Reverse Mentoring

by ERICA BLEVINS NYE, Young Adult Ministries

I stood behind the pulpit at a campground tabernacle. My aim: express the significance of genuine relationships to our Community of Christ mission.

“Older members,” I encouraged, “don’t hesitate to reach out to young adults. Though they may appear disinterested or hard to relate to, I assure you, they have similar fears of approaching open relationships with you. We’re simply people, too. Vulnerably investing in relationship is scary for everyone. But this is our call to community.”

Then I turned toward the handful of young adults in the back row.

“And young adults, you have the same call. Be sensitive to older members when they reach out to you. Be gentle and receive them openly, as you would have them treat you.”

I looked up and discovered one young adult was looking back at me. One. The others were gazing into the glow of their cell phones. I felt myself sink into self-doubt. How could young adults risk relationships with others if they weren’t willing to climb out of cyberspace when I was preaching to them? It felt like I had hit a big wall.

I’ve met many folks from older generations who are peering at the same wall. They hesitate to befriend young adults and accept them into congregational leadership. It’s a steep, dangerous, and tiring climb that risks change and rejection.

After my not-so-compelling sermon, I approached the text-messaging young adults. “Did it make any sense? Was I way off?” I asked. “I felt insecure when you weren’t looking at me.”

“Oh yes, I was right with you! You’re right on.” They were listening. But all the while they were linked into the Internet! This generation relates to people in a new way. I have something to learn about maintaining relationships electronically. And I suppose they have something to learn about engaging with people in person.

Talking was the first step.

Overcoming the generational divide is intimidating, but there is hope. Intergenerational relationships can be doors into mission, rather than walls. Reverse mentoring explores this possibility.

It develops relationships between younger and older people, recognizing all will learn. Older adults commit to approach young adults, vulnerably ask questions, listen earnestly, and learn.

In return, older generations offer young adults spiritual maturity and ministry experience. They can help young adults recognize their potential for new ministry.

Young adults are a gateway to the mission field. Approaching relationships and mission as partners with them is the only way for us to fully share the peace of Jesus Christ.

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