Mentoring the Safe Way
By Marlene Bogard, Dove's Nest Speaker's Bureau Member and Executive Director of Mennonite Women USA
Congregational mentoring programs are designed to nurture a spiritual friendship—one youth to one adult. How does the mentoring relationship fit with some of the procedures that Dove’s Nest suggests?
The “rule” that two adults be present at every event where there is youth or children's ministry may frustrate mentors as they plan times with their mentee.
Also in question may be conversations or counseling within the mentor/mentee relationship conducted in isolation.
At first glance, it may seem that the mentoring ministry of a congregation is not appropriate, because often the mentor pair is alone. Yet we would all agree that healthy intimacy, spiritual conversations, and trust are a big part of youth ministry and nurturing faith for youth and adults.
Here are some ideas that will reduce the risk of both accusations and abuse:
1. Host mentor/mentee gatherings in groups. All mentor pairs are invited to a time at the church or some other public setting where they will engage together in group activities. While there, they could break into pairs for discussion, sharing, and prayer.
2. Keep parents in the loop when you are with your mentee. Make sure the parents are informed about pick-up and drop-off times, where you will be going, and how you will get there. If you are running late on the way home, you or the youth should alert the parents through a call. Some churches require mentors to keep a log of the activities they do with their mentees that includes where they went, what they did, and for how long. Don't consider the phrase “it is better to ask forgiveness than permission” with regards to informing parents.
3. Be at “public places” with your mentee. Avoid places where you are isolated. Overnight outings with just the two of you are off limits. Public places include concerts, museums, fairs, sporting events, shopping, and parks in daylight.
4. If your mentee comes to your home, another adult should be present, such as a spouse or friend. Keep your conversations and activities in full view of other family members, and do not sequester yourself in a family room and close the door.
5. Mentors—just like youth pastors and youth sponsors—should undergo training on appropriate language, boundaries, and touch issues. Those educated on these issues understand the risk factors and will make better decisions about what is appropriate. Dove’s Nest is available to provide training and resources.
6. Consider your own motivation for being a mentor. Make sure you have the mentees best interests in mind and design your time together for healthy interaction.Remember, these guidelines do not intent to sabotage or shut down effective ministry. The goal is to keep relationships healthy, encourage appropriate boundary management, protect church workers from accusations, and protect the children and youth from possible misconduct and abuse. After all—it is common sense!