Difficult Conversations

If you lead a mentoring program for any period of time, you will have some difficult conversations. No one likes conflict, but if we are going to work with people on behalf of people, we will need to have difficult conversations from time to time. While it may be tempting to avoid these conversations, healthy leaders choose to deal with conflict as it arises, knowing that conflict, like disease, worsens over time. Here are some clues to handling conflict in a positive way.

First, avoid texting when dealing with conflict. Texting is a good tool for positive feedback but is not good for hard conversations. Because texting is both written and fast, it usually compounds the problem. Written dialogue lacks the verbal and facial cues needed for good communication. A speedy response to a difficult, and often complicated issue, rarely leads to good outcomes.

Second, read and remember before replying. Remind yourself what the Bible says about conflict in Matthew 18:15-17. Remind yourself about Christ’s patience with people who opposed him. Pray and ask the Lord to remind you how He sees this person with whom you are struggling. Once you have his loving perspective, you will be able to approach this person properly. Remember, the person is not the problem. The issue raised can actually lead to positive dialogue needed for growth together.

Third, listen before you speak. When you begin the conversation, begin it with a question. The word “dialogue” comes from two Greek words: dia (through) and logos (word). Good dialogue requires you to allow the words of the other person to flow through you before you respond. Try to listen without forming a response. Remember, there is no hurry. You may need to have a listening session and then schedule another meeting to express your opinion. Once you are clear on what the other person’s motives, hopes, and struggles are, you will be able to respond with kindness and respect. (See Douglas Stone’s chapter on Listening Sessions in his excellent work entitled Difficult Conversations.)

Fourth, realize that conflict has multiple levels.[1] The first level is the “What” level. This level asks, “What is the real issue here?” or “What are the facts?” The second level is the “Emotional” level. This addresses how the conflict makes me feel. Does this make me angry, sad, frustrated? The third level is the “Identity” level. This addresses how the conflict impacts my sense of identity. Does this make me feel worthless, used, overlooked? We often try to deal with the “what” level without addressing the other two levels – and that is always a bad idea. More often than not, the “what” issue is not really the issue. The problem behind the problem is that this conflict triggers emotions and identity sensors in both the one causing the conflict and the one responding to it. We should pay attention to these triggers in both parties as we address the conflict. Good questions and good listening help to identify them.

Finally, once you have worked through conflict with someone, don’t forget to check in with them from time to time to make sure that all is well. On the rare occasion that conflict persists, a third-party can be brought in to help the two of you work it out over time. Remember, conflict is inevitable when we work with people. The real question is: “Will we work through conflict well or poorly?”

-Ken Merrifield


[1] Douglas Stone, Difficult Conversations, Kindle version location 430.

Too Young to be Without Hope

Please enjoy this success story from one ministry CAYM helped train.

A four-year-old boy was about to get kicked out of preschool. Without parents in his life, Chris was out of control. The school was running out of options. Then a teacher suggested mentoring through the Appalachia Mentoring Project.

For four straight weeks, Ken showed up at the school to meet with his little protégé, but the boy refused. The school told Ken he was wasting his time, and he should give up. Ken said that CAYM trained him to stick to his commitment, no matter what. Ken’s persistence paid off. Slowly, the boy began to warm up to this mentor.

Eight months later, the district social worker asked the teachers how Chris turned around so dramatically. They pointed to Ken, who they said made all the difference. Ken had continued to show up until the boy became his friend. The social worker cried and said that she thought this boy was a lost cause. She couldn’t find a reason that he completely turned around during the school year until she learned about a mentor who wouldn’t give up.

CAYM helped develop the Appalachia Mentoring Project, where churches joined together to reach the most vulnerable youth in their communities. Sam is part of the Bell County School system, where we started the first mentoring ministry. Our second mentoring ministry is in Clay County, which The New York Times reports is the most difficult place to live in the United States. High poverty, a lack of jobs, and drug addiction plague the region. Sixty percent of the children in this region live in homes where there are no biological parents, due to drug addiction and abandonment. The churches are looking to bring hope to an area that is seen as hopeless.

Chris is one child. The AMP team wants to mentor hundreds of youth in the Appalachian region. Residents of Clay County feel that the New York Times labels them as hopeless. The churches believe that with Christ there is always hope!

AMP has since expanded their work to three counties in the region.

Changing Families

Island Christian Church in New York knew they needed mentors for youth of single moms who attended their church. It’s hard enough to keep kids faithful to the Lord under the best of circumstances, but moms raising children on their own face enormous challenges.

Raymond’s parent divorced when he was too young to understand what was happening to his family. While his mother regularly attended church, his dad couldn’t be bothered. Soon after the divorce, this father also became disinterested in his son. That’s when Steve became Ray’s mentor. They quickly bonded as this young man saw the sincerity and faithfulness of a Christian man who gave his time to a boy he hardly knew. Ray’s life began to change, and his mother’s burden was lifted.

But a weight was put on his father’s heart. Who was this man befriending his son? Whether it was guilt, jealousy, or a renewed passion of fatherhood, Ray’s dad started to show interest in him. As father and son were reunited, mom and dad were as well. Through counseling at the church, this formerly-disconnected father become connected to Christ, and the couple retied the knot of marriage. Ray had a reunited family with a foundation based on our savior. It took a church, visionary mentoring leaders, and a faithful mentor to bring hope back to a family.

Island Christian Church attended CAYM’s training in 2013

The Power of No

Photo via Creative Commons
licensed under CC BY-ND

Tony Blair once said, “The art of leadership is not saying yes; it is saying no.”[1] And yet, if you are anything like me, you find it hard to say no on occasion. As long as everything seems important and urgent, “no” remains a distant dream. Leaders, ministry is important, but your health and emotional well-being remains a foundational element to the success of your mentoring program. Your health and the health of your organization depend upon your ability to say no. Here are some concepts to keep in mind as you lead in the “Power of No.”

First, realize that every time a leader says yes to someone, he/she also says no to someone else. Notice that it is someone and not something to whom we respond. Leaders may think of tasks and projects, but all of these details have a someone behind them. This person may be you – your own sense of urgency, importance and self-worth. This person may be someone else – someone with an urgent need. It could be your staff or your board. No matter who brings the need, when a leader says yes to that person, he/she says no to someone else. If a match coordinator says yes to a mentor who is unprepared, the coordinator consequently says no to the matched child who ends up with an ill-prepared person for a mentor. If a mentor director says yes to a fundraiser, she consequently says no to other relationships during the time needed to set the fundraiser into motion. It is often healthier for a leader to say no outright than to say no consequently.  Leaders must say no to some things in order to say yes to the important things.

Secondly, one of the most important gifts we can give to employees, mentors, and mentees is “no.” Don’t misunderstand me here. We want programs that risk and develop cultures of innovation with freedom to fail and to grow. But, inherent to these programs, is the need for definite guidelines and the occasional no. Parents who never say no to their kids do more harm to them than good. Leaders may risk the same if they never say no. A key factor in tenacity and growth is the ability to receive a “no” and to grow in the context of that guideline. Youth who do not see adults modeling this in their own lives are certain to struggle in adulthood. Breakthroughs in mentoring occur as mentors travel life with mentees during the dark days of “no” and denial. Discipline is the fruit of a healthy root of yes and no —opportunity and denial — encouragement and discouragement.

Finally, the way a leader determines his/her yes and no is through a clear understanding of purpose and character. If an athlete wants to achieve success in college, she must say no to certain behaviors and yes to those behaviors which lead to athleticism. If a young person wants to become a professor, he must say yes to studies and no to certain other hobbies. If you want to lead with integrity, you must choose your yes and no carefully. The principle remains the same. We become the total sum of our choices – both our choices to say yes and our choices to say no.

Blessings to you as you walk in the “Power of No.”

–Ken Merrifield


[1] As quoted by Lance Witt, Replenish, p. 131, Baker Books, 2011.

Compassion Cleans a Community

We see over and over how mentoring relationships can impact communities! Please enjoy this success story from one ministry CAYM helped train.

Shepherd Christian Community sits in the middle of the poorest area of Indianapolis, a city where the poverty rate has nearly doubled since 2000. This Nazarene church has a congregation made up mostly of impoverished families in the area. Their innovative programs include an elementary school that helps youth who would otherwise attend underperforming schools served by an overwhelmed staff. They realized that the youth in the school and in the community needed more. Kids growing up without two healthy parents need mentors, especially when faced with the multi-generational poverty.

One of the critical factors in breaking the cycle of poverty is when people find they have something to give others. Before getting a mentor, Jayzon would frequently avoid any tasks beyond the basics needed to survive. After getting a mentor through Shepherd,  he set a goal to be more compassionate and more aware of the needs of his neighborhood. But what could one teenager do in a poor, decaying community?

Jayzon had an idea. Every Friday after school Jayzon walked his neighborhood, picked up trash, and got to know his neighbors. As time went on, he involved his siblings, cousins, and friends in his community improvement project. He was able to make an impact on his neighborhood, and many neighbors expressed their appreciation for his hard work and dedication to his neighborhood. His attitude towards his neighborhood changed because he was able to make an impact from something as simple as picking up trash. The more important change came in Jayzon’s view of himself and his future.

CAYM helped start and sustain Shepherd Christian Community in 2009 through training and consulting.

Becoming a Nickel is Priceless

Sometimes mentoring leads down unexpected paths! We would like to share the following story from a family who experienced long-lasting impact from what began as a mentoring relationship. This is the story of Jimi Nickel and her family.

“I started working at Youth Horizons in the fall of 2006 after my husband Phil and I moved to Wichita. We knew after I started that we both wanted to be matched with a protégé. I had heard of Christopher and knew he had been on our waiting list for over a year. Youth Horizons had hoped to find him a mentor at a specific church, but it never worked out. So, in February 2007, Christopher was matched with my husband Phil. He was 7 years old. Over the year, Phil and Christopher met most weeks and usually had fun together: bowling, visiting K-State for their open house and spring football game, going to the park. He was not, however, a big fan of reading together.

Over the months, we also got to know Christopher’s family. He had two siblings, both teenagers, and they were struggling with even getting to school each day. In December, his mom invited us to join them as a social worker met to talk with the kids about their truancy and potential placement in the foster care system. His mom also talked with us about potentially being foster parents for Christopher, should the need arise. 

In January, the family was given a date that the older two would go into foster care. What the family didn’t know was that Social Services (now DCF) had decided to remove Christopher that same day. Thankfully, Phil and I had already started the necessary classes to become foster parents. Christopher was placed with us on March 5, 2008. 

The plan was reintegration with his family, and that’s what we were working towards as we helped with family visits. However, due to continuing instability with Christopher’s mom, the plan was changed to adoption in the summer of 2008. We were very surprised by this! God was working in our hearts and through the support of our church community, we felt lead towards adopting. However, we took the process very slowly. Christopher was eight years old and still definitely wanted to return to his biological family. 

The adoption was final on September 4, 2009, just two months before Christopher turned 10. He had settled into his new school and was making great advances in reading and math and developing new friendships. He played baseball in the summer and fall and was always the fastest kid on the team. As he got older, he started playing percussion in band, and he did that all through high school. 

When he was 13, we added twins to our family, and Christopher excelled at being a big brother. He is still adored by all three of our younger children (another born in 2015).

He was active in our church youth group and part of their leadership team. He went on three mission trips to the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota. God has grown him into a kind, smart, responsible young man.

He graduated from high school in 2018 and started attending college. He also worked nearly full-time at Chick-fil-a during his freshmen year of college. That’s where he met Lizzy. They started dating, spending lots of time together and soon couldn’t imagine life without each other. So, they married December 21, 2019, and now we have added a daughter-in-law to our family. 


We are so thankful for the way God knit our family together! Never could we have imagined it or planned for it. We believe God will continue to work in Chris and Lizzy’s lives and our own. We can’t wait to see what is next.”

It’s All About Relationships

“Youth are leaving our churches, and we don’t know what to do about it.” These words are too often spoken by pastors who faithfully minister in churches across this nation. “How do we stay relevant to our culture when the culture constantly changes?” is usually the next question.

While Christianity Today has done a good job debunking the commonly held opinion that most pastors are discouraged and ready to quit,[1] many, including myself, are perplexed by these issues. In moments of lucidity, however, I think the answer must include a vigorous effort by churches to form deep relationships with those not yet in the faith. Relationships are key, and mentoring is all about relationships.

Contemporary efforts by the church to hit the ever-moving target of cultural relevancy include five strategies. Here they are:

  1. Prioritize Needs – service and social ministry (food pantries, etc.)
  2. Preach positive, subject-based messages on “relevant subjects”
  3. Professionalism – keep programs positive, professional, and attractive
  4. Participation – make it easy to connect on demand and online – convenience matters
  5. Production – produce programs with bumper videos, media posts, graphics for each series, countdowns, sermon starters and outlines to engage a tech-driven culture

None of these efforts are bad. They just do not seem to be leading to a church that resembles the one in Acts where many were being saved, healed, and transformed. What is missing? A vigorous effort by churches to form deep relationship with those not yet in the faith is missing.

In Acts 6 the early church prioritized relationships. They served the Hellenistic (Greek) widows with whom they had relationships. They chose Hellenistic leaders to oversee these widows because these leaders had a relationship with them. The Apostles delegated this ministry so they could spend their time in prayer and preaching, prioritizing spiritual relationship. Why? They ministered this way because relationship with God and with people was at the core of who they were and how they defined Christianity.

Jesus agreed with the early church when he summed up the gospel as relationship: loving God and loving others. His ministry was all about relationships: friendships with three, with twelve, with outcasts, at parties, at suppers and at weddings. When he came upon a Samaritan woman at a well, he could have ignored her like the other Jews; instead, he initiated a relationship with her. Mentors, take note and be encouraged as Jesus models mentoring for this hurting woman. Here is his approach:

  1. Inconvenienced – He’s tired and resting by a well but still chooses to invest.
  2. Initiate — He breaks taboos and talks to this “second-class” Samaritan, ignoring all stereotypes held by Jews and by Samaritans alike.
  3. Interested – He is interested in her well-being and approaches her vulnerably asking for some water. He knows she is broken and rejected by multiple divorces, so he tenderly offers her living water.
  4. Insistent – He patiently redirects the conversation when asked about places of worship. He keeps bringing her to the heart level to share her pain and rejection.
  5. Invite – Finally, he invites her into deep relationship with the Spirit and the Father.[2]

Jesus ministered this way because relationship with the Father and with people is at the core of who he is. We pastors may be confused about “doing” church in the 21st century, but Jesus certainly is not. He built his ministry one trusting relationship at a time and asks us to do the same through discipleship.

Mentoring is relational. It is at the core of discipleship. It is a major part of the solution for recapturing the health of the 21st century church.

-Ken Merrifield


[1] https://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2015/october/that-stat-that-says-pastors-are-all-miserable-and-want-to-q.html

[2] John 4:23

The Mentor and Shalom

Seven hundred years before the birth of Christ, Isaiah prophesied that the Messiah would be a Prince of Peace.

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6  (NIV)

The term translated “peace” is the Hebrew word shalom. Shalom extends far beyond our understanding of peace as the absence of war or conflict. Shalom describes a world where justice and harmony rule; it is a world in which the Prince of Peace rules a creation which reflects God’s character and essence. Isaiah’s prophecy extends beyond the first coming of Christ and peeks through history to his triumphant return in the future. We see this in the following verse:

Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this. Isaiah 9:7 (NIV)

Peace began on the day Christ was born and will find fulfillment on the day He returns. The angelic messengers of God ushered in peace with their proclamation to a few shepherds tending sheep many years ago. “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” Luke 2:14 (NIV) Scriptures record boldly the fulfillment of this prophecy in the book of Revelation in which the Son returns in might and ushers in His new kingdom on a new earth – a kingdom in which there is no more violence, sickness, or sin. Peace reigns, and His name is Jesus.

Meanwhile, we live through 2020. We live through conflict, turbulence, pain and death. We long for the fulfillment and we wonder, in moments of silence, if this peace will ever reign? Our hope resides not only in the birth, death, and resurrection of this proclaimed Prince. It resides also in His life. He dwelt among us as one of us for a purpose, and that purpose was not only to usher in peace with the Father; the purpose was also to model peace for his believers.

Upon whom does His favor rest? It rests upon the prodigal who returns; it rests on the demoniac living among the tombs; it rests on a prostitute named Mary of Magdalene; it even rests upon the hated lepers and tax collectors. This sort of peace remains as foreign to us as the grace of God itself. Yet, there it is – living on the pages of our scriptures within the life of our Savior. And, as we read, we see that it is offered to all of us – especially to we who are outcast, lonely, forgotten and mistreated. The gift of Christmas is Shalom – harmony with God – found only in the residing transformative presence of the Prince of Shalom.

Mentors, you are shalom today, and you foreshadow the fulfillment of shalom promised and longed for by all believers. Every child you love … every cheek you turn … every act of anger you answer with forgiveness … every extra mile and late-night phone call … is shalom. You do not always see it—nor do you always feel it—but the Prince who sees all never misses these sacrifices. He smiles as you join Him in the ushering of His new creation one person at a time. We smile with Him, and the staff at CAYM wish you blessings in your work of peace these days. May many young people, abandoned and lonely, receive the Prince of Peace in 2021 through your lives and ministry.

-Ken Merrifield

Mentoring Programs: Basic Internal Metrics

Keeping record of the basic internal metrics for a mentoring program is an important part of tracking the progress of a program.  These basic metrics help a mentoring program to identify which mentoring best practices are being done well and what adjustments may need to be made so that the program becomes more effective.  Let’s look at the metrics that mentoring programs need to track and why they are important.

  • Mentor Recruitment – Programs need to track when and how they recruited their mentors.  Evaluate this information to see what recruitment methods are most effective and productive.
  • Protégé Referrals – Programs need to track where they receive referrals of their protégés, the best time of year to recruit, and who is the best connection in that referral source.  Evaluate this information to see what recruitment methods are most effective and productive.
  • New Matches – Track the date that the new matches start.
  • Coaching Contact Rate – Track the monthly contacts that each mentoring coach makes with each mentor, protégé, and parent / guardian on their caseload.  Within one match there are three contacts that must be made (mentor, protégé, and parent).  It is important to contact all three within forty-eight hours of the match to assess how everyone feels about the first meeting. During the first three months of the match, the coach needs to contact all three every other week, so there would be a total of six contacts per month for a new match.  After the first three months it is one contact per month with mentor, protégé, and parent, so there would be a total of three contacts per month.  The method for calculating the contact rate is to divide the number of contacts made in the month by the total number of contacts required (60/68 = 88% contact rate).  Contacts are the key to assessing the health of the match.  This is a good area to set a goal.  A good contact rate is 90% and up.
  • Match Endings – Track the date the match ended and why it ended.  Document reasons that the match closed – (mentor ended, family ended, mentor moved, protégé moved, mentor instability, family instability, incompatible match, etc.). Evaluate why the match ended, especially for matches that did not fulfill their initial commitment.  Have a feedback loop for any changes or adjustments that might need to be made to prevent this from happening again.  For example, if a program is experiencing premature match endings, does more emphasis need to be put into the mentor training around mentor commitment or do expectations need to be communicated better during screening interviews, mentoring training, and the match meeting?
  • 1- and 2-Year Retention Rates – There are two ways to grow a mentoring program: recruiting new mentors and retaining existing mentors.  Also, mentoring research shows that longer mentoring matches yield better outcomes.  Let’s look at how a program measures the retention rates of mentoring matches, which is the percentage of mentoring matches continued after one, two, three years and beyond.  For newer mentoring programs it is helpful to track one and two-year retention numbers.  For mentoring programs that have existed many years it is helpful to figure their current retention rates by looking at numbers for the past two years. These one and two-year retention numbers will give a snapshot of your effectiveness in keeping mentoring matches engaged. For older programs, going back five years or more will give you a broader picture of program effectiveness.  These metrics help your program look at what adjustments might need to be made with coaching of matches, training, screening, and match-making procedures.  

Match retention data is easy to compile.  Keep track of all new matches and all match endings.  For a one-year retention rate, take a snapshot of all matches that have made it past one year, but have not exceeded two years. 

  • Pick a date — for example, March 1, 2020 – and then look at all the matches from the time period of March 1, 2018 – March 1, 2019 and determine how many are still going and how many ended. 
    • To get the retention rate, add all the new matches made from March 1, 2018 – March 1, 2019 and come up with a total (50). 
    • Then, look at the active matches as of March 1, 2020 and see how many of those matches are still going (40). 
    • Finally, take the number of matches still going and divide it by the total.  The percentage is your retention rate (40 /50 = 80%).  That means that 80% of the matches made over one year ago and less than two years ago are still going.  An average one-year retention rate is around 75-85%.  A good one-year retention rate is 85-90%. At CAYM many of the ministries we train have retentions of over 90%. 
    • The two-year retention is figured the same way, using the above example taking a snap shot from March 1, 2017 – March 1, 2018 and seeing how many are still going as of March 1, 2020.  A good two-year retention rate is 70-80%.  Most programs just look at one-and-two-year retention rates; they don’t go much higher than that.  If your program has low match retention rates, it would be important to identify why that is and make necessary adjustments.

Mentoring programs that track these basic metrics, evaluate them on a regular basis (at least yearly), and make necessary adjustments will find that their programs will continue to be more effective.

–Donnovan Karber, National Field Director

The Power of a Dream

Dreams are powerful. They drive great people to do great things. A dream led Martin Luther King Jr. to the White House lawn many years ago – a dream of equality and brotherhood between races in our nation.

Dreams inspire. Whether it’s William Wallace’s cry of “freedom,” Kennedy’s push toward the moon, or a 1980’s under-rated USA hockey team, dreams stir the soul and ignite the flames of hope within the eyes of the downtrodden.

Dreams conquer. They conquer fears, trials, doubts and naysayers. Young David dreamt of a free Israel and God’s glory as he sprinted towards Goliath. Life without a dream is no life at all. 

My own life was changed by a dreamer. His name is John, but I call him Pastor. Pastor John guided me through my high school years. When I graduated college, this man dreamed that I could be a pastor, too. He extended his social network when I wanted to be a missionary. He encouraged me when I braved the Sr. Pastor role. He guided me through doctoral work and encouraged me when I wanted to quit. Today, as an octogenarian, he sits on my church planting board. He dreams with me and has done so for more than 30 years. He’s my mentor. His dreams have trickled down into powerful dreams of my own.

Dreams are contagious. Like sweet aromas they pass from generation to generation carrying the seeds of future destiny. “I can be better. I can be stronger. I can be more.” These are the scents of providence.

Dreams are fragile. They grow in the soil of encouragement, forgiveness, patience, and discipline. They wilt under harsh waves of criticism and dry winds of neglect.

Dreams are universal. Every child who raises a bat dreams of the majors; who attends school dreams of acceptance; who looks in the mirror dreams of beauty.

Joseph, from the Bible, was a teenage dreamer (Genesis 37). Sun, moon, stars would bow to him one day. He knew this to be true, for he had seen it in a dream. Thirty-some years later this dream came true when his family discovered the dreamer they rejected had become the ruler of Egypt. The dream came true for the benefit of all, but it came true only through years of pain, rejection, imprisonment, and isolation. It was the dream that drove Joseph to greatness and held him warm on the cold prison nights. It was the dream that gave Joseph perspective and power to forgive those who had done him harm.

Dreams are powerful. They grow out of the Dream Maker’s own heart. God created a planet in which he envisioned all humans loved and loving. God dreamt of a life among his creation in which he would know and be known by his people. They would carry his name – a secret name yet to be told. The Dream Maker still cherishes this dream (Revelation 21:1-4). A dream drove his son, Jesus, to humbly take on the likeness of humanity and die a cruel death on a cross. This same dream inspires Christ’s followers to do likewise.

Mentors, you share the role of the Dream Maker who instilled your dream deep within. You are the sharers and purveyors of new dreams, hopes, and callings. You, too, are driven by his dream to reconcile the lost; to restore hope and dignity; and to pass on the sweet aroma of unrealized destiny to the next generation. Thank you for your dream!

Dreams are powerful.

-Ken Merrifield