Throughout my life, I’ve had close relationships with caring, non-parent adults who have become guides and mentors to me on my spiritual journey and in different endeavours I’ve pursued. Without teachers, professors, family friends, music instructors, and senior colleagues in ministry and the academy, I wouldn’t be where I am today and I wouldn’t have accomplished all that I’ve done.
In high school, my violin/viola instructor encouraged me to join my city’s orchestra in order to advance my musical skills and gain some experience with a large ensemble. I was the youngest person in the orchestra! In university, professors talked with me over coffee and papers and pushed me to continue my studies at the graduate level. Once I was in my master’s program, other professors saw potential in me and encouraged me to continue my work at the doctoral level.
Thanks to encouraging, caring, and honest non-parent adults (and, of course, my family), I am who I am today. Unfortunately, according to the research of Christian Smith, amost 4 in 10 young people who are involved in congregations in the United States do not have a non-parent adult that they feel they can turn to for advice, support, encouragement, and guidance. And another 3 in 10 only have one or two that they can go to for help. In discussions of children’s and youth ministry and the spiritual formation of young people, the focus is often on pastors and parents. There are some great books out there for what ministers and parents can do to nurture young people’s spirituality and well-being. But what about a book or resource for helping adults become mentors to children and youth who aren’t their their own children? We need to start taking notice of the vital role of non-parent adults in the lives of young people.