Why We Need more Mentors, and Less Volunteers

IMG_0045A few weeks ago I filled out a twenty-one page application that included character references, a background check paid for by me, addresses along with work history for the last eight years, and a 

The amazing thing is it’s for a volunteering position [1]

Please don’t think I’m being negative about this organization because the amount of paperwork just makes me respect it more. The truth is many groups make it far too easy for a person to start volunteering.

The real reason for the lengthy application is this group focuses on mentoring instead of volunteering. While it may seem as if there isn’t a difference, trust me when I say there is.

Volunteering:

  1. Involves forty-five minutes to an hour of your time
  2. Very structured (you are there for a specific reason)
  3. Ministers to one specific need (reading or writing)

Mentoring:

  1. Normally involves a lot more time (two to three hours)
  2. Little structure (can be something different every day)
  3. Ministers to many different needs

The point is we have many volunteers [2], but few mentors [3].

It doesn’t take long to understand why mentors are so desparately needed

It takes massive amounts of time and energy
It can be messy (dealing with real struggles)
And there are massive legal issues involved [4]

In my opinion however mentoring is worth whatever price we have to pay, because it deals with real life.

Yes it’s important for young people to discuss a book or complete a difficult math problem…but beneath the surface there are personal struggles they have no idea how to deal with.

Mentoring ministries [5] give young people the freedom to bring up those deeper things they may be struggling with even if it has nothing to do with academics [6].

I believe kids crave this kind of relationship but they won’t initiate it…instead they wait for someone else to take the first step in mentoring.

A few years ago I was finishing up a mentoring session with a High School senior about time management and asked if there was anything he wanted to talk about.

After looking down a picking at a spot at the table for a minute he said in a quiet voice “yea man I was wondering how do you ask a girl out on a date?”

In that moment our focus swung from tutoring (helping with organization) to mentoring (dealing with real life). And I noticed there was a passion and excitement about our meetings once this change was made [7].

There is definitely a need for tutors who make sure children are prepared academically, but there also is a need for mentors who stratch beneath the surface, and prepare them for real life.


  1. I don’t get paid anything for it  ↩
  2. people willing to spend an hour helping children read  ↩
  3. people who will help children with the struggles of daily life  ↩
  4. which is why I filled out a twenty-one page application  ↩
  5. after school programs, sports programs, homework help  ↩
  6. I realize professional counselor or help might be needed in these situations, but you would be amazed how much a listening ear can do  ↩
  7. more than one session started with him saying “okay man I have to tell you something”  ↩

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