BY JEFFREY BEAVERS
One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts. Psalm 145:4
Recently I was blessed to catch up with old friends at the alumni event at Concordia University, Irvine. Of course, Christ College was the name of the university when I attended there over thirty years ago. Along with seeing updated facilities on campus as well as some familiar faculty and staff, my wife, family, and I had an opportunity to see many old friends and share stories. Many of these friends we hadn’t seen in over thirty years.
I was surprised at how emotional the day was for me. I was filled with a deep sense of gratitude—gratitude for a gracious and loving God who has blessed my family and me with Lutheran education for nearly forty years. As I reflected a bit more, I clearly recognized that the Lord had started something very special in my life in the early 1980s, when my parents sacrificed everything to send me to Denver Lutheran High School. It was a humbling and a grace-filled day.
My strong take-away from the experience was being able to trace my journey back to all of the mentors who poured into me and lovingly guided me along the way. In God’s unending love and amazing grace throughout my life, the Holy Spirit worked through many administrators, faculty, staff, and coaches at Denver Lutheran and then Christ College. He used these servants to guide me. The list is long, and recently sainted Dick Klatt (high school Principal) and Dr. Garth Ludwig (college professor & mentor) are two of many who stand out on the long list. Coaches Kettner, Kirtch, Brandhorst, Achterberg, and Connor were also all significant mentors in my early life. In my career, I’ve been blessed to have received mentoring from legends like Pastor Bill Bartlett, Ken Ellwein, Greg Pinick, and Dave Hahn, who have all poured into me and taught me countless lessons. Undoubtedly, you have a long list too.
Then I began to think about my own children and youth in general today. Who is pouring into them? There have been many, and I pray there will continue to be many more, who help me to mentor them. Yet, it struck me that their generation has a different challenge than I had. My feedback loop and mentors were very specific, caring, loving, and direct, speaking God’s truth and love into me often. It was through a specific relationship developed over time that I was able to learn deeper lessons. I believe God works through the Holy Spirit, placing people in our lives at such a time as this, to strengthen our faith and further His Kingdom.
I am afraid today’s young people have a battle pushing out the overwhelming voices of a much broader, less kinder, less accurate social feedback loop, which has captivated their direct attention, and who are often actually much less than mere acquaintances. We’ve heard reports now for years about these concerns, but research is now clearly supporting increased “feedback-seeking behaviors” among adolescents, which are clearly associated with depression (Nesi and Prinstein, 2015). The feedback is multifarious, broader, much less helpful, and possibly inaccurate. Consequently, a dearth exists in quality informational relationships and possibly, a lessening of ability to make and maintain them.
What does this mean? If our young people are seeking feedback from a large, mostly unpredictable, possibly uncaring social media feedback loop, the feedback they receive is inaccurate and, perhaps, even un-Christian. They develop an unquenchable thirst if they continue to drink at the same well. In turn, they are losing value—the value they’d gain in a true mentoring relationship like the many relationships you and I have been so blessed to have over the years. The thought of losing traction so quickly when the power of social media is so pervasive is scary, but we can combat this and many of our Lutheran schools and leaders do just that. Programs which educate our youth on these dangers are important. Perhaps more important is remembering that building these transformational lifelong relationships is inherent in Lutheran education. It’s what we do well. Yet, we must be intentional.
Leaders of schools can have a high impact as they model mentoring relationships with faculty, staff, coaches, and even their students. We often remind each other about being intentional in telling our students how they would make a great Lutheran teacher or coach. Clearly, now it is our turn, now is the time: we can and do make an impact on school culture, and will win the war to engender authentic mentoring relationships in our Lutheran schools. I am indicted, and even convicted, after my reflections from a recent alumni weekend in thinking of the many who have graciously poured into me, asking myself: Am I doing enough to pour into others in an intentional way? Let’s join together; we must remember to be intentional!
How can school leaders be intentional? There is no shortage of ideas to begin a discussion. Is mentoring specific to your personal routine and a part of your school fabric and culture? Schoolwide scaffolding from every angle of a school ministry can be a powerful force. For example, leaders intentionally mentoring and having genuine conversations with those whom they supervise, teachers mentoring students, coaches mentoring students, students mentoring students, and community members (including parents) pouring into the school culture in an intentional way. Our school leaders must think beyond the brick and mortar schoolhouse to leverage unlimited possibilities. We need not look too far to see strong evidence that our young adults are in desperate need of deeper, richer, genuine and guiding Christian relationships. Are we ready?