Academic journal article Currents in Theology and Mission

Jesus as Mentor: Biblical Reflections for Ministry with Young Adults

Academic journal article Currents in Theology and Mission

Jesus as Mentor: Biblical Reflections for Ministry with Young Adults

Article excerpt

In her acclaimed book on the "twenty-somethings" between the ages of seventeen and thirty, Sharon Parks underscores the critically important role of the mentor, the mentoring environment, and mentoring communities as contexts that nurture the vital growth of young adults toward maturity and wholeness in becoming at home in the world. These mentoring environments serve young adults with a network of belonging that can "offer a powerful milieu and a critical set of gifts in the formation of meaning, purpose, and faith." (1)

Parks intentionally frames her work in the larger context of faith as a human universal that is integral to all human life and related to meaning, trust, and hope (p. 16). Indeed, she ultimately associates faith with the "act of composing and being composed by meaning ... some conviction of what is ultimately true, real, dependable within the largest frame imaginable" (p. 20).

For the Christian tradition, that sense of faith is connected to the activity of God in Jesus Christ. The following reflections connect important insights from Parks about mentoring with mentoring parallels from the canonical Gospels of the New Testament about Jesus of Nazareth as a paradigm for and an encouragement to campus ministers and others in mentoring environments, especially with young adults.

When we look in the New Testament to focus on the model of Jesus, we find that he is already being used as a mentor figure by the Gospel writers for their own communities. Writing at least several generations after the ministry of Jesus, the evangelists Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John intentionally selected episodes and sayings from the life of Jesus and the stories about him in the emerging Christian communities that would serve as mentoring encouragement in each of their contexts as they faced specific threats and challenges to their newfound faith and new relationship with one another. In their narratives, the Jesus we see is a figure whose words and actions are already targeted in special documents for distinctive mentoring environments. Indeed, each of the Gospels as a whole offers a striking illustration of four of the five major functions of a mentor as defined by Parks (pp. 127-33).

Reflection #1 "A Network of Belonging"

A mentoring community is a network of belonging that constitutes a
spacious home for the potential and vulnerability of the young adult
imagination in practical, tangible terms [offering] a sociality that
works (at least well enough) physically, emotionally, intellectually,
and spiritually as the young adult becomes more fully at home in the
universe. (Parks, p. 135)

Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and
we will come to them and make our home with them ... the Advocate, the
Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you
everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. (John 14:23,
26 NRSV)

In the Farewell Discourses of John, chapters 14-16, the Johannine Jesus continues the table conversation of the Last Supper and prepares the disciples for his departure. His reassurance to the disciples underscores that their unclarity and confusion about their future--also present in the trauma of the Johannine community--will be clarified by the work of the Spirit sent by the Father in Jesus' name.

As we work with young adults, particularly those beginning their first year in college, we can reassure them that the confusion and disorientation they are experiencing will lessen as they find their new "home" more comfortable and gain a network of new friends, especially in the supportive environment of a community of faith with those on the same spiritual journey, with the same questions and confusions, and the same Spirit who binds us all together.

Reflection #2 "Big Enough Questions"

Mentoring communities that serve to recompose meaning and faith in the
young adult years are particularly powerful in their capacity to extend
hospitality to big questions. … 
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