Crafting a Discernment Process

I’ve heard this term tossed about, but what does it mean? What comprises an effective discernment process? My understanding is that this will vary from person to person.

Some basics will most likely be in common

  • Clarify the question or issue
  • Gather relevant data
  • Set aside time for reflection and listening prayer
  • Seek and pay attention to counsel from respected friends

 

Some things I have learned about discernment

  • Discernment is not the same thing as knowing God’s will, but it is related
  • The essence of discernment is perception of meaning, meaning that is not only true factually, but deep – penetrating to the spiritual significance of an issue
  • It cannot be rushed. To put time pressure on a discernment process is a sure way to undermine it. This sometimes means you have to give a response to a question someone has asked without having come to a clear discernment of the issue concerned
  • Look for meaning in two directions
    • Where has this thing to be discerned come from? What are the origins, roots, sources, drivers, motives?
    • Where is this thing to be discerned going? What are the consequences, knock-on effects?
  • It’s never a straight line. A naive expectation is that discernment will come like the dawn, starting in darkness and gradually getting lighter until you can see clearly. In fact, the path to clarity through a discernment process is more like a labyrinth or a maze.

 

For me personally, an effective discernment process must include some practices that are not about reasoning, but bear directly on my ability to get clarity

  • Lower any anxiety
  • Reconcile relational tensions
  • Repentance before God
  • Be fully rested
  • Address any physical stress

 

Taken together, the above is an expression of my discernment process when I am trying to understand what is going on in my world.

With the expectation that it may well be different to mine, how would you express your personal discernment process?

 

Modes of Mentoring: a tool for clear contracting

People often ask, ‘What’s the difference between mentoring and…?’ Conversations starting from that question typically emphasise the distinctives of mentoring and separate it from, for example, coaching, or spiritual direction, or supervision, or counselling or whatever. But it’s a mistake to give the impression that there are clear, agreed boundaries between these disciplines or that mentoring is a completely different helping process. The fact is that all these helping approaches – and more – do share significant areas of overlap, especially when it comes to methodology.

Furthermore, mentoring is carried out in many different ways. It does not always look the same. The specific shape of a mentoring partnership will vary according to the personal attributes of the mentor and the mentoree, the relational dynamic between them, the circumstances in which they find themselves, the impact of an organizational context, the areas for focus within mentoring, the desired outcomes, and other factors.

When I am in conversation with someone about possibly commencing a mentoring partnership I would typically start by sharing my very general description of mentoring as ‘identifying and promoting the work of God’s Spirit in another’s life’. Once we’ve established that, it’s helpful to clarify in more specific terms both what the other person is looking for and what I am able to offer. Otherwise, we could have very different ideas in our minds about how that general description is applied and therefore have diverging expectations that could lead to frustration and disappointment.

For this purpose I have developed a little tool by which I briefly describe ten common modes of mentoring and get some rough metrics about which of those modes fits with what they are looking for. I set out the ten modes on a radar diagram like the one below. Usually I’ll have it on a piece of paper and put it on a table between us so we can both write on it.

Modes of Mentoring

I describe the modes in this way:

  • Apprenticeship is for people starting out in a particular field of endeavour and are looking for someone to show them the ropes and practically demonstrate the necessary skills.
  • Dialogue is for someone seeking to develop their knowledge of a topic or area of study and looking for a conversation partner to push their thi8nking to the next level.
  • Fathering/mothering is for people who are wrestling with questions of identity and looking for someone who can help to clarify who they are, their gifts, abilities and potential.
  • Accountability is for people who know what they want to do but also know they will struggle to remain true to their best intentions without someone to check in on the critical issues.
  • Consultative mentoring is for people facing major decisions who require someone to help them consider the options from every angle so they can make well-informed choices.
  • Therapeutic mentoring is for people rebuilding their lives after some difficulty. This mode is often helpful after the completion of a period of professional counselling.
  • Sponsorship is for people seeking to develop fresh opportunities, expand their network and overcome relational barriers through connection with a trusted advocate.
  • Spiritual direction can be a discipline in its own right. As a mode of mentoring it is for people focussing on spirituality and seeking a guide to develop spiritual practices.
  • Coaching, too, is an established craft. It may also be a mode of mentoring in which a specific skill is honed with the aid of someone who knows how to promote peak performance.
  • Supervision is for professionals seeking to pursue high standards with someone to help them reflect deeply on their practice and to inquire into possible blind spots.

Then I ask the other person to rate each mode according to what they are looking for – less interested in a mode marked towards the centre; more interested marked towards the outer rim. No two people have exactly the same pattern. It’s an effective conversation starter and gives the mentor an opportunity to share their strengths so that both people can assess whether there is a good fit.

Do you have some further insights on this? I’m currently developing a short questionnaire built around these ten modes to help with the metrics. It will have three questions per mode to help people assess if that’s what they are looking for in mentoring. If you have some suggestions I’d love to hear from you. Drop me a note in the comments section.

Planning for Your Ministry

To articulate a clear plan I suggest you address these questions, in this order.

  1. Why? This describes your VALUES.

Why do you care? Identify your values (operational and/or aspirational), motivations, desires and drivers. This is the best description of your identity as an organisation. Over time, your values shape your reputation with outsiders.

 

  1. What then? This describes your VISION.

What do you hope the future will be like? Of all the available possibilities – you may need to do some work to enumerate these – which one grips you? Your vision is an imaginative scenario in which your values are given full expression. For practical purposes it is best to focus on the medium term rather than the distant future.

 

  1. What now? This describes your MISSION.

What is the contribution you will make to that vision? In a nutshell, what is the big thing you are going to do? A realistic mission statement takes into account that inspiring visions are not achieved alone. Others will take their part. What is your part?

 

  1. How? This describes your STRATEGY.

How will you carry out your mission? How will you break down your overarching mission into its constituent parts? How will you set your priorities so that the main thing is not lost? How do your strategies relate to your vision and values?

 

  1. When, who and where? This describes your OPERATIONS.

When will you carry out your strategies? Who will be responsible for them? Where will that happen? When will you evaluate your efforts? Who will you need on the team? Where will the resources come from? These are questions of implementation and must come after the first four questions are answered satisfactorily.

 

What else have you found is helpful in expressing an empowering ministry plan?

Setting a Course for Mission

Where are we going? Being a leader in mission is not simply a matter of answering that question. It is more importantly a matter of guiding the process by which the team discerns the answer together.

If the leader gets that right, the chances are much higher of:

  • Making and impact rather than just drifting along
  • Staying on course rather than suffering ‘mission creep’
  • Getting ‘buy-in’ from team members and harnessing the synergy that comes from alignment

Consider these seven qualities of an effective missional planning process:

  1. Prayerful

Take your time in God’s presence in worship, listening, interceding. Set the course in line with your best understanding of where God is taking things. ‘I do what I see the Father doing’, says Jesus.

  1. Contextual

Start from where you actually are. Not where someone else is, or where you wish you were. What is the current situation? Do your homework.

  1. Long-sighted

Keep an eye on the impact the course you set will have after you are no longer personally involved. What legacy will you leave for others to build on?

  1. Synergistic

Think carefully about the system of which you are a part. What are the organisational ‘givens’ that deserve respect? Resist operating as a ‘Lone Ranger’. If the way you operate damages someone else’s mission, you’re out of order.

  1. Consultative

Tap into the wisdom and discernment of those on your team. This isn’t necessarily democracy – having a say is not the same thing as having a vote. Make sure you also consider wise external voices.

  1. Clear

Communication is essential to setting any course of action. Make sure you communicate the ‘why’ as well as the ‘what’, the ‘how’, the ‘when’, the ‘where’ and the ‘who’. Ensure the communication has the same meaning in every setting, is accessible for each audience, and able to be reviewed. This usually means it is written down.

  1. Flexible

Every course set must be subject to deliberate and scheduled review and evaluation and adjusted accordingly. It helps to have levels of negotiability: values the least negotiable, strategies somewhat negotiable, tactics the most negotiable of all.

 

What would you add to this list from what you have learned so far about leading planning processes for mission?

Resilience Factors: Learning How to Bounce Back

In my work as a mentor of Christian leaders I regularly find myself in conversations with extraordinarily able people who are struggling with low energy levels as a result of becoming emotionally drained. Of course, this is not a condition experienced only by Christian leaders – any one of us can become emotionally drained. Yet I would contend that the nature of leaders’ roles within Christian organisations exposes them to vocational hazards beyond the normal range that not only bring them to exhaustion but also tax their ability to bounce back. This has made the matter of resilience for Christian leaders one of the most critical issues for sustainable ministry and ministry today.

 

Even if you agree with this assessment of the special stresses and strains experienced by Christian leaders, you may still be wondering about the most constructive ways to address the problem. Nobody I know is perfectly resilient, but some leaders I’ve mentored do seem to do better than others. What can be learned from them?

 

Drawing from observations I have made and linking them with insights from the Bible, I want to suggest ten factors conducive to personal resilience. These factors could be developed in the context of a mentoring partnership, or applied in some other process of support for leaders. I want to stress that the resilient leaders I have in mind were not immune to becoming emotionally drained. The point is that when they did become drained, they were able to bounce back in a relatively short period of time to a state of energy, hope and joy, making their ministries healthy and sustainable.

 

My top resilience factors, in no particular order, are these:

 

  1. Supportive relationships of love, trust and encouragement

Resilient leaders typically are not loners. They put energy into developing friendships in the good times that become a lifeline when things get tough. Their families are able to be supportive and understanding when the leader is emotionally unavailable for brief periods because they have been well-loved.

 

Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labour: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Ecclesiastes 4:9-10

 

  1. Wise care of one’s physical health

The state of our physical body has a powerful effect on our emotional and spiritual well-being. Even leaders who freely acknowledge this truth may still fail to eat properly, exercise regularly, get adequate sleep or take their annual leave when it is due. Looking after one’s physical health is a vital early step to foster resilience.

 

In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat—for he grants sleep to those he loves. Psalm 127:2

 

  1. A metanarrative that provides a basis for hope

With an immediate and vibrant sense of the big picture, the over-arching story, resilient leaders are able to put short-term ‘hits’ and even medium-term frustrations into perspective. This must be more than propositional theology; resilience requires an instinctive reassurance that God is good, ever-present, and that he is ultimately in control.

 

Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord ’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. Lamentations 3:21-23

 

  1. Positive role models

When it’s hard to bounce back to an energised state positive role models can help leaders in two ways. Firstly, talking with or reflecting upon the life of someone who has gone before and successfully handled similar pressures may suggest alternative ways of dealing with a dispiriting situation that would not otherwise come to mind. Secondly, feelings of defeat and hopelessness about one’s own predicament may be overcome by reflecting on the positive outcomes experienced by others who have walked a difficult path.

 

Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. Hebrews 13:7

 

  1. Realistic assessment of and confidence in one’s abilities & strengths

Well-intentioned attempts at encouragement received by leaders (not to mention their own inclination to pride) can leave them with an inflated idea of their capacities, thus setting them up for disappointment, disillusionment and a sense of failure to live up to what they had believed was their potential. On the other hand, a mistaken belief that one lack the necessary capacity to address current challenges chokes off resilience. Self-awareness developed through honest feedback and critical reflection provides a better basis for resilience.

 

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. Romans 12:3

 

  1. Willingness to develop and draw on others’ strengths

Resilient leaders love to be part of a team and share responsibility with others. Those who have an over-developed sense of responsibility get into the habit of assuming they have to make every decision and do everything themselves. That is a sure recipe for becoming exhausted and staying that way. Preparing others to share the load and allowing them to do so gives a wise leader the chance to recover their own energy.

 

But how can I bear your problems and your burdens and your disputes all by myself? Choose some wise, understanding and respected men from each of your tribes, and I will set them over you. Deuteronomy 1:12-13

 

  1. Self-restraint to manage strong feelings and impulses

Leaders who have lost their energy are not in the best frame of mind to make great decisions. In difficult circumstances fear may rise up and lead to irrational catastrophising. Leadership instincts may be skewed by powerful emotions, or the complete lack of them. Impulsive or panicky leadership actions intended to end a painful situation can actually make things worse and prolong the difficulty. Those leaders who school themselves in self-restraint can exercise the necessary patience to resist unwise ‘knee-jerk’ solutions.

 

Do not fret when people succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes. Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret —it leads only to evil. Psalm 37:7-8

 

  1. Capacity to construct and implement realistic plans

After receiving devastating news that brought him undone emotionally, Nehemiah mourned in prayer for days on end. After working through his strong feelings he was able to bounce back and find his feet in leadership partly by developing a detailed plan, moving the focus of his attention from problem to practical solution. His strategy was ready to swing into action the moment the opportunity arose.

 

The king said to me, “What is it you want?” Then I prayed to the God of heaven, and I answered the king, “If it pleases the king and if your servant has found favour in his sight, let him send me to the city in Judah where my ancestors are buried so that I can rebuild it.” Nehemiah 2:4-5

 

  1. Engaging regularly in reflective practice

This resilience factor is a process item that catalyses some of the factors above and helps to break the trap of negative thinking patterns. Reflective practices may be personal – meditation, retreating and journalling are examples – or relational, such as mentoring conversations or psychotherapy. Christian reflective practices stimulate hope because they affirm the presence and power of God in the midst of difficult circumstances and draw attention toward his goodness and grace.

 

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Philippians 4:8

 

  1. Humility before God

Resilience may be thwarted by an overblown sense of entitlement such as that handed to us by a consumerist culture. Some leaders get stuck in a low-energy state wondering how the adversity they suffer could have happened to them. Deep inside they believe they deserve better and feel wronged by those they lead, by their team, by ‘the system’ or even by God himself. Resilience rises up from humility that accepts that hardship and loss are part and parcel of leading in Christ’s name.

 

“God opposes the proud but shows favour to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. 1 Peter 5:5-7

 

I have resisted listing renewal by the power of the Holy Spirit as a separate item because it is of a higher order than any of these factors. In fact, the ministry of the Holy Spirit to restore our inner being is behind all that I have presented and extends well beyond it. In the end, the resilience we need as Christian leaders comes from the Lord. Yet it is good for us to remember that there are wise ways in which we can cooperate with his grace at work in our lives to run the race he has marked out for us to the very end.

 

Footnote:

I have previously written on this subject in Mentoring Matters (2009). Keith Farmer has also written an excellent article to be found on the Australian Christian Mentoring Network website. Fil Anderson’s Running on Empty (2004) made an important contribution to our understanding of how Christian leaders become depleted. From an Australian perspective, Paul and Libby Whetham’s Hard to Be Holy (2000) drew on representative stories of sixty Christian leaders to put a human face on theoretical insights. Most recently Alan Craddock’s Driven to Despair (2013) offers incisive psychological and theological insights on this phenomenon particularly as it applies to Christian leaders. I commend these articles to you for further reading and note that more and more articles are appearing on this topic at the present time. You may be aware of other studies that describe how and why leaders especially struggle with resilience. I encourage you to keep researching this subject as together we seek to help those whom we mentor be more effective in their chosen vocations.

How could your leadership be strengthened?

Mentoring and supervision

Rick’s emphasis is on missional leaders – people pushing the boundaries and working for transformational change. Within that group his special concern is for high-level leaders who must look outside their organizations to find ‘safe’ mentoring, and missionaries working in isolated, cross-cultural contexts.

 

Consultancy

Useful in a wide variety of developing situations, consultancy is a short-term discernment process that produces observations, reflections and recommendations for an organization around a few specific lines of enquiry. Rick’s experience has focused on churches, theological colleges and Christian charities.

 

Partnership

Taking things a step further than consultancy, partnership involves coming alongside a leadership team in an ongoing relationship, usually negotiated a year at a time, meeting 3 or 4 times a year to pursue the big questions of vision, values, mission and strategy. Along the way Rick helps leadership teams tackle the unforeseen obstructions that arise and identify fresh opportunities that emerge.

 

Training

Rick conducts interactive seminars and workshops that stimulate people to think creatively about matters of Christian faith and formulate their own contextualized responses. He is open to facilitate the exploration of new areas suggested by the organizations he serves.

Topics Rick has covered in the past include:

  • Mentoring
  • Discipleship
  • Spiritual formation
  • Leadership priorities
  • Hazards and strategies for leaders
  • Spirituality for leadership
  • The pastoral task
  • Compassion ministry in the church
  • Christian community

Facilitation

Rick works with leadership and management teams to design processes for dealing with particular issues. Often this means being an external chairperson for a meeting or conference, or being a conversation partner at specially convened, one-off strategy meetings.

 

Preaching

Rick loves to encourage communities of believers to faithfully pursue their calling in Christ. No church is too large or too small; Rick has a special appreciation of small churches that are up for a big challenge.

 

Retreats

Using insights gained from many years of Christian mentoring, Rick provides direction for spiritual retreats for Christian leaders to realign their lives and service under the Lordship of Christ. He takes special care to tailor each retreat to the circumstances of the participants.

Getting started

Anamcara Consulting is just getting started. At the moment it’s just me, Rick Lewis, but who knows where things will end up in the future? After 30 years as a local church pastor, I’m transitioning into a freelance business offering:

  • Mentoring for Christian leaders
  • Consultancy for organisations
  • Partnership with church leadership teams
  • Training in a wide range of topics around discipleship, ministry and mission
  • Facilitation for special meetings, conferences and retreats

I charge modest professional rates for most individuals and organisations, and consider pro bono work for mission workers living on faith support.

There’s no hard sell here. What I’d love to do is sit down with you over coffee and talk about the hope God is stirring in your soul and what you might be able to do about that.

If you’d like to, please use the comment box to send me a message.