Keeping Focus in Mentoring

by Janet Woodlock. 

It’’s possible to drift in mentoring relationships. They can become a pleasant catch up, but be relatively ineffective in helping another grow personally, spiritually, and vocationally. Indeed, they can become frustrating sessions, where old issues are re-hashed with little evidence of increasing maturity or responsibility in the mentee.

One of the most important steps in keeping mentoring relationships effective is contracting well. Expectations need to be crystal clear, with key goals / growth areas identified at the outset.

Some of the expectations that should be built in to a powerful mentoring agreement/contract include:

  • preparation for sessions. The mentoree should agree to bring an issue to every session.
  • commitment to action steps. The mentoree is clear s/he desires to grow, and commits to implementing any actions arising from each session.
  • regular meetings. If meetings are only very occasional or are made on an ad-hoc basis, the mentoree may feel little pressure to implement action steps.
  • an agreed review date. Review how the mentoring is working for both parties after a certain number of sessions. (Then ask: “What can I learn as a mentor to support you better? Is my mentoring helpful to you? Should we continue?”)
  • an end date. Mentoring that continues forever is prone to becoming a friendly conversation. It is better to contract for a certain number of sessions, then review whether the mentoree wants to re-contract around a new set of agreed goals.

Having a potential mentoree fill out a survey prior to a first session can be helpful in forming specific growth goals. Or your first session can be focused on series goals.* Ask your mentoree to identify ambitious goals they would like to work on over a longer period of time. (Fitness, family relationships, spiritual life, education, career goals, new initiatives in ministry – it could be anything!) Then clarify the goals they would most like to focus on in mentoring.

If expectations are set out clearly, and if ambitious goals are established for the mentoring relationship, you have set the relationship up well to ensure the mentoree keeps focused.

It’s hard work being this intentional. Sometimes it’s appropriate to have a less formal mentoring relationship. But contracting like this, and referring to the agreement throughout the relationship, does the heavy lifting in keeping the focus on personal growth.

Christian mentoring is less about helping people feel better (though that may often occur) and more about helping people become all that God is calling them to be, and step into all that God is calling them to do. In short, it can be a very effective tool of discipleship.

“Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be a mentor desires a noble task.” That’s my very rough translation of I Timothy 3:1. I think it’s true though! What a privilege it is to partner with others in this way!

So how might you become more focused in your mentoring?

And can you share something that has helped you keep focus in mentoring?

And a provocative thought: the most focused mentoring relationship I’ve ever had involved major financial penalties if action steps weren’t completed! (Mates rates vs executive coaching rates). What do you think of THAT approach?

I’d love to hear from you!

Janet Woodlock

*big goals that require a series of steps to achieve.

The ACMN does not promote a single model of mentoring. Some styles include:
Life Coaching: Partnering with a coachee who sets personal goals, helping them develop action plans to achieve them. (Janet’s typical style; hence the focus on goals in this article)

Spiritual Direction: Partnering with a pilgrim in discerning where God is at work in the inner life.

Counselling: A strong focus on emotional / psychological wellbeing. Some ministry supervisors are trained psychologists/counsellors.

Skill Mentoring/Coaching: An expert providing feedback on a skill area (e.g. helping a minister improve their preaching)

The first three styles in particular involve the mentor asking questions and listening deeply. Some mentors develop a blended style depending on their background, or wear different “hats” depending on the presenting issue.

Mentoring in Groups and Between Peers: Alternatives to the One-to-One Mentoring Model

by Rick Lewis.   

Where experienced, competent mentors are hard to find, a group-mentoring model 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 Lewis makes in chapters 5 and 7 of Mentoring Matters[3] about the operation of power within mentoring relationships.

A link to a PDF version of this article – Anamcara Consulting

[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.

Toward a Theology of Christian Mentoring

by Rick Lewis.   

It must be acknowledged that mentoring is not a Biblical word, yet it does describe a Biblical reality, observable in several key relationships between leaders in both the Old and New Testaments, as we will explore towards the end of this section. The Biblical terms most closely related to mentoring are μαθητεύσατε ‘make disciples’ (Matthew 28:19), καταρτισμός ‘prepare’ or ‘equip’ (Ephesians 4:12) and ποιμαίνω ‘tend as a shepherd’ (Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:2). Mentoring can make a key contribution to these larger concerns.

A useful theology of Christian mentoring will answer questions such as these:

· Where is God active in a Christian mentoring partnership?

· What Biblical texts inform the process and outcomes of mentoring?

· How does mentoring sit alongside other methods of disciple-making, preparation of God’s people and pastoral leadership?

· What personal qualities and attitudes are required of those involved in mentoring?

· What values must be respected in mentoring that are worthy of being called ‘Christian’?

God’s already present action is affirmed by Paul in Philippians 1:6 where he says, ‘He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus’. God’s action calls for a response from individuals such as that expressed in Philippians 3:12 ‘I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me’. The scope for mentoring emerges from the New Testament’s insistence that others have a part to play in facilitating an individual’s response to God’s gracious action. Some examples of this include the following:

· And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone. (1 Thessalonians 5:12,14)

· Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. (Hebrews 10:24)

· I myself am certain of you, brothers, that you are full of what is good, complete in all knowledge, able to give direction to one another. (Romans 15:14)

· Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom. (Colossians 3:16)

In understanding mentoring as essentially a formational process we can see three key elements:

· God is the one who forms; ‘For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son’ (Romans 8:29)

· The mentoree offers themselves to be formed; ‘Offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness.’ (Romans 6:13)

· Mentors participate in this formation; ‘My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you’ (Galatians 4:19)

Following Anderson and Reese’s description of mentoring[1] as a ‘triadic relationship’, consider what is going on in each of the six interactions within mentoring:


· What comes from God to the mentoree?

· What comes from the mentoree to God?

· What comes from God to the mentor?

· What comes from the mentor to God?

· What comes from the mentor to the mentoree?

· What comes from the mentoree to the mentor?

As you construct your theology of Christian mentoring, take note of the qualities that stand out to you as most important features of the sort of mentoring you would choose for yourself and would wish to provide for others. As a starting point, you may wish to consider the following qualities of mentoring as shaped by the New Testament:

Ontological – concerned for being as a foundation for doing; Matthew 28:19-20; Ephesians 4:12-13

Incarnational – requiring an aspect of modelling; Philippians 3:17; 4:9; 1 Corinthians 4:15-16; 11:1; 2 Thessalonians 3:9

Liberating – eschewing domination; 2 Thessalonians 3:8; 1 Peter 5:2-3

Generative – receivers pass it on; 1 Thessalonians 1:6-7; 2 Timothy 2:2

Christocentric – formation aimed at Christlikeness; Galatians 4:19; Colossians 1:28-29

In Mentoring Matters, Lewis cites several relationships between people in the Bible that display some of the attributes of mentoring[2]. We should be careful not to advance these as precise, definitive examples of mentoring. They might be more accurately identified as Biblical precedents of mentoring in the sense that we use the term today. They are, nonetheless, useful in identifying how God has been pleased to use human relationships in the past to further his work of forming leaders for his mission in the world. Reflections on Biblical relationships that help us understand the potential of mentoring may also be found in Mallison[3] and Horsfall[4].

A PDF version of this article is available here.  From Anamcara Consulting

[1] Their definition reads, “A triadic relationship between mentor, mentoree and the Holy Spirit, where the mentoree can discover, through the already present action of God, intimacy with God, ultimate identity as a child of God and a unique voice for kingdom responsibility.” Anderson and Reese, Spiritual Mentoring: A Guide for Seeking and Giving Direction. Downers Grove: IVP, 1999, p. 12.

[2] Lewis, Rick. Mentoring Matters: Building Strong Leaders, Avoiding Burnout, Reaching the Finishing Line. Oxford, Monarch, 2009, p. 42-56

[3] Mallison, John. Mentoring: To Develop Disciples and Leaders. Adelaide: Openbook/Lidcombe: Scripture Union, 1998, p. 37-42

[4] Horsfall, Tony. Mentoring for Spiritual Growth. Abingdon: Bible Reading Fellowship, 2008, p. 27-34

Ancient Art for a Postmodern Context

By Rick Lewis

We maintain that spiritual mentoring is a thoroughly Christian discipline, and an ancient one at that. But if that is so, why has it not been on our radar until relatively recently?

Although the term mentoring wasn’t used in its current sense until 1699 in the writings of Francois Fenelon, the practice of people journeying alongside someone else to help them discover and get onto God’s agenda for their lives is well attested in the Bible and in literature from the early church, the Middle Ages, through the Reformation afterwards, right up to the time of the Enlightenment in the 18th century. At that point things began to change. What was it about the Enlightenment that inhibited the practice of what we call mentoring?

The Enlightenment stressed reason as the basis for authority. The authority of the Bible, of the church and of God was rejected in favour of what could be worked out through human reasoning. This challenge had a profound impact on the church and flowed through to influence the way discipleship and spiritual formation were pursued. In order to combat Enlightenment arguments, influential Christians fought fire with fire, using reason to establish the truth and authority of God and his Word.

Within 100 years, matters of spirituality and discipleship were being addressed through the exercise of reason alone, especially in the Protestant tradition to which most of us in the Mentoring Network belong. The ancient art of mentoring, with its prayerful processes of discernment and encouragement of the heart gave way to more ‘rational’ and ‘scientific’ approaches to Christian growth. Maturity in the faith came to be measured more by what was known in the head, rather than by a transformed inner life.

The Enlightenment formed the philosophical framework for the Modernist worldview – which has been the dominant worldview in the West for the past 200 years. Now, there is a new worldview emerging, called Post-modernism. There is a growing sensitivity to context, appreciation of wonder and mystery, craving for authenticity, openness to all kinds of spirituality, valuing of subjective experience and cherishing of community.

Once again in our time, just as at the time of the Enlightenment, the issue of authority is the hot potato. But this time, the suspicion is aimed at those who think they can claim authority on the basis of science and reason. Modernist Christian teaching often comes under the same suspicion.

When today’s post-moderns are looking for a guide through life, they are not necessarily looking for teachers who have all the answers in terms of propositional truth. They are more likely to look for a mentor with integrity and practical wisdom who is prepared to walk a journey of discovery with them, and help them grapple with the questions. Now, that sounds a lot like the way Jesus brought his message of the kingdom of God and worked with the disciples to shape them for ministry and mission.

If you want to be involved in forming the next generation of disciples and leaders, it’s time to look back to the way Jesus did it, the way Barnabas and Paul and Timothy related. This may be welcome news, or it may create waves as we re-tool for forming Christian leaders in a different way. But the message is unavoidable: we need to recover the ancient art of mentoring not only because it is Biblical but also because this generation is hungry for it.

Mentoring appeals to post-moderns because it goes beyond what a person knows to the condition of a person’s soul. It gives people space and time, within the context of a sacred relationship, to journey toward transformation not by the power of propositional truth but by the power of the Spirit of truth. A spiritual mentor is not so much a person with the right answers as a person with the right questions who walks the road of discovery with others.

Jer 6:16 This is what the Lord says: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.