Just be real.  I like to think of this as no masks.  Masks are what we wear around people when we don’t want them to see our true self.  Again, without the phatic conversations, (refer to Mentoring Principles 101 post), we will have a hard time becoming authentic and transparent with others.  Sometimes, how quickly a person is authentic with you depends on their personality. Connor was like a steel trap when I first got to know him.  Nice guy. Smart, but short responses. No willingness to lift the veil. Yet, all the while, I knew there was something he was hiding. Something he was struggling with, that he kept to himself.  Sometimes you get a sense that way. His melancholy-phlegmatic disposition, like mine, tends to be guarded in opening up too much to others. Trust has to be there first. So, we took it slow. Grabbing a bite to eat. Me attending his basketball games. Target practicing at a virtual gun-range. Just doing things to foster more phatic conversation. Then, slowly, he opened up and the veil began to lift. “Did I tell you about my struggle with porn?” No, but I figured as much based upon his actions. It really was not a surprise to me. But, the ice was broken and now we could start to deal with more profound things. I was real with him as well. Although I don’t struggle with porn, I am a man with hormones and know the temptation to lust.  

As a mentor, being authentic means I intentionally create healthy, trustful boundaries with people who I know have my back.  Obviously, you don’t tell just anyone your deepest dark secrets, but you do with a mentor you trust. In mentoring, modeling authenticity helps the warrior open up.  This is probably why many of the guys I mentor say I am relatable. As part of the research for my book, Wichita State University conducted a qualitative study on what makes mentoring successful. They interviewed several young men I mentor to find commonalities in what made our mentor/warrior relationship healthy.  “David is safe.” One young warrior said, “I could have just literally murdered someone, tell Dave and he would say “Well, sounds like you have a serious problem. Time to turn yourself in. I’ll be there for you.” David doesn’t walk away. He walks with you, through the screw-ups and successes of life.  He’s shown me something of what God is really like.” This is where phatic connections in the relationship have now earned the right to be EMPHATIC!

Being safe is a big deal.  Some of the warriors I meet are running scared.  They may have just lost their virginity and are worried their girlfriend is pregnant. Others have made some stupid financial decisions that have collectors after them. Others are so unsure of themselves they are afraid of their own shadow. Knowing they can be authentic with you becomes a way for you to point them to Christ. I share my own failures, confusions, and struggles when I was a warrior and even now as an older adult. They don’t have me on a pedestal. I’m a real guy with brokenness much like them. As a mentor, it’s OK to open up about it, if in fact, you want to change. Knowing that you can be yourself helps mentoring to be increasingly authentic. A young warrior sat across the table from me and told me about something that happened a long time ago; something that has been an impenetrable wall, until now. I listened, wept with him, and reminded him of his identity in Christ. He is forgiven.  Later on, in response to a text I sent him affirming his risk of being authentic with me, he said, “I’ve seen your faithfulness to me and knew if I told you, you would only love me more.”

In my experiences with many of these warriors, invariably, two self-discovery issues come up; piercings and tattoos.  “What do you think, Mr. Riffel?” My general stance regarding self-discovery is if the particular expression is not life-altering, then there isn’t much harm in trying it. Some guys grow out their hair so they can have a man-bun. Others delve into seeing how much facial hair they can grow. Others, of legal age, try alcohol, or a cigar. Helping them think through these issues with a sense of maturity usually leads me walking through some principles found in Romans 14 of the Bible.  I won’t go into all the details of Romans 14 here, (we’ll save that for another post), but the chapter deals with opinions and preferences; those things in life that the Bible is either silent on, or has left up to us to choose. There are three basic questions that one must answer as they process preferences like piercings and tattoos.  

Is God okay with it?  

Am I ok with it (am I acting out of faith or rebellion)?  

Will this help or hinder others in their pursuit of God?  

As part of the authentic move, in the case of tattoos and piercings, I encourage them to try temporary tattoos or magnetic earrings first. Sometimes, when we meet, they have them on. We talk about it as they process choices. In most cases, these guys decide it’s more of a passing fad than a lifestyle choice they want to keep. In one or two cases, the guy goes through with it and gets them for real. I’ll on occasion receive text selfies of the guys with either a tattoo or an earring. “What about this one?” The cool thing about the entire process is they’ve looked at God’s Word, processed it with an increased level of maturity and made more informed choices. Even in their process of deciding, I’ll occasionally join in with their experiment and wear a temporary one, too. Authenticity means you don’t wear masks.

Practical Steps to Authenticity

Listen well to their story.  Respond to them with understanding.  You may have experienced the same situation in your warrior years. Don’t take over the conversation but let them know that the path to godly maturity isn’t the absence of struggle, but the faith to trust God through the struggle.

Talk about how God has been faithful to you in your own trials. The purpose in telling your story is not to one-up your warrior, but to show them ways God has proven himself faithful to you.  “And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony,” Revelation 12:11 ESV. Two critical parts to any victory: the Blood of Christ covers all your sin and your testimony validates the work of God in your life. This is part of what makes you authentic.

Bring Hope.  Words of affirmation and praying scripture over your warrior, in their presence, does supernatural things that no human words alone can accomplish.  “I have the utmost confidence in you and what God is able to do in your life, as you yield to him.” When a warrior knows you believe in them, it spurs them on to greater things about themselves.  


David Riffel is the Founder and Executive Director of www.Mentoring-Warriors.com. Having gone through his warrior years (18-30) essentially without a mentor, God has placed in him a heart for warriors, to come alongside them in various ways as they figure out life. David’s newly released book, Mentoring Warriors: Coming Alongside Young Men 18-30, outlines principles for mentoring and gives advice for warriors in six key areas of life: self-management, life skills, education/career, relationships, faith, and identity.