Virginia L. Smith, PhD, is the director of Children's Ministry Department of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

Every young person in the church needs interested attention from adults other than parents in order to feel an integral part of the church family. In addition, young members need to be involved in the ministry of their church. If they are not involved, they lose interest. They want a mission, not entertainment. An ideal way to make this happen is to pair them up with leaders in actually doing the work of the church. School age and teenage members are prime candidates.

Two terms being used today for this type of practical work experience are discipling and mentoring. Jesus showed what discipling means. Webster says a mentor is a friend who is also a counselor, teacher, or instructor. The friendship and the education are equally important. Why should we mentor young members?

1. Future leaders are trained and equipped by present participation rather than bench warming.
2. Young members identify and develop their unique spiritual gifts as they join you in using yours.
3. Mentorship programs socialize the young to feel like church members instead of future members. They take ownership in the congregation and its programs, bonding with both their mentors and the church itself.


When Moses began his spiritual leadership experience, God asked him, "What do you have in your hand?" God used the resources Moses already had available to help him in activities he was already familiar with. As you start your mentorship program, evaluate what is in your hand. Don't start something new. Take your young disciples with you in the ministries you are already active in.

In New Market, Virginia, a group of brand-new mentors were assigned young disciples for a nine week period. Almost all of the mentors were ordained elders.

Here is what five of the pairs did:

  • Pair No. 1 was Tim and Jonathan. Tim included Jonathan in Bible studies with several academy students as they were preparing for baptism. They also visited and prayed with hospitalized members and learned a lot about how the church and school ran by sitting in on church board and school board meetings.
  • Pair No. 2 was Gloria and Kathryn. They made craft items for the homebound, then visited them with their gifts and had worship with them. Kathryn made several new adult friends and visited them again later, without Gloria. She learned to be comfortable presenting simple worship talks and praying in front of others.
  • Pair No. 3 was Edith and Andrea. They visited patients receiving nursing care at home, presenting short worships and praying with them. While by themselves, Edith shared her testimony with Andrea and coached Andrea in presenting hers.
  • Pair No. 4 was Helen and Alice, who visited members in local nursing homes. They scheduled regular visits for talking, singing, and praying with each one. Helen coached Alice on public speaking and gave her tips for an effective music ministry. Helen also taught Alice to present health tips in fun and interesting ways. .
  • Pair No. 5 was Sally and Becca. Becca observed and later taught a weekly Sabbath school class for shut-ins on CompuServe. In addition to the disabled regular members, participants who logged on included GIs who weren't able to attend a local church in Germany and Saudi Arabia, insomniacs in Australia and New Zealand, and anesthesiologists on-call in hospitals across the United States. Becca learned to practice "Barnabas" ministry, encouraging members with notes of affirmation and appreciation. She and Sally also practiced "HUR" ministry, praying for and affirming pastoral staff. Becca learned to write and submit articles for publication in denominational journals and has had several published.


In the process of being friends and working together, a mentor follows these four steps:

1. Tell your young disciple what activity you are going to do and how you are going to do it.

2. Show them how it is done. They need to watch you a few times before they are ready to jump in.

3. Give them an opportunity to lead the activity.

4. Debrief after the activity with evaluation and encouragement. Be gentle and positive in your evaluation of their performance; be gracious and humble as they offer evaluation of your performance.

NEVER throw your disciple headfirst into a situation without going through steps 1 and 2 above.


1. Pray, asking God to help you choose a young disciple who will work well with you.

2. Evaluate your spiritual gifts and activities.

3. Invite your chosen disciple to participate with you.

4. Set a regular time to meet.

5. Help your young disciple evaluate his/her spiritual gifts.

6. Together set goals for your mentoring experience.

So what are you waiting for? Pray, choose your disciple, get busy, and don't be afraid to have fun.


In the New Market experience, the only unsuccessful mentoring experiences were those that did not happen. Actually, several of the mentors included their disciples in Sabbath activities and family time unrelated to the program. All of the young participants gave high marks in every category to the mentors who had spent time with them, regardless of the activity. Better yet, all the young disciples have remained good friends with their mentors and have continued developing their gifts after the nine-week program ended. The ripples are still spreading.

NOTE: This same strategy is an ideal method for integrating newly baptized members of any age, and it would prevent the revolving door syndrome and the cracks between the floor boards.