Creating a Mentoring Community for Emerging Adults

The three developmental tasks of adulthood are to discover vocation, establish autonomy, and develop community.  These tasks cannot be accomplished overnight, and emerging adults require support to accomplish these tasks.

In her book, Big Questions, Worthy Dreams, Sharon Parks states that one place where emerging adults can find this support is a mentoring community. Parks describes a mentoring community as “an environment or milieu that provides the right mix of support, challenge, opportunity, and inspiration.” (Article)  Mentoring communities can be formed in many social settings including: a classroom, laboratory, athletic team, residence hall, neighborhood or church. Regardless of the form, here is an overview of Park’s list of essential aspects for a mentoring community.

Park’s list of essential aspects for a mentoring community.

1.  Support

When developing a mentoring community, you must create an atmosphere where emerging adults feel supported through words and actions.  Although spiritual direction and encouragement are central to your ministry, your support must go beyond quips and Bible verses.  Your support must be abundantly clear, resulting in tangible acts.  Emerging adults must have their basic human needs met to focus on the developmental tasks of adulthood. (Read more about Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs as it pertains to adulthood.)

2.  Challenge

While providing support, you must also challenge emerging adults.  We must promote questions in order to cause growth and to stir them towards autonomy of beliefs and actions (Raising Expectations on Emerging Adults).  Good questions from mentors include: How is this working for you?, What do you think?, How would you respond?, and How does that apply or affect your life?

3.  Opportunity

Mentoring communities must provide opportunity.  Mentors seek to give meaningful work, training, and service opportunities to emerging adults.  These opportunities provide experiences and sharpen job skills which prepare emerging adults for future vocations.  Within your community, create opportunities where emerging adults can both serve and lead.

4.  Inspiration

Inspiration is essential to a mentoring environment.  Emerging adults must be “invited to imagine a future that can hold significance and purpose – both for self and for the larger world.”  (Article)  Inspiration produces hope, inspires dreams, and sparks motivation.  The living Word of God contains endless passages which can inspire emerging adults.

Each week as your community meets, evaluate whether or not you adding enough of these ingredients to help emerging adults grow and flourish.

If Dr. G. David Boyd can help your church design a community for emerging adults, you can contact him at  If you work with emerging adults (18-25), check out the EA Network.


Big Questions, Worthy Dreams by Sharon Parks

Beyond Mentoring – Marks of a Symbiotic Relationship

Photo Courtesy of Aaron Robert Photography. Copyright 2013.

Last month, I shared how the church needs to think beyond mentoring to engage emerging adults.  Mentoring often gives the impression of an omnidirectional relationship where one person gives and one receives.  Our economic mindset has also set the image of a mentor as one who stands in authority over another, and who serves as a gatekeeper for wealth, knowledge, or fame.

The church needs to go beyond mentoring.  Rather than succumbing to our western society which values independence, the church needs to rediscover its roots in our interdependence.  God created the church to do more than gather together, but to need each other.  One picture used regularly to illustrate the interdependence of the church is the body of Christ (see 1 Cor 12; Rom 12).

Christians should be seeking symbiotic relationships, where each partner benefits from the relationship without assumptions of power, rank, or importance.  A symbiotic relationship is a connection that is for the mutual benefit of each individual.  Here are some marks of symbiotic relationships:

Relational versus Programmatic

Photo Courtesy of Aaron Robert Photography. Copyright 2014.

We were designed by God to be in relationships with others.  Church leadership needs to manage less programs, and become more relationally perceptive.  Shepherds need to see who within our community would naturally connect in symbiotic relationships.

In nature, symbiotic relationships develop because both animals see the need, and are drawn by the natural benefits of the relationship.  Those seeking relationships must ask, “Who has God placed near me?” and “Who am I naturally drawn towards?”

Authentic versus Staged

In typical mentorships, the mentor must come with the gathering staged or set.  Whether it is a set list of questions, a specific topic, or even to allow the meeting unplanned, the mentor feels responsible for setting the stage.  When this responsibility is laid solely upon one member, it can lead to a lack of authenticity.

Symbiotic relationships still require intentionality, but the responsibility is shared.  Intentionality turns hanging out with a friend into building spiritual intimacy.  Someone must lead the discussion towards our faith, and then allow the Holy Spirit to steer the time towards sacred space.

Learning versus Teaching

In symbiotic relationships, participants approach the relationship saying, “What can I learn?”  Teaching is the natural outflow of two different parts of the Body of Christ working together, occurring without a lesson plan as the Spirit speaks through His word, the conversation, and sharing life.

Purpose-giving versus Purpose-driven

Rarely do people want to be someone else’s purpose-driven spiritual project.  Unfortunately, sometimes mentors believe that they know exactly what their partner needs.   (For instance, “I need to show them…”, or “They need to learn…”).  One individual controls the relationship rather than letting God work freely.  God always set the agenda of symbiotic relationship.

Symbiotic relationships provide personal significance.  Our motivation for the relationship is not because I am supposed to do it, but because I see how my life matters to another person.  As we walk away from a symbiotic relationship, both people are thinking, “Wow, I needed that.”

Many people who use the term “mentor” have already moved beyond the stereotypical and possibly unhealthy uses of the role.  Regardless of the term you use, as a member of the Body of Christ, seek interdependent relationships.

david in hat - blackDr. G. David Boyd is the Founder and Managing Director of Emerging Adult Resources.  He resides in Apple Valley, MN with his wife Rachel and three boys.  If you would like to contact him, you can reach him at

Shaping the Journey of Emerging Adults

During my seminary years, I took a class on discipleship.  I enjoyed our teacher.  I enjoyed the class.  I did not enjoy the final class project.  We were supposed to design an image and curriculum that conveyed our plan of discipleship.

I hated it.  Going through the hoops, I sketched out some baseball diamond shape, but I would never have used it (partially because I cannot imagine celebrating “second base” with a disciple).  As modernism invaded our seminaries, students and professors planned and objectified everything about the faith – including disciple-making.

Discipleship cannot be summed up in a curriculum, or Jesus could have simply written a textbook.

shaping the journey of emerging adultsShaping the Journey of Emerging Adults: Life-Giving Rhythms for Spiritual Transformation by Richard Dunn and Jana Sundene was published by Intervarsity in 2012.  This book steps towards removing the modernistic perspective by inspiring the church to build intergenerational relationships for the cause of the Kingdom.  Along with the authors, I believe, “Fully mature spiritual adulthood cannot be reached without intentional relationships that invest Christ’s grace, truth, and love into the young adult’s life.”  (Dunn, 16)

I appreciate their understanding of the challenges facing emerging adults (who are currently Millennials) without bashing them.  They state,

A caring disciple maker does not soothe the unpleasant aspects of this stage away.  Instead, they value this God-given time of life as a way for the young adult to become more attuned to the work of becoming like Christ.  (Dunn, 40)

The authors’ understand that, “Among today’s emerging adults, often there are less consistent markers, making ‘reaching adulthood’ more confusing.”  (Dunn and Sundene, 40)  Marking the road to adulthood by developmental markers (rather than traditional markers like marriage, children, buying a home, or having a job) helps emerging adults continue to mature.  I believe there are three main developmental markers for emerging adults:  Discovering Vocation, Establishing Autonomy, and Developing Community.

The book presents three “Life-giving Rhythms” for Spiritual Transformation.  I appreciate the imagery provided by the phrase “life-giving” because sometimes our spiritual development appears to drain the life out of us rather than give us the life that Jesus speaks about in John 10:10.  Their three rhythms are:

1.  Discernment

“Disciplemaking relationships can take multiple forms, varying in style and approach according to the personalities involved.” (Dunn and Sundene, 65)  Listening to the voice of God on the behalf of another requires discernment.  A disciple-maker’s desire is not simply for us to examine their lives and see what we want changed, but to listen to them and discern what God is doing.

2.  Intentionality

Spiritual depth in relationships rarely happens naturally, but requires intentionality. “Intentionality produces positive spiritual tension.”  (Dunn and Sundene, 91)  Disciple-making is filled with “awkward” moments that are not to be avoided, but cherished.

3.  Reflection

Photo Courtesy of Aaron Robert Photography. Copyright 2014.

I appreciate their emphasis upon the importance of reflection for both emerging adults, and those working with them.  Emerging adults are too focused on surviving the present, and forget to savor the past.  It is important for all Christians to reflect on God’s work and faithfulness in the past in order to hold to faith in the present.

These three aspects frame their practical applications, and are helpful for those seeking to impact others.  What a great gift to the church in order to help us move towards a new era of disciple-making.

The “life-giving rhythms” of spiritual transformation should not be practiced only by older adults, but both sides of intergenerational relationships give and receive.  This is what makes the body of Christ not dependent on one another, but interdependent as God designed us to be.


Dr. G. David Boyd is the Founder and Managing Director of EA Resources, a non-profit designed to provide resources to churches and parents of emerging adults.


Beyond Mentoring – A Call for Symbiotic Relationships

Photo Courtesy of Aaron Robert Photography. Copyright 2015.

Mentoring is a hot topic these days within the church.  Many people say they want to find a mentor, however, few actually do the work (or find the courage) to acquire one.  Sharon Parks writes, “Restoring mentoring as a cultural force could significantly revitalize our institutions and provide the intergenerational glue to address some of our deepest and most pervasive concerns.” (Parks 2000, 12)  This quote acknowledges that our deepest concerns about our society and the church cannot be solved by one sector of society, but will require a unified vision of all generations.

Many young adults seek after mentors within their vocational fields in order to build their knowledge, contacts, and other resources.  Emerging adults are taught to seek after mentors in order to advance.    This perspective of mentoring further defines mentoring as a relationship where one gives to another.  One partner of the relationship is a gatekeeper to money, fame, experience, or advancement.

Mentoring is defined as “someone who teaches or gives help and advice to a less experienced and often younger person.”  (Merriam-Webster, Online).  This definition clearly expresses a unidirectional relationship where one gives, and the other receives.  However, anyone who has spent significant time with a person from another generation knows that both individuals give, and both individuals receive.  Healthy human relationships are omnidirectional where giving and receiving moves in both directions.

As Millennials come of age, a new perspective of mentorship has emerged, one which is changing our understanding and praxis of mentorship.  Kinnamen states, “Are you open to “reverse” mentoring, wherein you allow younger leaders to challenge your faith and renew the church?”  (Kinnamen, 205) Setran and Kiesling in their excellent book Spiritual Formation in Emerging Adulthood say, “…guidance still desperately needed but it is a guidance that is dialogical and mutual rather than unidirectional mentoring (Setran, 206).  We must acknowledge the interdependence of human relationships among generations.  While many resort to the word mentoring, the concept has changed and requires us to go beyond.

© 2011 Lakshmi Sawitri, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

Scientists use the term symbiosis to describe relationships that exist for the mutual benefit of each individual.  One example of a symbiotic relationship is the Goby Fish and Snapping Shrimp.  The near-blind shrimp relies on the eyes of the Goby fish while constructs and maintains borrows on the ocean floor.  With one flap of his tail, the fish communicates to his partner that danger is present.  Another example is the African Oxpecker’s relationship with various large African animals.  Larger animals are cleared of ticks by the Oxpecker who live off the ticks (and according to more recent findings, the blood of their host as well).  Symbiosis illustrates the interdependence relationships that God designed humans to develop. (Here is a scientific article on the topic.)

© 2009 Ian White, Flickr | CC-BY-ND | via Wylio

We were designed by God to be in relationships with others.  Interdependent relationships cause growth and maturity.  Interdependent relationships supply love and encouragement.  Interdependent relationships provide personal significance (“My life matters to another person.”)

The time has come when we are called to go beyond mentoring.  We must seek relationships in which we give and receive.  We must move from independence into interdependence.  We must call others to do the same.


  • Spiritual Formation in Emerging Adulthood by Setran and Kiesling
  • You Lost Me by David Kinnamen
  • Big Questions, Worthy Dreams by Sharon Parks

Dr. G. David Boyd is the Founder and Managing Director of EA Resources, a non-profit designed to provide resources to parents and churches as they seek to help emerging adults.