youth programs and venture out on their own. Are we failing to respond to the challenges they are facing? Are they missing key spiritual disciplines? Or is the Church just not relevant to them anymore? 

This same LifeWay Research study asked over 2,000 young adults who were leaving the church similar questions. For the majority, they didn’t care how hip the pastor was, or whether the worship music was contemporary. They still felt like they were learning spiritual truths. Still, something prevented them from staying connected. 

Most of those interviewed highlighted leaving the church because of changes in their life situation. The years after graduating high school are a diving board into independence. Young adults are leaving family homes, moving away for school, starting full-time jobs, getting married and starting families. All huge and incredibly stressful life changes. These are exactly the moments in a person’s life when we should strive to connect with them, pray for them and guide them toward Jesus.

All too often, we gravitate toward those who are at a similar stage of life. We sit with those who have kids the same age or those who share our occupation. We find people who share our ministry passions, or who share our giftings. We seek comfort, familiarity, and small pieces of ourselves. We are not seeking out the kid who stole the last cinnamon roll. Or maybe that is just me.    

When Jesus spoke of discipleship, He did not intend for us to all be at the same place in our spiritual walk. He recognized the importance of mentors and teachers who were that little bit further along. In Luke 6:39-40, Jesus says, “Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit? A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.”

When we are traveling through life with others who are similar to us, we often can’t see our shared faults (or pits). We’re blinded by our mutual sin, or our mutual apathy. Rather than encouraging one another to grow, we become trapped in the same laments.

Sharing our struggles is an important part of a community. We are called to pray together, to hold each other accountable, and to fan each other’s spiritual flames, but God wants us to go beyond comfortable, uniform social relationships. He is calling us to equip those who are coming after us.

Many of us might be aware of this call, but we can come up with an endless list of reasons why it shouldn’t be us doing the mentoring or discipling. I’m already volunteering with youth. I’m not ready to mentor one on one. I have too much going in my own life. I’m more messed up than they are.    

God does not expect us to be perfect in our attempts.

Jesus’s first disciples messed up over and over again. They were sinful and questioned their newly found faith. Because of these reasons, they were able to direct people to Jesus. It was through their weakness that God’s perfect strength and plan was showcased. Jesus could have accomplished everything on His own, but He chose to partner with them. He chooses to partner with us.

After that potluck at my church, I didn’t stay to help clean up, even though that’s what good Christians should do. I ducked out early, claiming sleep deprivation, but God even used this moment to show me something. As I walked to my car, I passed the same two girls parked near me. I didn’t stop to chat or even think to wave. Remember, I had sleep on my mind.

But if I had, I might have had a door open up for me. I might have heard them wrestling through relationships and the real issues in their lives. I could have continued to listen and maybe even offered a word of encouragement. Maybe, I could have brought them back to the party, or better yet, walk down the street to a coffee shop. It could have been the start of a relationship.

But I didn’t. I never saw them at another potluck or at a Sunday morning service again. And so came the potluck aversion. However, I’ve learned from that experience. Now, when I see a young person coming late to a potluck or trying to leave early, I pretend like we’re waiting in line together at a café—same path, different places.

When we get our comfort beverage (or food) we walk away from the crowd, filter out the laughter, and dive deep. I ask them about their relationship with Jesus, I find out who is walking with them, and then we plan how I or someone else can join them in their journey.

I’ve never been shot down, and they usually come up with the conversation topics. Will you listen to my struggles? Can you encourage me to move beyond my mistakes? Challenge me to come back to Jesus over and over again. Celebrate with me as I find my place in this world. Prepare me to share this eternal hope.

Listen. Encourage. Challenge. Celebrate. Disciple.

Of course, I can do that. Of course, you can do that too.