Reverse mentoring keeps us in touch with the world of teenagers, and it takes their ideas into account. This article also offers practical tools, examples and motivation for helping youth mentors/ministers, and parents, more effectively reach today´s young people.
1) Traditional Methods and Programs Not Working: Church leaders and pastors have a very clear sense that the traditional methods and programs for passing on the faith to the younger generations in an ever-changing world are not producing the desired effects.
2) Young People´s Expectations Not Being Met: Young people are not finding adequate responses to their existential and catechetical needs, concerns, problems, questions, expectations, demands, wounds…etc., all of which can be very deep. In fact, young people are often not even finding the space they need and the right mentors to whom to open their hearts and minds to.
3) Adults Are Not Reaching Young People: “As adults, we find it hard to listen patiently to them, to appreciate their concerns and demands, and to speak to them in a language they can understand. For the same reason, our efforts in the field of education do not produce the results expected.” (EG 105)
Yet, there is hope, as always! The Holy Spirit is truly creative, and He is inspiring all kinds of new initiatives that are booming with young people searching to learn more about their faith. The first key to resolve the three problems mentioned is in the art of reverse mentoring.
That´s right! “Reverse mentoring” is all about what adults involved in youth ministry can learn from the younger generations so as always to improve their youth ministry. The only difference between mentoring and “reverse mentoring” is the direction. In both cases the adult mentor seeks to actively and patiently seek out young persons, except that in reverse mentoring the adult accompanies young people so as to learn from them! In the recent apostolic exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium”, Pope Francis expressed this in a clear and concise way:
“… whenever we attempt to read the signs of the times it is helpful to listen to young people [who] represent a source of hope for every people…Young people call us to renewed and expansive hope, for they represent new directions for humanity and open us up to the future, lest we cling to a nostalgia for structures and customs which are no longer life-giving in today’s world.” (EG 108)
Why would God design us such that adolescence would be a period of uncertainty, vulnerability, change, and searching for one´s identity, place, and purpose in life? From the point of view of human development, it´s critical that young people learn to adapt to the world they discover outside the safety of their homes. In so doing, they unintentionally create exactly what Pope Francis speaks of as “new directions for humanity”. Because we live in a constantly and rapidly changing world that makes adult mentors out of date within the decade, it is critical that we discover these “new directions” hidden in the young generations and creatively transform them into vehicles of grace. The only complete and effective way to do this is through reverse mentoring.
Tools for Consultation and Feedback
In actual practice, reverse mentoring comes alive through creative ways to consult teens and gain their honest feedback. This itself is an art, since it means you have to help them reflect without hampering too much their originality, and then decifering any precious new ideas in a way you can understand and replicate in practice. Also, you may need to create a sense of trust and openness, since teens won´t tell you their true thoughts without it; they will instead either tell you what you expect to hear, or otherwise hide behind a façade. You are the adult, so you are always free to follow or ignore their lead. Yet, without reverse mentoring, you run a high risk of quickly becoming “out of touch”, and hence ineffective.
Youth Councils: This is a specific group of teens you create in order to obtain feedback from them. You can meet once a semester, once a month, et cetera. These should be hand picked teens that show interest and a capacity to reflect on the youth events you organize. Schools often have some version of a youth council, and at times the students are elected by their peers. Either way, the main idea is a formal team of young people that will offer you ideas for your events, calendar, methods, etc.. Keep in mind most young people love to exercise leadership, and this will look good on a teen´s resume!
Large Group Feedback: Just before the end of a retreat or camp is an ideal time to obtain feedback. Wait any more and teens will forget the details, which are priceless to you. Doing this is actually very easy. Get a pen and paper on a clipboard, have your questions ready beforehand, and once everyone is sitting in front of you, ask away! Explain to them the importance of the moment: they get to provide feedback so as to make the next retreat or camp even better! Let them know you are happy to take any ideas and criticisms. It doesn´t have to be completely negative. Some of your questions should also be positive: when did you feel closest to God? what will you remember the most from this retreat/camp? Others should invite opportunity: What would you like to do next time? What themes or questions should we present and talk about?
Small Group Feedback: If you have a really large group, like 50+ persons, you should organize small groups. This gets teens more involved in the process, and it helps you squeeze out all the ideas possible. It also makes teens more comfortable offering feedback. This is the same process, except now you need other adults to help you lead the other groups. Make sure they understand what you´re doing and how to do it. They need to ask the questions you prepare, but they also need to let the group discussion flow.
Personal Surveys: These help teens reflect because they get 10-20 minutes or so to answer set questions on a piece of paper. Writing their name should be optional. Teens won´t want to do this always, but it offers you everyone´s answer to every question. And you can present them with questions, multiple choice answers, True or False, and write in blocks, etc. Click here for my article on a new tool for personal mentoring.
Spontaneously: The best way to learn is to jump into the mix! Towards the end of the retreat or camp, sit with them at lunch, ask them questions and create a dialogue about how to improve the event for next time. Ask some teens individually, casually, informally, spontaneously…and see what they say. Don´t be defensive. Instead, brace yourself for whatever they might say, and simply seek to find out the reason for their pro´s and con´s. In fact, towards the end of the event, feedback can make for great conversation.
Testimonies: Testimonies at the end of a retreat help you discover what activities in the event may have helped, and which didn´t. This is not feedback per se, but if you listen attentively you can catch patterns and good “to do´s” for future events. Click here for my article on the 3-minute testimonies to help you design one.
Combinations: You can combine activities by having the kids do the personal survey first, then using them for small group feedback or for testimonies.
Speaking with Group Leaders, Chaperones, Staff: Sometimes you´ll organize your teens into teams or small groups for the whole event. This is very smart for many reasons, and it also offers you another window of opportunity. There is no way you can be close to every teen. Yet these group leaders, chaperones and staff have been able to see aspects that you may easily miss. Ask them about the group´s enthusiasm, discipline, recurring problems, and also about positive aspects like acts of service or fervor/devotion they saw displayed. Ask for the feedback they may have on improving the quality of the retreat/camp.
Consulting Other Youth Mentors: If there are youth mentors and ministers that are doing things right, make sure to learn from them! Granted, they are adults. Yet the fact that they are having some level of success means they understand what needs to be done. In turn, this means you will benefit from copying them in those aspects. I´ve learned from and copied all kinds of youth mentors over the years, modifying their techniques and strategies to fit my own style. Obviously, this requires humility, yet you stand taller when you stand on the shoulders of giants. In the end, it´s all about bringing these teens closer to Christ.
Reading Up on Youth Ministry & Adolescence: Lastly, a dedicated mentor will gain much from signing up to receive others´ blog posts and from reading good books on youth ministry. Thanks be to God there are tons of websites and books out there, and over time you can pick your favorite.
Debriefing has the same look and feel of feedback, except that the point of debriefing is to help teens reflect about their experience, so as to foster greater awareness of the message, values, purpose of the event. There are many debriefing techniques that help do this, and often debriefing also creates feedback. I will write about debriefing in my next article.
My Experience with Reverse Mentoring
Over time I have come to make reverse mentoring a cornerstone of my youth ministry. This is how I´ve learned very simple things, like what kinds of food and drinks they really like, their favorite sports and best dynamic group activities. I´ve also learned to speak to them better, using stories, videos, music, laughter and comedy, and questions that pierce their heart. I´ve learned to create activities that are fun, attractive, dynamic, unexpected, well-prepared, yet also educational and with a powerful message. I´ve learned to respond to their questions, instead of offering them answers that fall on deaf ears. I´ve also discovered techniques to help them “wake up” to God. All of this was through reverse mentoring…(coupled with learning from my mistakes!)
I was also part of an international team of youth mentors that developed a new pedagogy for Conquest and Challenge. These two programs help middle school and early high school teens experience Christ and true friendship through prayer, fun and service. The international team prepared a survey with which teens of all ages would write in the questions they have about God, life, themselves, and in general about anything. We hence developed a formation program for various ages, based on their questions. We also organized their questions into ten needs. Click here to read my article on the “ten needs”, and download a Prezi. Reverse mentoring can really bring in a new era of youth ministry!!!
And, simply put, once you get the hang of it, reverse mentoring simply makes things more fun! Youth ministry becomes an adventure! Young people feel listened to and in the long run more interested in your events. You end up learning a lot, always challenging yourself to be a better instrument in God´s hands. And frankly, if you do it right, you´ll see youth ministry becomes easier, because we realize that teens´ are not so complicated after all! So don´t be afraid, focus on the goal, take time to try some reverse mentoring, and see what happens after a year. Reverse mentoring will teach you that teens don´t just need adults, we need each other.
“In the many roundtables we’ve had with teens around the world, we have found ourselves re-visiting our own existential questions, discovering answers in a new light based on accumulated life experience. Facing these questions once again and accompanying teens in their search for answers entails a rediscovery of ourselves, leading to gratitude and greater empathy. Teenagers revive and reawaken our own personal quest, the desire to know ourselves better, the longing for justice and authenticity… the search for God.” (ECyD Book, 1st Step, III. The Adolescent´s Purpose in the World)
Click here for a review of the ECyD Book, and where to get it.
Please Share this Post!
If you liked this post, please “like” it and “share” it with any youth ministers, priests, parents or other contacts you know. Help me get the word out!
Also make sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Email, for more ideas and daily reflections. Thank you!
If you liked this article, you might also like: