Redefining the Sanctuary

A few years ago I visited a friend of mine in his new church.  He took pride as he showed me the newly constructed building and informed me of some of the work they were doing.  He then showed me a basketball court in their parking lot, and the pavement was faded as it was apparent the court got a lot of use.  My friend told me that the court was often filled with neighborhood youth and that one of the things that lead him to this particular church was the presence of these youth and that the mission field was right at their door.  As we turned to go back inside, my friend informed me that the door we were walking through acted as a “barrier,” as the youth rarely came through the door unless they had to go to the bathroom.  He longed for them to come in and be a part of their congregation, but there seemed to be little interest.  As I looked at my friend I told him I thought I knew what the problem was… he was looking at the basketball court as the mission field instead of viewing it as the sanctuary!


In Philadelphia we run a flag football ministry for urban youth ages 13-18.  Of our 250 youth only 32% attend church on a regular basis.  Yet something amazing happens each week on our field… youth memorize a verse before being able to play and after each game the youth circle up as a prayer is lifted up. Our youth are “unchurched” kids, and yet when you ask them what they like about the league they say things like… it’s a family, it’s a safe place off the streets, it’s a place you learn about God, you learn about the Bible, it’s a place I learned to be a leader, and where I was mentored. 

In Timoteo we are redefining the sanctuary.

Sure we still believe in the Church, as our league currently has 12 churches in partnership to make Timoteo happen, but we spend more time being the Church in real life than trying to talk our youth into conforming to us in our church settings.

Nowhere in Scripture are we told to be a missionary, because the word “missionary” is never used!  Rather God calls us to be a neighbor!  The term “missionary” can carry a lot of negative connotations in the city as it often means ‘a group of white teenagers coming in to do puppet shows and VBS’.  On the other hand, we are all called to be neighbors.  A neighbor is the call to walk as Jesus walked in real life, even in the ghettos of our world. No matter the context (overseas, urban or suburban), a neighbor represents the incarnate Jesus and we are called to show those living in the world a different way.


The football field as a sanctuary is a new concept for some, but for hundreds of youth in Philadelphia it is making sense.  The last 13 years we have seen lives changed, and leaders immerge.  The four pillars of Timoteo are: Jesus, Excellence, Empowerment, and Partnership.  It is ultimately Jesus, and His Kingdom values, that drives us to produce an excellent product for the youth in our community, as well as calls for excellence in our youth.

It is Jesus that has modeled for us a way of empowerment through mentoring and discipleship as we partner with people in our community to make a difference.





Chris Lahr has been with Timoteo since 2008. He oversees the overall organization of the league each season and coaches the BGA Panthers. Chris grew up in Indiana, but has lived in Philly since 2000 with his wife and three daughters. Chris received his Bachelors Degree at Eastern University and his Masters of Divinity at Asbury Theological Seminary.


Re-Imagining Mentoring: Some Final Thoughts

Throughout our conversations this month on “Re-Imagining Mentoring,” I have noticed a theme of authenticity and intentionality.

Authenticity in that our youth desire truth-tellers in their lives. They long for real-ness and companionship. In this digital age, they want people who they can count on, who will show up, and are committed companions sharing heart and soul with. But often the intensive, formalized match-making relationships that are programmed can often fall short of an authentic connection and often feels a bit more forced than what mentor or mentee would desire.

Intentionality in that we recognize that organic authentic relationships often do not happen spontaneously.  There needs to be effort without it feeling pushed. There needs to be thought and care taken to creating spaces for youth and young adults to process life with other significant adults in their life. Striking a cord between program and organic flow seems to be the million dollar question.

So what have we learned this month?

Like I said during the webinar with Michele Hershberger, as much as I would love to create a new Anabaptist mentoring model that can be packaged, replicated, and guaranteed to work, I simply cannot.  And I believe that an attempt to try to do so could be disastrous.  Ministry is always contextual.  The unique relationships that are in your church, the setting of your congregation, and the specific needs of your youth are going to be very different than mine.

So where does this leave us?

I can’t offer a pre-packaged program, but what I can offer are hunches, are guideposts that seem to resonate with those other youth and young adult ministers I’ve encountered as I have listened to their mentoring quandaries.

It seems to me that it is less about the program that is presented, and much more about the persona of those mentoring. The role of a mentor (whether this form comes in a one-on-one relationship or small group format…research is now showing that a small group format might actually make a greater impact than an individual one) is not to take a posture of “spiritual sage” and spiritual authority helping the youth answer the question, “What am I to believe?” but to accompany them as they search for insight and affirm their process, gently questioning, offering suggestions, and believing in them and in the God that already loves them. Our role as mentors is to affirm again and again that they belong, that they matter, and their lives make a difference in us, our church, and in the world.  As mentors, we need to be willing to also be willing to learn from our youth, to believe that God has the capability to speak to us through them and that have much to gain from these friendships. Or as Michele says, be willing to have a conversion experience ourselves.

But above all else, the more that our congregations as a whole can be intentional about multi-generational mingling, the better.  Programs sometimes work, but relationships always do. The more we, as formers of faith can invite our churches to see that we are all responsible for one another, the better we will be able to share and translate our faith with the next generation.

For as we show up again and again for one another–as we genuinely live into each other’s lives–we experience God in new ways and surprise (!) we find that  our own faith grows.

So mentoring–maybe then is just as much for us,

as it is for our youth.

Rachel Gerber

Rachel S. Gerber is the denominational minister for youth and young adults for Mennonite Church USA, and editor of The Gathering Place website.

The New Model of Mentoring: Creating Space for Mutual Learning

When I started as a youth pastor 16 years ago, an interesting thing happened. My title changed. I went from being a teacher and coach to a pastor. And, with the “title change,” a change of expectations. A pastor is supposed to talk about God and to accompany others on their faith journeys! But, wait a minute. I’m confused. Isn’t that what all members of the church are supposed to do? Aren’t we all supposed to accompany one another on our faith journeys? Aren’t we all called to be mentors?

We might argue that at baptism some of us still need mentors, we aren’t ready to jump into that role for someone else. I have heard it said that those who are “young” in their faith need to be nurtured because they “don’t have all the answers.” Yet, as a teacher, I learned that the best way for a student to actually “learn” the material is to teach it to someone else. So, I would argue that we all have something to offer and that we all need mentors and all need to be mentored. A mentoring relationship should be reciprocating and transformative. No one has all of the answers!

At Eastern Mennonite University, I work with about 30 student ministry leaders each year. We have established a system where each of us is actively mentoring others and each is being mentored at the same time. Each of us (and I include myself in this), has voluntarily entered into this system of mentoring. It seems to work better that way, allowing people to opt into a structure of mutual accountability.


I challenge this group of students to listen for and talk about the important things, the stuff that scratches below the surface, to enter into the difficult conversations that engage the messiness of life. I encourage them to pay attention to the opportunities they have to embrace and wrestle with the “sacred” that emerges out of the ordinary. To really listen to what people are saying (and not saying) and engage it so that we can all grow in our relationship with God and others. In an age where it is difficult to “critique” one another and where we all want to be “OK,” it is important that we continue to challenge one another to not be complacent.

It is important to model a living faith, where relationships are genuine and vulnerable, where we aren’t afraid to reveal our imperfections, questions, doubts and fears. We know youth and young adults are attracted to people and experiences that are authentic, open, honest, vulnerable and trustworthy.


So, what would a “new” model for mentoring look like?

Maybe a “new” model would be one where everyone in the church was dedicated to mentoring, both giving and receiving. Where mentoring happens more spontaneously and organically because we are all being intentional about creating space for the “sacred conversations” to happen. Where we foster and nurture an environment that pays attention to others in our community and listens for invitations to walk more purposefully with each other, to delve deeper into the unresolved spaces of each other’s lives. So that, together, we might build one another up and be witnesses of a living Jesus to one another and our world.


Lana Miller is the Undergraduate Campus Pastor at Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg, VA.  She began her career in the field of education as a high school biology and chemistry teacher and since then has been a youth pastor, curriculum writer, teacher in spiritual formation and youth ministry, convention planner for Mennonite Church USA, and regional representative for Mennonite Central Committee in Southeast Asia. Her journey has led her to encounter many experiences, people and places, but her heart remains in Christian spiritual formation, being a nurturing pastoral presence for those discerning how to embody their faith.

Mentoring: It’s All About Relationships

Tig1This summer, the bench pictured in the photo went up on our campus, at the top of a grassy hill located just across from the building in which my office is located. The slats on the bench spell out the phrase,

“It’s all about relationships”

This motto was the mantra and modus operandi of a former dean of students here at Bluffton, Don Schweingruber.

Our new bench couldn’t have shown up at a better time.

We have just begun a process of exploring more intentionally what faith mentoring looks like in our campus community at Bluffton University.   The bench reminds us that building relationships is at the heart of all of the programs and activities that are part of our community life on campus.

In the spring of 2014, a faith mentoring survey that was developed by Goshen College’s Campus Pastor, Bob Yoder, was taken on several of our Mennonite colleges and universities, including Bluffton.   The results revealed that overall our students desire that faculty and staff serve as faith mentors who provide students with models and guidance in their faith journeys. Likewise, the results revealed that faculty and staff are open to embracing the role as faith mentors to students but would like to have more ideas for how to nurture mentoring relationships with students.

These results make good sense to me, especially due to the culture in which we currently live.   North America today is an increasingly secular culture where the Church and positive public role models of our faith are more on the margins than in the past. It’s a culture where relationships are increasingly developed and sustained through social media instead of through face-to-face contact. And it’s a pluralistic culture where so many different philosophies of life are presented as equally valid and fulfilling.

In such a culture, it’s not surprising that there is a longing for personal, meaningful relationships as a vehicle for nurturing and passing on a faith that is authentic, relevant to current realities, and which provides hope for the future. I would guess that this is not only true on a college campus, but also in churches and other faith communities as well.

I know that some churches have specific mentoring programs where youth are paired up with adult mentors. I have seen how these programs can be fruitful. I also believe that we can intentionally work at increasing opportunities for informal mentoring to take place.

As we create more opportunities for intergenerational interaction, whether that is through service projects, outings, retreats, teaching a skill or trade, or sharing meals around a table, friendships will be formed and faith will be both taught and caught.

Here are some qualities that I have experienced in relationships that create fertile soil for faith mentoring to take place…

Listening: Be a good listener who takes a genuine interest in others. Remember the words of St. Francis of Assisi- “seek first to understand, then to be understood.”

Integrity:   Practice what you preach. Be the same person wherever you are, and whoever you are with. Don’t play favorites, and affirm the value and potential of each person.

Vulnerability: Be willing to share openly about your faith journey- your successes as well as failures, your gifts as well as your growing edges, your convictions as well as your questions.

Trust: Be someone who keeps confidences and follows through with what you say you will do.

At its core, mentoring is all about relationships—friendships that cultivate the above qualities across generations and in a variety of settings. At different times in our lives, may our relationships reflect what the Apostle Paul said to his mentee, Timothy:

Continue following the teachings you learned. You know they are true, because you trust those who taught you. (2 Tim. 3:14, NCV)



Stephen “Tig” Intagliata, Campus Pastor, Bluffton University



Intergenerational, Intentional Discipling–a webinar with Michele Hershberger

If the mentoring program in your congregation isn’t working real great, and you feel stuck…

you don’t want to miss this webinar by Michele Hershberger.

I think that its’ pretty safe to say that we all agree with the fact that youth who have significant relationships with adults in their life have a greater chance of staying connected with church and matters of faith.  However, with our best intentions, we have created mentoring “programs” often pairing up a youth with one adult to build a friendship.  For many reasons, these match-making adventures can often feel inauthentic, forced, and maybe even coerced.

Yet we also know that one of the top things youth desire in regards to matters of faith is to have authentic relationships.  See the quandary?

So what are we to do?  How do we get the intentionality of a mentoring relationship without the inauthenticity?

In this webinar, Michele, along with her Exploring Ministry Class at Hesston College, explores three ways to work at this:

  1. Go covert
  2. Engage in mutual, authentic relationships where both adults and youth are giving and receiving (triads)
  3. Preach and teach about this from the pulpit

Here are some resources/post that Michele highlighted in the webinar:

Revisiting Relational Youth Ministry by Andrew Root

Family Based Youth Ministry by Mark DeVries

The Godbearing Life by Kenda Creasy Dean and Ron Foster

Sticky Faith by Kara Powell and Chap Clark

Daniel Yoder blog post on The Gathering Place, “Mentoring: To Program or Not to Program…”

Did you find this conversation helpful and/or inspiring?  We are going LIVE (!) at Youth Ministry Council: The Gathering 2016, January 29-February 1, 2016 in Orlando, FL to talk about more sticky youth ministry situations and how to think theologically through them.  Registration is now open!


Mentoring: To Program Or Not To Program…

It is Sunday morning worship.

Together, we have sung, prayed and listened, and now a pastor invites a young adolescent, their parents, and another adult up to the front. We are commissioning a new mentoring relationship. The mentee and mentor are introduced to the congregation, they get some gifts to celebrate this occasion and we pray for them.

cmc mentorin

As they go back to sit down everyone else in the congregation smiles, thankful that this youth and adult are part of our congregation, thankful that someone else is responsible for that youth, and thankful that they didn’t get asked to be a mentor. The internal monologue:

“I can’t relate to youth, I’m sure glad she can.”

“I hated junior high, I was a mess. I can’t mentor anyone through that.”

“I barely have time to eat a meal with my own family; I’m not going to add one more to the list of people I am shortchanging.”

“I have no idea what kids these days like.”

“A six year commitment to one youth! I don’t know if I’ll even be part of this congregation in six years.”

How did I imagine this internal monologue? Ask any pastor or mentor coordinator who has tried to pair up mentors and mentees. This is the classic list of reasons people say no to being a mentor, even when a youth chooses them. It’s amazing that anyone ever says yes to mentoring.

Mentoring is a wonderful concept with great biblical examples and sociological and psychological research to back it up. Jesus did it. I’m not knocking it. We all need mentors and guides in life. The more the better. But as I think about my “successful mentoring relationships,” whether mentor or mentee, none of them have been formalized relationships. As I talk with youth, I realize my experience is common.

Many congregations have mentoring programs that have served them well. For some congregations, mentoring is a critical piece of faith formation and connection for all the youth and adults involved in the program. If that is your experience, I want to learn from you. But I don’t think these formalized relationships will be as effective in cultures that use words like “network,” “organic,” and “sustainable.” The church will be better if “program” (the magical ministry term of the 90’s) is removed from the concept of mentoring. (And please don’t replace it with the current magical ministry term “missional.”)

What I’m advocating for is a church that is not segregated by age groups. When we interact with each other, mentoring can happen naturally across the ages, not just from old to young. Take the initiative to get to know people in the church that you might not interact with in your normal church circles. Don’t wait to be asked, or for someone to organize an event or program to help you do this. Here are some suggested starting points:


  • Help your children cultivate relationships with many different adults.
  • Stay connected with past Sunday school teachers.
  • If you don’t have family in the church (or even if you do), adopt some grandparents, aunts, and uncles for your children.
  • When you see your child connect with another church member, talk about that and affirm it. Thank the adult or youth for the connection. Help it happen again.
  • Youth:
  • Ask your parents to invite someone that you admire over for meal.
  • Talk to your friends about the adults that they look up to.
  • Take the initiative. If there is an adult you feel connected to, admire, or has a job you might want to have one day, ask them to meet with you.
  • Be a mentor. Give time to children in your congregation and take seriously your role as someone they look up to.


  • Adopt a family in the church that you are not related to.
    • Pay attention to them and their needs.
    • Sit with them in church occasionally.
  • During children’s time, or when the children are out in the hallway, look for the child that acts like you did as a kid, and go introduce yourself.
  • Tell children and youth how you see God at work in them.
  • For the safety of the child and yourself, make all of your contacts in public until the parents tell you that they trust you enough to spend time with their child. As we get more comfortable sharing our faith within the church forming a network of mentoring relationships, this will begin to spill out into the community. And we might find ourselves “mentoring” people into faith who would have never come to church. If you are looking for a name for this I guess you could call it “missional mentoring” but only because it fits the culture of 2015. We will need to reimagine mentoring and give it a new name in 2025.



Daniel Yoder is a Pastor of Christian Formation at College Mennonite Church in Goshen, Indiana. He is a graduate of Hesston College and Tabor College and is currently a student at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary. He and his wife Talashia live in the southern “suburbs” of Goshen where they are raising their 2 boys, 14 chickens, and 12 different kinds of fruit.

October–Holy Companioning

“This engaging, accessible book offers practical guidance for those ministers–lay and ordained–who mentor adolescents and young adults in their quest for a deeper intimacy with God.”

~Margaret Guenther, author of Holy Listening:  The Art of Spiritual Direction

mentoring book

This month I am thrilled to read and discuss this insightful book called, Hungry Souls, Holy Companions:  Mentoring a New Generation of Christians by Patricia Hendricks.  If you care about youth in your congregations…if you want to experience more vitality in your mentoring and youth ministry, we need to read this book together.  Here’s what it’s about:

“Studies show that 96% of the Millennial Generation believe in God–but half of them rarely or never attend church.

Young people are hungering for spiritual connections–but traditional church and Sunday school no longer draw them in.  In every denomination, those involved in the religious formation of youth are seeking ways to make Christian faith part of the lives of the new generation.  Here in Hungry Souls, Holy Companions, youth leaders, pastors, parents, and others will find a smorgasbord of ideas, stories, and practical suggestions on how to be spiritual companions to young people, sharing the richness of their faith while riding along on the awesome and often surprising journeys of those in their spiritual care.”

Ummm…yes.  This is going to be good.

Be here.

 Friday, October 23, 11am EST (sign up to save your spot)

October: Re-Thinking Mentoring



I think it is a pretty safe to say that the number one question I receive revolves around the theme of


People want resources.  They want ideas.  They want to engage and include their youth. They want to invest in the lives of their youth and see them grow and flourish.  They want to walk with their youth as they seek meaning in life and claim their own faith.

These are all good, amazing, desires…I want this for my youth (and children!) as well… but these questions seem to be pointing to a deeper, more systemic question.

Mentoring, how we’ve been engaging it in the past, doesn’t seem to be working anymore.

Or in the least, very well.

The pseudo arranged marriage/mentoring relationship sounds like a great idea.  On paper. Linking one adult with one youth over the course of 4+ years to build a beautiful friendship and trust truly does sound like a wonderful thing.  And it absolutely can be.

When it works.

But getting youth to invest time, energy, and space in their lives for a one-on-one relationship is hard.  They desire connection and investment in their lives, but connecting with another adult that they may or may not know very well can seem overwhelming, and maybe even embarrassing. Can’t they just hang out with their friends?

Finding adult mentors to invest is just (if not more so) difficult.  There are always excuses ranging from limited time, energy, knowledge.  But if we are also honest, can also seem just plain intimidating.

Yet research shows that optimum support for durable faith (faith lasting into and through adulthood) that our youth need at least 5 significant relationships with adults that speak into their lives.  That are constant.  That show up.  That know them. That see them.  That listen to them.  That tell them they matter to them, and to God.

So this is not to say that mentoring is not important.  It is wildly so.

So what do we do–if our current models don’t seem to work (or are working with limited success) but research shows that there is still great value in a mentoring relationship(s)?

There must be another way.

What new models of mentoring are working?  How might we engage our youth in ways that continue to build these important relationships in ways that build faith and encourage both our youth and adults?

This, my friends, is what we are going to talk about this month.    Let’s talk with one another and glean wisdom from each other about this process.  Let’s be present together and share our questions and listen deeply to one another as we engage this topic.  Let us allow ourselves to be mentored and offer mentoring to one another this month.  Here are some ways to connect:

  1.  Read our weekly BLOG POSTS on mentoring (we have some amazing nuggets of wisdom and stories of new models this month)!daniel
  2.  Sign up for the Think Tank Thursday conversation with Scott Roth (Thursday, October 8th from 1-2pm EST) on the topic of mentoring youth to find purpose and meaning in life.  Scott is amazing at engaging kids in his community, developing leaders, and building faith. Read more about Scott here.3t-01-01
  3. Join in the webinar with MICHELE HERSHBERGER, Hesston College, titled, “Intergenerational, Intentional Discipling,”  Michele has mentored thousands of youth and young adults over the years to consider their faith and is now experimenting with some new models.  You don’t want to miss it! Sign up: Thursday, October 15, 11am-12pm EST.michele_hershberger
  4. Our Study Circle (aka virtual book club) will be reading an amazing resource called, Hungry Souls, Holy Companions:  Mentoring a New Generation of Christians this month by Patricia Hendricks (Morehouse Publishing, 2006). Sign up to join the conversation on Friday, October 23rd 11am-12pm EST.mentoring book
  5. Learning Circles are a great way of informally sharing with one another and processing the month’s ideas.  Especially if you don’t have a local ministerial group to connect with, let The Gathering Place community be your colleagues to debrief with.  Sign up for the learning circle convo, Friday, October 30, 11am-12pm EST.lightstock_73266_small_tim_


Are you looking for additional resources on mentoring?  The AFFN (Anabaptist Faith Formation Network) is your resource center!  They have some good stuff to get you started as you consider what mentoring model(s) will work best for your congregation.

I look forward to gathering with you this month! And as always, please subscribe to The Gathering Place so you can stay informed about the latest happenings and conversations!

Rachel Gerber

Rachel S. Gerber, Denominational Minister of Youth & Young Adults for Mennonite Church USA