I am firmly convinced that Christian mentoring necessarily involves helping a person consciously, deliberately and freely move from their present state of affairs to what, in God’s eyes, is a better state of affairs. That, in turn, necessarily involves the person having a clear idea of where they are, where God is calling them to be, and developing a desire to make the move forward.
But what about when a mentoree sets out on that journey to where they believe God is calling them to be and the process of change falls over? How can a mentor help to discern what is going on and why things are not progressing as first imagined? How can a mentor be a facilitator of positive change?
Through my reading of the literature on change management, four elements emerged as tremendously important for any change process:
This suggested to me a simple ‘triage’ approach to exploring in a mentoring conversation why a change process has stalled. Where has it come off the rails? Is there a lack of discontent, or hope, or capacity, or strategy or some combination of these lacks? Once you have a clearer idea of what you’re dealing with you can put your efforts where it is most needed.
Not all discontent is valid and some attempts at change are predicated on discontent that God wants to transform into humble acceptance. However, change can also stall because mentorees who have a niggle that change is needed, then become inappropriately complacent once they have taken a step or two. These feelings and thoughts of discontent must be examined. If they are found to be valid it’s important that the mentoree is not simply prepared to put up with things the way they are, tolerating a state of affairs that falls far short of God’s intentions.
This backing off from change can come from a skewed sense of what is ‘normal’, an aversion to unpleasantness, a desire not to be negative, or sheer laziness. Whatever the cause, it is not until people are sufficiently fed up with what the kingdom of this world has to offer that they will begin on the path towards the promise held out in the kingdom of God.
As people in the marketing business say, first you have to sell the problem, then you can sell the solution. The role of a mentor may be to ‘rub raw the sores of discontent’, validating dissatisfaction where appropriate and affirming righteous anger over things that are not right. There are, of course, vested interests that are determined to prevent God’s transformative work moving forward and will seek to hose down discontent through either oppression or soothing. The chief of these vested interests are spiritual forces that must be exposed and confronted.
There is a prophetic edge to this part of facilitating change in mentoring. Being a godly mentor requires courage to declare the truth; to afflict the comfortable as well as to comfort the afflicted. Be careful not to make yourself so unpopular that you have no opportunity to work with your mentoree into the next stage! Be mindful of how much discontent people can bear before they become bitter and resentful, or crushed and despairing.
A second point at which change can come off the rails is where hope is too dim to light the pathway ahead. A failure of imagination is crippling to hope. Even a person deeply dissatisfied with the present state of affairs will not embrace change unless they can see the prospect of a better future.
Imagination may fail for two reasons: fixation on threats and obstacles, and lack of exposure to alternative scenarios. Mentors have the task of presenting a larger perspective which addresses both these problems:
- Acknowledging threats and obstacles, but placing them in a bigger frame that also includes the stupendous power of God
- Drawing out stories of how God has worked across the centuries and is working across the world and across the street in contexts that have resonance with the mentoree
Discontented with the present and hopeful for a better future, mentorees may still come unstuck if they over-reach, attempting change for which they are not equipped. Consider how the Israelites had to strengthen their capacity before they could embrace the change God had in mind for them to occupy the promised land. God tells Moses in Ex 23:29-30
‘I will not drive them out in a single year, because the land would become desolate and the wild animals too numerous for you. Little by little I will drive them out before you, until you have increased enough to take possession of the land.’
Change can falter because too much is attempted at once, or the process is rushed, or the intended change is unrealistic. Mentors can help to:
- assess the correct pace of change
- encourage steadiness, patience and perseverance
- identify resource gaps
- secure appropriate external support
- encourage the mentoree to refocus the direction of change if capacity simply cannot match intentions
Capacity issues are best tackled in the context of prayer. God’s grace in its endlessly various forms is an unparalleled resource within mentoring. We can be confident that God will supply the wherewithal to follow his call, but sometimes we do not have because we do not ask. If it turns out that a refocus of direction is required, mentorees must be able to receive this message as God’s wisdom and it is in prayer that they will hear his voice.
The final element essential to any effective change process is a thoughtfully considered strategic plan that provides traction so a person can actually get moving on implementing change in practical ways. Without this a mentoree remains stuck in the realm of nice ideas, possibility and potential, good intentions and empty words.
Developing strategy will involve breaking down a large, overarching goal into smaller, more specific action steps. There are several methods for going about this but one approach I find particularly helpful when dealing with a complex change process is Kurt Lewin’s ‘Force Field Analysis’. This two-step model first identifies positive and negative forces relevant to the desired change – positive forces that could help the change to happen and negative forces that you’re up against. The second step is to identify specific actions that would strengthen the positive forces and other actions that would help to neutralise or overcome the negative forces.
In general, when seeking to facilitate change mentors can draw attention to a few key considerations:
- encourage mentorees to anchor their desired change in regular routines and habits
- prompt mentorees to think ahead, considering the knock-on effects – the shock of unintended consequences can easily undermine changes that have not had time to take root
- set a schedule for regular review and evaluation so that the change process can be tweaked in the light of ongoing developments.
Facilitating change can get complicated but giving attention to these four elements could provide a simple structure for finding a way forward.
If you want to dig into this topic, try John Kotter, Leading Change, Harvard Business School Press, 2012, Nic Beech and Robert MacIntosh, Managing Change, Cambridge University Press, 2012, and Robert Quinn, Deep Change, Jossey-Bass, 1996