Asking Questions to Discern Emotional Health

Why ask questions about emotions?

Emotions in themselves are not susceptible to moral evaluation; they simply are what they are, neither wrong nor right. Yet it’s important to track emotions in Christian mentoring. Three reasons for this are:

  • They can be predicated on an accurate or an inaccurate reading of the circumstances that give rise to the emotion. If they come from an inaccurate reading, then those emotions may be inappropriate.
  • They are often very powerful, behind-the-scenes drivers behind our actions, our decisions and the way we perceive and relate with others, and those things do bring us into moral territory.
  • They can indicate a trajectory towards personal health and thriving or toward dysfunctional and unsustainable patterns of living.


In such a huge field, where do you begin?

Our human emotions are so many and varied it’s hard to know where to start to ask about a person’s emotional health. Which emotions are we trying to track?

One very popular mnemonic is ‘mad, sad, glad, scared’. If you can get a reading on these four fundamental emotions you are most of the way there to having a useful understanding of a person’s emotional health. However, I have found it helpful to add a 5thcategory of ‘keen’ to explore emotions that relate to desire, enthusiasm, passion and hope. The following questions might provide a springboard into investigating ‘mad, sad, glad, scared and keen.’


  • What has been making you cross lately?
  • When have you recently had to consciously keep your anger in check?
  • Over what things has your irritation spilled out in the last few weeks?
  • How are you responding to injustice in your circle of influence?


  • When was the last time you wept, and what was that about?
  • What losses are you dealing with at the moment?
  • Who do you know whose suffering breaks your own heart?
  • What proportion of your typical day is spent thinking sad thoughts?


  • What brings you delight?
  • Who has affirmed you recently and what did they say?
  • What is the most fun thing you’ve done in the last month?
  • What is your most satisfying recent achievement?


  • Who are you suspicious of or cannot trust?
  • Have you had any disturbing dreams lately? What were they about?
  • What do you worry might happen to members of your family?
  • How do you fear Satan might try to wreck your ministry?


  • What are you most looking forward to in the week ahead?
  • If you could manage it, what would you love to give more time to?
  • What part of your current role are you most passionate about?
  • If God gave you one wish, what would you ask for?


Each of the fundamental emotions we have considered – anger, sorrow, joy, fear, desire – could lead a person in a positive or a negative direction. There is such a thing as appropriate and inappropriate, helpful and unhelpful instances of each of those emotions.

Therefore, a mentor might follow up the questions above – which are non-evaluative, information-seeking questions – with openly evaluative questions such as these:

  • In what ways does your anger reflect God’s character and in what ways does it not?
  • In what ways does your sorrow reflect God’s character and in what ways does it not?
  • In what ways does your joy reflect God’s character and in what ways does it not?
  • In what ways does your fear reflect God’s character and in what ways does it not?
  • In what ways does your desire reflect God’s character and in what ways does it not?



Facilitating Change

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[1], four elements emerged as tremendously important for any change process:

  • Discontent
  • Hope
  • Capacity
  • Strategy

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.

Examine Discontent

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.

Stimulate Hope

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

Strengthen Capacity

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.

Develop Strategy

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.

[1]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

Setting Goals in Mentoring

Exercising Caution Around Goal-Setting

Both the process and the outcomes of setting goals in a mentoring context can be powerful. But that does not necessarily mean goal setting is always a good thing.

Some mentorees are what I would call ‘goal-averse’. This is usually a result of having been exposed to an approach to setting goals that they found unhelpful or even damaging. The very mention of goals makes them shudder and they might have similar reactions to terms like ‘target’, ‘objective’, ‘outcome’, ‘checkpoint’, ‘ambition’, ‘mission’ and ‘aim’. Such ‘crunchy’ language does not, for them, sit well amid a heartfelt search for how God is working in their lives and how they can respond faithfully to His work. However, different language that emphasises a ‘softer’ side may be more appealing. Words like ‘hope’, ‘dream’, ‘desire’, ‘longing’, ‘yearning’, ‘hunger’, and ‘passion’ are useful to overcome previous negative experiences of goal setting.

While I am not committed to any particular vocabulary relating to goals and goal setting, 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.

What might contribute to a person having a negative experience of goal setting? In their 2009 Harvard Business School Working Paper, Goals Gone Wild[1], Ordóñez, Schweitzer, Galinsky, and Bazerman came up with five ways in which goal setting can produce negative outcomes. They identify,

“specific side effects associated with goal setting, including a narrow focus that neglects non-goal areas, a rise in unethical behavior, distorted risk preferences, corrosion of organizational culture, and reduced intrinsic motivation.”

Although their research dealt with corporate/commercial settings, the relevance for Christian organisations and Christian leaders is not hard to see.

A further caution needs to be exercised around the use in mentoring of the popular ‘SMART goals’ methodology. The SMART acrostic emphasises Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-framed goals. (There are some variations to the acrostic in the literature.) This methodology was developed in the commercial sphere and is best suited to performance goals. It’s an approach that is well suited to coaching and does have some usefulness in mentoring when dealing with more superficial, intermediate goals. But the deeper, more transformational goals of Christian mentoring will have to do with personhood – the sort of person the mentoree is becoming as a result of God’s transforming work in their lives. The SMART goals methodology is not well adapted to this sort of goal.

Developing Healthy Goal Setting Practice

Taking into account the warnings of Ordóñez and her research team, and considering the special emphasis on personhood that undergirds mentoring, we Christian mentors should seek to develop healthy goal setting practices where goals/longings:

  • are set by mentorees
rather than their mentors
  • are kept flexible and open for realignment and development
  • are not simply about performance but also take account of the inner life and being of mentoree
  • are progressively shaped around the hope God stirs within the mentoree
  • are a grateful response to grace and not a means of currying favour or avoiding punishment

If these elements are firmly in place, the articulation of goals (or longings) within mentoring has the potential to:

  • stimulate hope
  • clarify priorities
  • provoke movement
  • calibrate progress
  • prepare for celebration

Christian mentoring is built on the deeper reality of God’s already present activity in the life of a mentoree. Because this divine work is always transformative with a trajectory that begins where the person is today and arches forward into a better future where God has renewed the whole of creation, our work as Christian mentors will always have a place for the setting of goals, by the mentoree, which more and more closely reflect God’s intentions.

[1]Goals Gone Wild: The Systematic Side Effects of Over-Prescribing Goal Settingby Lisa D. Ordóñez, Maurice E. Schweitzer, Adam D. Galinsky, and Max H. Bazerman. Harvard Business School Working Paper 09-083, 2009

Burnout Recovery Strategy

I’ve put together a few dot points in response to several requests for a positive approach to dealing with burnout. All comments and suggestions for improvement are welcome.

Put temporary boundaries in place

  • Get a proper break – press pause
  • No major decisions
  • No new responsibilities
  • Suspend contact with work
  • Minimal screen time
  • Recommended: suspend use of social media


Receive love

  • Be with those you love without distraction
  • Listen deeply
  • Allow time for conversations to develop naturally – don’t force it
  • Be vulnerable enough to ask for what you need


Care for your physical health (N.E.W.S.)

  • Nutrition – eat healthy, modest amounts regularly
  • Exercise – at least an hour a day
  • Water – at least 2 litres a day
  • Sleep – at least 7 hours and enough that you don’t need an alarm


Reflective practice

  • Prayer – simply be with God, only speak when you have something you want to say
  • Document your reflections where possible, review and edit progressively
  • Revisit your values – the ‘why?’ question
  • Consider what you want to do with your life and how that fits with your role
  • Identify sources of stress, put them in perspective and develop ways to deal with them


Ease back in

  • Work in defined time periods
  • Resist pressure to respond quickly – buy time
  • Share the load more than you did previously
  • Confront graciously – appropriate assertiveness
  • Do things that restore your soul


Review the signs of progress

  • Laughter becomes more spontaneous
  • Interest in people increases
  • Positive reaction to interruptions
  • Compulsive behaviour abates
  • Creativity / fresh ideas come again
  • Concentration span increases
  • Better able to cope with complexity and ambiguity
  • Future orientation
  • Generosity wells up
  • Patience in the face of irritation
  • Feeling of resentment abates
  • Sense of gratitude rises
  • Joy and peace rises

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.


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.
  • Self-discovery 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.



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.