American organizations are facing a leadership succession crisis. Statistics clearly show that current leaders are not properly preparing the next generation to take their place. The resulting leadership vacuum is diminishing America’s social stability and influence in the world.1
The new generation of students is unprepared to receive the mantle of leadership. The mechanisms for transmitting values and worldview to the next generation are breaking down. This is the most under-parented, at-risk generation in American history: tonight, more than one-third of American youth will go to bed in a home where their biological father is not present.2 The National Research Council has stated that “one out of every four adolescents in the U.S. is currently at serious risk of not achieving productive adulthood.”3
This crisis is hitting the Christian community of faith. Christian families, churches and schools are all struggling to transfer values and worldview to the next generation. Studies show that up to 70% of self-identified Christian young people stop attending church in their twenties.4
The emerging generation is not receiving the life-on-life mentoring it craves. Kara Powell and her colleagues at Fuller Theological Seminary asked college freshman about their high school youth group experience and found that “Safe to talk to adults about doubts and questions” and “Adults take time to really listen” ranked at the bottom of the benefits their youth group provided. Yet three of the top five changes they desired for their youth group were time for deep conversations, accountability, and one-on-one time with leaders.5
Evidence is confirming that values and worldview can be transmitted reliably only in the context of life-on-life mentoring and community. Stephen Garber, author of Fabric of Faithfulness, based on his experience working with young Christian leaders, says that young adults who remain spiritually strong as they emerge into adulthood typically have caring mentors who demonstrate that it is possible to successfully live out a biblical worldview, and are involved in a vibrant community of people who share their values and life experiences and commit to living godly lives.
Protestant Christian schools are particularly effective in providing this kind of vibrant community in a way that makes a long-term difference. Jeremy Uecker has found that students who attended Protestant schools are significantly more likely than public or Catholic school students to attend religious services, participate in special religious activities, pray frequently, value their spiritual life, and incorporate their faith into daily decisions.6
1. Ram Charan, “Ending the CEO Succession Crisis, Harvard Business Review, February 2005, p. 1; Ephraim Schwartz, InfoWorld, March 6, 2006, p. 12; Christopher Conte, “Expert Exodus,” Governing, February 2006; Mary Grayson, Hospitals & Health Networks, November 2005, p. 6; Jennifer J Salopek, Training and Development, June 2005, p. 23; “Only Half of Protestant Pastors Have a Biblical Worldview,’ January 12, 2004. www.barna.org; George Barna, Transforming Children into Spiritual Champions (Ventura, CA: Regal Books, 2003), p. 125.
2. Wade F. Horn and Tom Sylvester, Father Facts, 4th ed. (Gaithersburg, MD: National Fatherhood Initiative, 2002), p. 15. Quoted in Walt Mueller, Youth Culture 101 (El Cajon, CA: Youth Specialties, 2007), p. 45.
3. The Commission on Children at Risk, Hardwired to Connect: The New Scientific Case for Authoritative Communities (New York: Institute for American Values, 2003), p. 8.
4. Gary Railsback, Dean of the School of Education, Point Loma Nazarene University, “An investigation of the faith commitment of Evangelical college students at secular and Evangelical colleges.” Paper provided to Passing the Baton International by the author; “LifeWay Research Uncovers Reasons 18 to 22 Year Olds Drop Out of Church”: http://www.lifeway.com/lwc/article_main_page/0,1703,A=165949&M=200906,00.html.
5. Kara Powell, Cheryl A. Crawford, and Cameron Lee, “High School Youth Group Seniors Transitioning to College: Risk Behavior, Social Support, Religiosity, and Attitude Toward Youth Group,” Christian Education Journal, Series 3, Vol. 5, No. 1, pp. 47–59.
6. Jeremy Uecker, “Catholic Schooling, Protestant Schooling, and Religious Commitment in Young Adulthood,” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, Vol. 48, No. 2, pp. 353–367.
As teachers become more skilled at mentoring, they develop a new approach to their students that mixes high expectations of success with an attitude of warmth, caring, support, and acceptance. These relational skills are overwhelmingly related to student success:
1–4. Andrew J. Martin and Martin Dowson (2009), “Interpersonal Relationships, Motivation, Engagement, and Achievement: Yields for Theory, Current Issues and Educational Practice,” Review of Educational Research, Vol. 79, No. 1, pp. 344.
5. Kathryn R. Wentzel (1999), “Social-Motivational Processes and interpersonal Relationships: Implications for Understanding Motivation at School,” Journal of Educational Psychology, Vol. 91, No. 1, pp. 76–97.
6. Andrew J. Martin, Herbert W. Marsh, Dennis M. McInerney, Jasmine Green, and Martin Dowson (2007), “Getting Along with Teachers and Parents: The Yields of Good Relationships for Students’ Achievement Motivation and Self-Esteem,” Australian Journal of Guidance and Counseling, Vol. 17, No. 2, pp. 109–125.
7. Barbara Fresko and Cheruta Wertheim (2006), “Learning by Mentoring: Prospective Teachers as Mentors to Children at Risk,” Mentoring and Tutoring, Vol. 14, No. 2, pp. 149–161.
8. Keith A. King, Rebecca A. Vidourek, Beth Davis, and Warren McClellan (2002), “Increasing Self-Esteem and School Connectedness through a Multidimensional Mentoring Program,” Journal of School Health, Vol. 72, No. 7, pp. 294–299; Rachel C. Vreeman and Aaron E. Carroll (2007), “A Systematic Review of School-Based Interventions to Prevent Bullying,” Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, Vol. 161, p, 86.
Resilience is a buzzword in education today for good reason. It speaks of positive adjustment in spite of risk conditions — which is something we’d like to see for all of our students, no question. So what does resilience have to do with mentoring? A lot, it turns out! Here’s the bottom line even according to the secular literature (with quotes from Resilience and Vulnerability: Adaptation in the context of childhood adversities, edited by Suniya S. Luthar).
Relationship with adults is the biggest single factor in childhood resilience. “In a day and age when societal risks are many and resources limited, many are invested in understanding what most effectively promotes resilient adaptation among children facing major life adversities. Clearly, resilience is a dynamic process […]. At the same time, there are some fundamental components that extend across adversities and stages. The many decades of stellar empirical research encompassed in this book indicate that in large measure, resilient adaptation rests on good relationships. From the earliest pioneering studies for Norman Garmezy and Emmy Werner to more contemporaneous ones, investigators have consistently pointed to the critical importance of strong connections with at least one supportive adult […].” (p. 544)
Although relationships with primary caregivers are of central importance, significant relationships outside the family are still critical. “Of equal value are support systems for the children, especially teachers at schools or informal mentors in communities. With enough contact and continuity over time, these relationships can compensate for difficult family situations.” (p. 545)
Resilient adaptation rests much more on a child’s environment of support than on a child’s own personal attributes (such as high coping skills). “At the same time, several authors note that all things considered, children’s own characteristics are likely to be less influential than aspects of the environment in promoting and sustaining resilience […].” (p. 530)
The quality of these relationships is significant — they need to be warm, empathetic, and natural relationships sustained over time (as long as is feasible). “The value of soliciting students’ opinions is evident in the fact that (like the rest of us) they are more likely to engage with, and disclose to, self-identified preferred mentors (Lindsey & Kalafat, 1998) rather than adults to whom they are compulsorily assigned. […] Such informal school-based support systems could be particularly helpful in maximizing the wellness of at-risk junior high and high school students.” (p. 537)
Emotional support — offered in the context of relationship — is absolutely key if the next generation is to thrive. “If the next generation of youth is to manifest high resilience — to become psychological healthy adults and productive, responsible, contributing members of society — it is clear that they must receive emotional sustenance and support.” (p. 545)
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