Video interviews added

I’ve added a new tab called ‘Interviews with Rick’. Dan Fewchuk has conducted and filmed these interviews, combining his skills as a videographer with his talent for asking great questions. I’m very grateful to Dan for making this project possible and delighted to make them available here for free.

Peer Mentoring Groups

Sometimes it is hard to find an experienced, competent mentor, or there are simply not enough to go around. If you’re in that situation then a group-mentoring model involving a modest number of peers may be attractive. Compared with a one-to-one approach, groups for mentoring among peers have both advantages and disadvantages.


  • a greater number of perspectives are available; 
  • a greater variety of ideas may be generated; 
  • members experience strong accountability due to peer pressure; 
  • a sense of commonality such that one does not need to explain everything.


  • Less time available for each person to share;
  • greater potential for breach of trust; 
  • conversations tend toward generic topics that all understand; 
  • meeting together requires more complicated scheduling.

Peer mentoring groups require strong values in order to remain healthy: honesty, suspension of judgement, activation of discernment, confidentiality and intentionality. You may wish to consider other values that you would find essential, and whether or not a group would need a facilitator in order to stay true to these values and to stay on track in terms of focus and time. These groups may adopt one or more of several approaches, sticking with one that works best for them, or mixing things up over time:

  • Group supervision process, taking it in turn to present a case study arising from their experience of living as a disciple of Jesus. This may take the form of a theological reflection on a critical incident. Other members of the group then ask questions and make observations about how God is active in the life of the person sharing and may help generate options for how the individual can respond and grow.
  • Wesleyan approach, considering a standard set of accountability questions at each meeting. As a variation, each meeting may address a limited number of accountability questions drawn from a longer list in order to facilitate deeper exploration of the issues.
  • Retreating together, taking an extended time to withdraw from normal life patterns in order to listen to God attentively in community. A retreat setting can serve as a time for sharing life stories. Reese and Loane have a suggested format for such retreats[1].

Mallison outlines several different applications for mentoring in the life of a church. For one of these he draws on the example of Rod Denton[2] whose practice, as a pastoral team leader, involved mentoring members of his staff as a group. Compare this with the observations I make in chapters 5 and 7 of my book Mentoring Matters[3] about the operation of power within mentoring relationships. 

[1] Reese, Randy and Loane, Robert. Deep Mentoring: Guiding Others on Their Leadership Journey. Downers Grove, IVP, 2012, p. 170-171

[2] Mallison, John. Mentoring: To Develop Disciples and Leaders. Adelaide: Openbook/Lidcombe: Scripture Union, 1998, p. 156f

[3] Lewis, Rick. Mentoring Matters: Building Strong Leaders, Avoiding Burnout, Reaching the Finishing Line. Oxford, Monarch, 2009, p. 129-132 and 178-180.

Look to the Future

What is your mind’s favourite time zone? When your brain switches off, do you tend to drift back to past days, remembering the good times – or maybe dwelling on past regrets? Is your typical mental state one of living ‘in the moment’, rooted in the things happening right now? Or do your thoughts float toward the future, considering exciting prospects or worrying possibilities? There are advantages and disadvantages in each time zone.

  • The past. Obviously, it’s not helpful to get stuck in a cycle of regret or anger over things that have happened that you wish were different. No amount of fussing is going to change what has been. But the past also has much to offer us as leaders in mission. It’s where we find facts and evidence for what is true. We find accounts of God’s activity which demonstrate his character. There are stories of faithful people that provide encouragement. Thinking of past blessings stimulates gratitude, which is a great motivator. Reflecting on what God has done builds a firm foundation for faith, anchored in God’s Word, in historical fact and our own experience. We learn from the past or, if we don’t, as the saying goes, we are destined to repeat it.
  • The present. Simply living for today can be a shallow approach to life, lacking perspective and the wisdom that comes from other time zones. Selfish and foolish people typically live in this time zone. And yet, it is only by being fully present in the current moment that we can truly and deeply connect with others and with God. The present is the place of agency; we cannot change the past nor can we control the future, but right here and now we can choose to respond faithfully to God’s grace. Now is when I worship and pray, love and serve, give and speak. Now is all I can impact directly. Now is when I appropriate God’s grace, based on the past and for the sake of the future.
  • The future. Like me, you’ve probably had the frustrating experience of dealing with daydreamers who rarely reflect and often fail to take responsibility for what needs to be done today, their heads filled with fanciful notions. Possibly worse are the people who assess every idea on a worst-case scenario basis, constantly stuck worrying about imaginary catastrophes about to occur. But for leaders in mission, the future is where the action is! There’s transformational power in considering the future. It stirs hope of God’s intervention and a Spirit-inspired imagination of what might be possible. It strengthens resolve to do difficult things that have future rewards. A grasp of a transcendental future answers many of the big ‘why?’ questions.

I would argue that Christians are, essentially, future-oriented people. Not to the exclusion of the past and the present, but it’s our vision of the future that shapes us. We have grasped hold of the good news of the kingdom of God – that God has a big project going on to restore the whole of creation under his rule. The completion of this fully-funded, 100% guaranteed project comprehensively dominates the future. This is our hope, our inspiration.

Biblical Encouragements and Warnings

Jesus gives us great encouragement to consider the future, for example in Lk 14 with his parables about setting goals for construction and combat. If you’re a leader in Jesus’ mission it’s critical that you pay sufficient attention to future consequences. Jesus himself was a future-oriented person who, because he could see joy in the future, endured the cross for the sake of that future (Heb 12:2). 

Jesus also gives us a warning about future thinking in Mt 6:34. When we consider the future we should avoid doing so with a mindset of worry. Rather we should have a mindset of seeking God’s rule. Further, James warns us in Jas 4:13-17 not to think about the future with naivety or with the kind of presumption that becomes arrogance. Rather, consideration of the future should stimulate our desire to seek God’s will.

Future Discernment and Future Creation

None of us has a crystal ball but we do live in a world where the laws of cause and effect allow for a measure of predictability, provided we think about it. With serious consideration of current realities outside our control, we can discern how things are likely to unfold and take wise action in preparation. In addition, we can consider the likely impact of actions we take today. Careful choices will help to create the kind of future we would prefer.

A future time perspective is essential for ethical behaviour, because it’s is crucial to consider the likely outcomes of our actions. Failure to think about the future leads to the all-too-common question, “What were they thinking!?” If we are to avoid the trap of unintended consequences we must get better at developing our future perspective.

Drawing our attention towards the future moves us from a problem-focus to a solution-focus. There is proven strategic value in clearly identifying a preferred future then moving to prioritisation and goal-setting. But there’s more to it than strategy and performance. Future time perspective produces positive personal formation, helping with motivation, perseverance, delayed gratification, self-restraint, and the capacity to wait and be patient. It strengthens the joy of anticipation, the faith involved in expectation, and the peace that comes through accepting that painful and puzzling matters will one day be resolved. 

Questions for Discerning a Likely Future

  • If present patterns continue, what will be the outcomes one year from now?
  • How is person X likely to respond if you do as you intend?
  • Is there any reason this will work out differently than it has in the past?
  • Which of your assumptions about the future are most/least reliable?

Questions for Creating a Preferred Future

  • What do you have in your life today that you would like to be part of your future?
  • If you were free of distractions, where would you be in 5 years’ time?
  • If you had a year to live, with full capacities for the first 11 months, what would you do?
  • What hope is God stirring in your heart about your service for him?

Supporting New Year Resolutions

It’s fashionable these days to be cynical about New Year resolutions, dismissing them as laughable, empty wishes to lose weight or finally get organised. But the beginning of a year is a great time to be hopeful and plan for personal growth! Mentoring sessions at the beginning of a calendar year usually have a ‘fresh start’ feel to them. It’s like we finish one chapter, start a new one and have a renewed sense of possibility and expectation. 

Mentors have a part to play in helping mentorees effectively engage in this process of looking forward with positive intent. If that’s your role and you have a mentoring session coming up this month, what can you bring to the table? I’m going to assume that you have already listened very carefully to ensure you’ve understood the resolutions your mentoree wants to pursue, and that you’re not making assumptions or injecting your own ideas about what you think they ‘ought’ to be going after. Here are five areas for exploration around proposed resolutions.

  1. Check for overreach. Is the mentoree attempting something too challenging, trying to run before they can walk? Ask if there might be an intermediate resolution that could form a great launchpad for tackling the ‘Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal’ a little way down the track. Or are they attempting too many things all at once? It can be good to have two or three resolutions, but having ten is probably going to turn out to be overwhelming. Ask if they can prioritise a long list to settle on the top few.
  2. Advocate for balance. What are the proposed resolutions attempting to achieve? Fix a problem? Nurture a strength? Explore a possibility? These are all good categories and a balance between them is ideal. If all of a person’s proposed resolutions are in one category, ask questions that stimulate thought about the other categories.
  3. Encourage personhood over performance. Are the resolutions about what the person wants to achieve or the sort of person they wish to become? Overuse of the SMART methodology (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Timely) for goal-setting will skew things towards performance achievement. Getting something important done has its place but, as a mentor, your higher concern is going to be the personal growth of the person. Use methods that get at ‘who you are’.
  4. Clarify a simple plan of attack. Many good intentions fail for lack of a plan. It doesn’t need to be complicated – in fact, it shouldn’t be. This is where ‘how?’ questions come into their own. Explore both positive and negative factors. Any move from ‘here’ to ‘there’ is going to require resources and must consider possible obstacles. What does your mentoree already have going for them? What additional help will they need to secure? What might undermine their intent and what can they do to guard against that? Kurt Lewin’s ‘Force Field Analysis’ is a useful tool here. (See my blog, 4 November 2021.)
  5. Build in evaluation points. If it’s worth spending time to clarify and hone a resolution then it’s essential it’s not forgotten. Ask your mentoree if it’s okay for you, as mentor, to check in on how things are going with the things they have resolved to pursue. When would they like you to do that? Multiple check-in points are helpful – perhaps one month, three months, and six months. Evaluation is more accurate if external perspectives are included rather than it just being a matter of the mentoree’s own impressions. Suggest they seek feedback from people close to them. Evaluation points are also an opportunity to fine tune resolutions to take account of things learned since they were formed.

As a Christian mentor, I’m going to approach each of these areas of exploration with God at the centre. I’m going to encourage this process to be prayerful, sensitive to the whispers of the Holy Spirit. I’m going to ask questions that refer back to my mentoree’s sense of their calling as a disciple of Jesus. I’m going to probe for how any proposed resolution might open a pathway for the kingdom of God to be more fully expressed in my mentoree’s life. I’m going to stir up faith and hope in the One who holds our future in His hands.

Effective Encouragement

We can all use a little encouragement from time to time. But why is it that some attempts at encouragement fall flat while others really hit the spot? Think about the times when you’ve needed a lift and someone has said or done something that has been particularly effective. What is it about those sorts of interactions that set them apart?

I’ve been reflecting on this recently because I’d like to be more effective at encouraging others. I reckon that if I can figure what works for me, I’ve got a head start into understanding how I might become a better encourager. I’ve come up with a couple of lists which I’ll share here as a discussion starter. 

My first list is of the elements that I think are crucial, almost essential to any example of effective encouragement. My second list is of things that might not be essential but I observe are very commonly present in occasions when I’ve felt especially encouraged.

Crucial Elements

  • Sincerity – comes from pure motives, not flattery or manipulation
  • Veracity – recognised to have a basis in truth, not someone making stuff up in order to be nice
  • Authority – comes from a respected source, someone who has experience and/or credentials that add weight to the encouragement 
  • Relevance – connects with something that is deeply valued; encouragement over things you don’t really care about has little effect
  • Receptivity – it has to be received by the person; timing matters here because there are more receptive and less receptive moments

Strengthening Elements

  • Specific – not vague or general; giving real-life examples is helpful
  • Tangible – when the encouragement is captured in some well-crafted words written down, or symbolised in a carefully chosen gift
  • Spiritual – connected back to God through prayer or a passage of scripture or a prophetic word
  • Astute – provides fresh insight or perspective or makes a new connection
  • Consequential – when the encourager shows that the person being encouraged makes a significant difference by who they are or what they have done 

In my musing about how encouragement works I re-read an old book by Larry Crabb and Dan Allender called Encouragement: The Unexpected Power of Building Others Up. One particularly valuable insight I gained there was about how to target encouragement accurately. They point out that encouragement is needed at a point of discouragement, and discouragement occurs because courage is undermined by some sort of fear. If you can identify the fear that is unsettling a person, you can better direct your encouragement. I’ve found that helpful, when I notice that someone is feeling down, to think more carefully about what is giving rise to those feelings and direct my encouragement to the cause.

What do you think? Are the elements you would add to either of the lists above, or do you have further insights as to how effective encouragement works?

Cliff College Mentor Training

In the UK, no other Christian training institute takes mentor training more seriously than Cliff College, located in the beautiful Peak District National Park in Derbyshire. I have the great privilege of facilitating their week-long mentor training intensive 9-13 May 2022. Could you join us for this residential course? You can find out more here.

Participants gain a Cliff College Certificate by completing the required assessment work following the teaching week. Successful students will be invited to the Cliff College graduation ceremony. Students can choose not to do the assessment work by auditing the short course. This short course also serves as an entry qualification to the Postgraduate Certificate in Mission (Christian Mentoring) at Cliff College.

Kurt Lewin’s Force Field Analysis

Kurt Lewin (1890-1947) is known as the father of social psychology. His thinking gave rise to so many processes we take for granted today such as action research, change process theory and sensitivity training. He coined the term ‘group dynamics’, did ground-breaking work in analysing organizational culture and gave us the psychological equation B = ƒ(P, E), meaning that human behaviour is a function of the person in their environment. That seems obvious now, but it took Lewin to make it clear.

Perhaps the most useful thing Lewin came up with for mentoring is his ‘Force Field Analysis’, a tool that I use all the time in mentoring sessions in an informal, unstructured way and occasionally as a formal exercise. The FFA provides a framework for identifying the factors that influence a situation:

  • factors that drive movement toward a goal – ‘helping forces’
  • factors that block movement toward a goal – ‘hindering forces’

Lewin originally designed this for use in social situations and corporate environments, but it’s also very helpful when working with individuals who have identified a goal for themselves and now need to figure out the practical steps they might take to realise that goal. Lewin noticed that people tend to focus on individual aspects of a situation rather than seeing things as a whole.

The genius of the FFA is that it draws people to consider all the forces already at play in their situation as they seek to make progress. We are never at a standing start as we address our goals; things are already in motion. And the FFA calls people to consider not only what they have going for them, and not only what they are up against, but all of those things together. I have developed a list of the sorts of forces that mentorees and I commonly identify:

CategoryPossible items
Personal forcesgifts, skills, experience, education/qualifications, other strengths and weaknesses, stage of life, health 
Internal forcesmotivations, desires, passions, fears, sense of identity
Spiritual forcesgraces of the Holy Spirit, gifts fruit, empowerment, the Scriptures, prophetic words, healing AND ALSOthe works of the enemy, falsehood, discouragement, destructive thinking
Relational forcespeople’s actions, attitudes, words, needs, demands, generosity, support or otherwise, the nature of relationships with family, friends and associates
Organisational/institutional forcesresources, structures, obligations, responsibilities
Cultural/sub-cultural forcessocial expectations, attitudes and mores, opportunities/opposition based on gender, ethnicity, age, disability, sexual orientation, social status 
Material forcesfinancial, housing, location, tools and equipment

Once the forces are identified – and there may be dozens of forces at play – it’s then on to the second step of the FFA. In this step a person considers what practical steps they may be able to take to strengthen the ‘helping forces’ and to overcome the ‘hindering forces’. This step can take quite a while and should not be rushed. But if you’ve ever struggled with the options generation stage of the GROW model, you’ll appreciate how helpful the FFA is in providing a framework for coming up with a wide range of possible actions. It’s like brainstorming on steroids!

In practical terms for mentoring sessions, the final step in using the FFA is to whittle all those possible actions down to a very short list of action steps that a mentoree commits to implement in the period before their next mentoring appointment. 

If you already use something like this, I’d love you to comment on what you’ve discovered and what tips you’d have for mentors. If you haven’t come across this before I encourage you to give it a try next time you have a mentoree who needs to decide what they are going to do to make progress towards their goals.

Developing Future Perspective

By Rick Lewis


Considering all three dimensions of time – past, present, future – there is benefit in engaging deeply with each dimension

  • The past. We learn from past experience or, if we don’t, as the saying goes, we are destined to repeat it. In particular, reflecting on what God has done builds a firm foundation for faith, anchored in God’s Word, in historical fact and our own experience. In mentoring, we commonly engage in this through ‘telling our stories’ somewhere near the beginning of a mentoring partnership.
  • The present. The benefits of being fully present in the moment are well known, not least of which is the fact that here and now is the place of agency; we cannot change the past nor can we control the future, but in the present moment we can choose to respond faithfully to God’s grace.
  • The future. Very few things come into being fully developed. Life is full of unrealised, positive possibilities that may be grasped through purposeful, focussed action. Furthermore, setbacks do not have to be the end of the story. Amid a world of brokenness, God holds out hope of renewal and restoration yet to come. 

It is this future aspect of time I want to address here. As mentors, in working to help others develop a more adequate grasp of their lives we may find our mentorees neglect to consider the future perspective at critical points, or their consideration of the future may be skewed in unhelpful ways.  Why does consideration of future perspective sometimes fail? There are, of course, many possible reasons – laziness, poor judgement, wrong information. But I think the most common causes in our current circumstances are anxiety, worry and fear. These emotional responses flood the nervous system with adrenaline which closes up thinking processes, reducing flexibility, withdrawing generosity and shortening time horizons. With careful preparation, mentors might be able to help their clients overcome these limiting ways of thinking and develop a healthy future perspective.

Biblical encouragements and warnings

As a practitioner of Christian mentoring I find it significant that Christianity has a strong future orientation. The overarching metanarrative is that creation is broken but God is in the business of restoring all things, and this vision will be realised in the age to come, into which he invites us through faith in Jesus. Jesus gives us great encouragement to consider the future not only in the age to come but in the present age as well. For example, in Lk 14 he tells parables about setting goals for construction and combat. But in Mt 6:34 he also gives us a warning: when we think about the future we should avoid doing so with a mindset of worry. Rather we should have a mindset of seeking God’s rule and of faith and trust. Further, James warns us in Jas 4 not to think about the future with the kind of presumption that becomes arrogance. Rather, consideration of the future should stimulate our desire to seek God’s will.

Applicability to mentoring

Calling attention to and strengthening future perspective in mentoring is useful for both correcting a deficit and developing an asset – the deficit of problematic attitudes to the future and the asset of having an attitude towards the future that harnesses the transformative power of God-given hope.

Calling attention to possibly problematic attitudes to the future is relevant where

  • A mentoree seems overly worried about things in the future
  • A mentoree seems overly naïve or arrogant about the future
  • A mentoree seems not to be paying attention to future consequences

Calling attention to the future to harness transformational power emphasises

  • Hope of God’s intervention
  • Spirit-inspired imagination of what might be possible
  • Strengthening resolve to do difficult things with future rewards
  • A grasp of the transcendental, age-to-come future that answers the big ‘why?’ questions

Future creation – working toward a preferred future

In order to take hold of positive future possibilities, a person must overcome explicit or implicit deterministic ways of thinking. Determinism insists that the future already exists; that it is locked in and unalterable, and that no decisions or actions on our part will make any difference to our fate or the fate of those around us. Without getting into the deep philosophical and theological debate around this, it’s fair to say that the Christian position is that today’s choices do make a difference to tomorrow’s outcomes and that we are called to join with God in his redemptive work.

A considerable body of research exists on what is called ‘time perspective theory’ with applications in psychology, adolescent development, education, sociology, cultural studies and more.[1] Enhancing future time perspective has been shown to promote focus, prioritisation and goal-setting with beneficial effects on motivation and perseverance. Dozens of studies have proved the strategic value of clearly identifying a preferred future. A key insight for mentors is that future orientation is required to move from a problem focus to a solution focus.

Future discernment – identifying likely future outcomes

None of us has a crystal ball but we do live in a world where the laws of cause and effect (VUCA notwithstanding) allow for a measure of predictability, provided we think about it. With serious consideration of the future we may develop and benefit from ‘early hindsight’.

Moral value

  • Commonly neglected aspect of Christian ethics. Later, the critique may be, ‘What were they thinking?!’
  • Avoiding the trap of unintended consequences. 
  • Action-consequence analysis is one of the three major approaches to ethics, along with principle-based (or Kantian) ethics and character-based (or Aristotelian) ethics.
  • Values clarification and prioritising. Holding to one value may not seem worth it when we consider the likely negative impact on another value in the future.

Drawing attention to the future helps with:

  • Delayed gratification, self-restraint, capacity to wait, patience
  • Strengthening hope, expectancy dimension of faith
  • Joy of anticipation
  • Peace – coming to terms with as yet unresolved matters

Practical implementation

In the first instance, mentors can begin to promote a healthy future perspective by crafting questions that stir up curiosity about the future. Here are some examples to start your thinking:

Questions for creating a preferred future

  • What do you have in your life today that you would like to be part of your future?
  • If you were free of distractions, where would you be in 5 years’ time?
  • If you had a year to live, with full capacities for the first 11 months, what would you do?
  • What hope is God stirring in your heart about your service for him?

Questions for discerning a likely future

  • If present patterns continue, what will be the outcomes one year from now?
  • How is person X likely to respond if you do as you intend?
  • Is there any reason this will work out differently than it has in the past?
  • Which of your assumptions about the future are most/least reliable?

Beyond questions like these, there are also certain exercises that may help a mentoree start to get in touch with the future.

Standing in the Future[2]


Up-close, a significant challenge or aspiration can feel overwhelming and result in procrastination or not taking sufficient action. When you ‘stand’ or visualize yourself in the future however, a greater sense of possibility is generated that builds deeper certainty and commitment leading to sustainable action.

It is always in our best interest to be in connection with our vision. Vision is not simply a memory, but a living and specific awareness of your intention. It is a conscious integration of mind and heart and the best starting point for a complex ambition that requires learning and collaboration. It allows you to utilize all of your talents and capabilities, both explicit and implicit, and opens your awareness to emergent and unexpected resources and support.

When you practice the exercise below, be sure to see your vision as fully compete, if anything were possible and be sure to put yourself in the picture.


Be in a reflective, relaxed and open state with pad and pen nearby.

It is now the year 2024 (or three years from the present)

You (and your team) have completed or made significant and tangible progress in realizing your vision or meeting your challenge. You are thrilled. You (and your team) have been asked to describe or tell the story of just how you achieved your goals. See your vision as fully complete, as if anything were possible, and put yourself in the picture.

Answer as many of the following questions as possible or that make sense:

  • What were the milestones that were met throughout these three years?
  • What obstacles were overcome and unanticipated problems were resolved?
  • What enabled you to be successful?
  • What were the specific factors that were crucial to your success (tangible and intangible)?
  • What did you need to learn along the way about yourself, working with others and how to influence the larger system?
  • Who did you look to for support?
  • What enabled you to accomplish this (as a team)?
  • How did you know you were on track/off track?
  • How often did you monitor your progress?
  • How does it feel to be successful?
  • Are you surprised that you made it? If not, why/ why not?
  • What advice would you give to someone considering taking on a similar challenge?
  • How are you going to celebrate?

The Miracle Question[3]


This is a solution-focussed therapy technique used to help people imagine a tangible future they can work towards. The exercise asks people to imagine, however fantastical it may be in their particular circumstances, that their life has already dramatically changed for the better. So instead of focusing exclusively on how insoluble their problem is, and how difficult life is because of it, it switches attention to what will happen after the problem is dealt with – focusing on the desired future rather than the undesired present. It jumps right over the mechanics of how, exactly, the problem will be solved into the mechanics of how will they live when it is solved. It’s a neat and rather fun way of bypassing rigid constraints, black and white thinking, and unshakeable beliefs that “things can’t possibly change!”


The ideal is for people to feel the answer to the miracle question – to experience it and not just to think about it. This helps to make the imagined future more real to them, and not just a theoretical construct. So rather than getting someone to answer straight away, get them to ‘go inside’ for a few moments and really ‘see and feel’ the miracle. Ask them to imagine the answer rather than tell you in words. The miracle question can be worded slightly differently depending on the particular context. Here is one example:

Imagine this: tonight, while you are sleeping, a miracle happens and the problem that prompted you to talk to me today is solved! But because this happens while you are sleeping, you have no way of knowing that there was an overnight miracle that solved the problem. So, when you wake up tomorrow morning, what might be the small changes that will make you say to yourself, ‘Wow, something must have happened—the problem is gone!’? How does it feel to be in this new place?

When you’ve given them some time to carry out this process, you can ask your mentoree to tell you in detail what they have noticed and imagined. The response provides the image of a future possibility:

  • Clarifying deep desires
  • Identifying points of motivation
  • Stimulating hope


No exercise is appropriate in every circumstance. If a mentoree is grieving the passing of a loved one or struggling with an adverse medical diagnosis, this exercise is NOT the one to use.

Letter from My Future Self


You are probably aware of the oft-used exercise of having a person write a letter to their future selves. It’s a fun exercise that helps a person capture what they believe is essential and valuable not just for the moment but for the long-term. And you might have thought about what you would say to your younger self if you travel back in time and give them the benefit of your experience. You’d sure have a valuable perspective to share if this were possible! This exercise has you imagining yourself 10 years from now (or 20 if you’re really bold) writing back to your present self. It’s designed to help you extract yourself from the details of your present day-to-day life, to get up above that to discern what is truly lasting and what is temporary; what is valuable and what is cheap; what is real and what is illusion.


Allow yourself plenty of time for this exercise. You might even wish to have a few stabs at it until you’re satisfied.

You’re 10 (or 20) years older now and you’re writing to yourself in 2021.

Write a paragraph for each of the following prompts:

  1. Open with a greeting, acknowledging what is going on for your younger self. Express how you feel about that and give some affirmation.
  2. What is life for you now as your older self?
  3. What was important in making it that way?
  4. Who are you grateful to?
  5. What has surprised you along the way?
  6. Give yourself some advice; what to give more attention, what to let go of, a bit of wisdom
  7. From your future perspective, suggest a positive next step to take in 2021
  8. End with a blessing.

Action-Consequence Matrix[4]


When we take action, there are consequences; and when we don’t take action, there are consequences. Either way, things happen. These may be good or bad for us, and good or bad for other people. While we often focus on ourselves, the effects on others can be significant. 

We often pay closer attention to consequences that happen in the short term, where there is clear cause and effect between actions and what happens as a result. Consequences may also happen further out into the future, and perhaps with less clear causal relationship. An important point about this matrix is that it highlights considerations that we often do not realize we are making. Often, all we think about is ‘What will happen if I do?’, ‘What will happen in the short term?’ and ‘What will I gain from this?’ By making this unconscious process conscious, we can make and influence better decisions.


Work through each of the questions allowing time to move freely between them.

  If I do…If I don’t…
ConsequenceWhat will happen?What will happen if I do?What will happen if I don’t?
What won’t happen?What won’t happen if I do?What won’t happen if I don’t?

When considering consequences in each quadrant, this sub-matrix may prompt insight.

For…MeHow will I benefit?How might I be harmed?
OthersHow will others benefit?How might others be harmed?

[1] See, for example,

[2] Created by Robert Hanig, sourced from:

[3] Created by Steve De Shazer

[4] Created by David Straker, sourced from:

Why Does Mentoring Sometimes Fail?

Mentoring partnerships don’t always work out. It’s possible for this to not be the fault of either party, it’s just that things didn’t click relationally or circumstances suddenly shifted. It happens. But there are some very common reasons why mentoring becomes disappointing from the mentoree’s point of view and several of these are avoidable. Every mentor who desires to serve their mentorees well needs to keep an eye on these factors to make sure they are not falling into bad practices.

I’ve listened to hundreds of mentorees reflect on their experience and these are the top six reasons they identify as those that cause mentoring to fail.

  1. Too much telling, not enough asking and listening. Although this varies somewhat according to culture, the vast majority of mentorees do not come to a session with their mentor looking for a lecture. If they want to get expert input on a topic, they will find a podcast for that. The mentoring session is a special place where they can find an interactive conversation and they don’t have to apologise for being the centre of attention.
  2. Mismatched expectations. This starts with the word ‘mentoring’. People understand different things by this term and, let’s be honest, it really can take many different forms (see my post on ‘Modes of Mentoring’). Investing time at the outset to clarify and align expectations will pay huge dividends.
  3. Haphazard connections. Without appropriate planning and scheduling to set up mentoring sessions at regular intervals, mentoring conversations tend to only take place when there is some sort of trigger event – usually a negative one. That does not lay a good foundation for working together positively towards the growth and development of the mentoree.
  4. Lack of depth. This might be experienced as a disappointing level of emotional rapport, intellectual engagement or spiritual discernment, or even a combination of those things. It’s an error for the mentor to always keep things bright and breezy in an attempt to make mentoring sessions an enjoyable experience. Equally, it’s self-defeating for mentorees to only share at a surface level, staying in ‘safe’ territory. It’s vital for mentoring partnerships to get out of the shallows and ‘swim in deep water’, always with the proviso that you call for help if you start to drown!
  5. Poor continuity. This can happen when a mentor fails to keep track of the mentoree’s story and does not pick up on things from previous conversations. It’s frustrating for a mentoree to have to repeat the background to their circumstances, and disappointing if their mentor does not remember a significant point from the previous session. But mentorees can also contribute to the problem if they don’t do the hard work of identifying the key issues they wish to grapple with and stick with those issues even when it gets difficult.
  6. Inconsequential conversations. How will everyday life be different for the mentoree as a result of a mentoring session? If it’s hard to answer that question, chances are the mentoring partnership is heading for a fail. Consequences may come in several forms. Sometimes it’s a particular action step that the mentoree decides to carry out. Or it might be a new way of seeing their situation, an insight, a fresh approach. Or it might be some encouragement that the mentoree receives, an inner strengthening or release of a burden. Pleasant catch-ups without consequences become a boring waste of time.

Much of the responsibility for avoiding these pitfalls rests on the shoulders of mentors. But mentorees also must realise that they could be contributing to the very factors that make the mentoring partnership unsatisfying for them. Perhaps you could use this short list as a conversation starter in your next mentoring session.

Mentoring Men

Comparing mentoring women (of which I do a little) and mentoring men (of which I do a lot) I have found a great deal to be similar. Many issues are common to our shared humanity and mentoring processes tend to be more or less effective according to a range of factors of which gender is only one. Mentoring partnerships vary because of both the mentor’s and the mentoree’s age, personality, life experience, ethnicity, theological convictions, education and many other factors. 

However, insofar as gender does, to some extent, influence a mentoring partnership, these are the items I have observed are more common in terms of content, and more effective in terms of process, when dealing with men. Bear in mind that I am writing as a male; the experience may be different for female mentors of men.

1.  Content of mentoring conversations

  • Maturity: transition from ‘lad’ to ‘man’ – this issue can persist well into mid-life
    • Categories of maturity
      • Handling stress
      • Being appropriately assertive
      • Taking on responsibility
      • Perseverance
      • Keeping promises
      • Self-awareness
      • Emotional self-restraint
      • Handling conflict
      • Capacity for reflection
      • Receiving criticism
      • Wise prioritisation of values
      • Readiness to laugh at oneself
    • Key exercise: In the matter of X, a lad would… but a mature man would…
    • Richard Rohr’s 5 truths that a man needs to grasp:
      • Life is hard
      • You are going to die
      • You are not that important
      • You are not in control
      • Your life is not about you
  • Performance vs personhood
    • Performance
      • What am I cut out to do?
      • What could I achieve / have I achieved? 
      • What could I acquire / have I acquired?
    • Personhood
      • What are my key character qualities?
      • What sort of person have I become? 
      • Who am I becoming?
    • Work / life balance
      • Source of significance
      • The attraction of the locus of competency
  • Relationships (as applicable)
    • Husband / father
    • Son / brother
    • Friend
  • Sexuality and gender
    • Acknowledging sexuality without letting it dominate
    • Pornography and other forms of fake intimacy
    • Caution interacting with women in the post-#MeToo context
    • Understanding maleness beyond the stereotypes

2.  Processes used in mentoring conversations

  • Foundation of mutual respect
  • Intentionality
    • Clarity of purpose
    • Structured arrangements
    • Intensity: intellectually and emotionally
    • Continuity of themes
  • Consequential conversations
    • Going beyond reflective exercises
    • Accurate, intentional follow up
  • Use of mentoring tools – four simple examples
    • Red/Blue/Green zones
    • Energy Centres
    • Life Dimensions
    • A win, a slip, a worry, a possibility, a decision, a truth
  • Strategies for overcoming reticence
    • Side by side physically and metaphorically
    • Activity together
    • Locations attached to memories
  • Strategies for overcoming lack of self-awareness
    • If married, getting wife’s perspective
    • If employed, access formal review
    • Help construct feedback pathways