Challenging and Affirming

Over the years I have come across those who have done one, or all, of the following: Hit the wall, burned-out, had a panic attack, had a mental breakdown, or reached the point of exhaustion. I cannot, nor will I, assume that one of these is equal to the others, nor will I assume that any one of them is the result of some sort of mismanagement of one’s emotional, physical, or spiritual capacities. I do however believe that we can mitigate the impact of exhaustion, burn-out, or emotional poverty with discipleship, (or mentorship if you prefer).

How do people get to this point of emotional poverty? It is usually because they have been placed, or have chosen to dwell, in a highly challenging environment with little to no affirmation or encouragement. Interestingly, if the challenge and affirmation are not from the same source, both lose their effectiveness. In other words, the source of our greatest challenge needs to be the source of our greatest affirmation and vice versa in order for intense growth to take place.

My sophomore season of college soccer was a microcosm of this. I had been moved from the front line to the back line in the offseason. This led to a steep learning curve and intense criticism along with the affirmation that comes from performance. Soon I was performing at a high level in my new position – but without the continued challenge, I became apathetic and bored with my new position. The coach stopped challenging me and tried to pour on the encouragement which only served to drive me into deeper levels of apathy and poorer performance. As an 18 year-old, I didn’t have the capacity to find the balance of challenge and affirmation from within, and when the external forces didn’t provide the right balance, I slipped out of peak performance.

Parents, do not exasperate your children.

Exasperation can either be the result of too much affirmation without challenge or too much challenge without affirmation. Both are equally damaging to the development of our children. It seems that the pendulum swings back and forth between these two extremes – or worse, we are like children chasing after a butterfly. If we want to develop our children, then we must demand obedience and performance while simultaneously, and equally, giving them affirmation and encouragement. Calling out performance and demanding obedience are not antithesis to unconditional love, but withholding affirmation and encouragement is the antithesis of unconditional love.

The best mentors, disciplers, coaches, teachers, or parents instill in their protégés, disciples, players, students, and children the internal ability to challenge and affirm themselves. Each one of us must figure out how to be challenged and affirmed – at some point it must come from within. We must find people who inspire and motivate us to be more than what we are. Sadly, most of us have encouragers that are not challengers, or we have challengers that are not affirmers. This leads us to be discipled by committee, which also allows us to pick and choose what we want – this is what is called relativism.

I would suggest that the Holy Spirit uses scripture to challenge and affirm us so long as we are willing to embrace the whole counsel of scripture as the word of God. Equally, the Spirit uses people to speak truth and affirmation as they teach and reveal the scriptures to us. I am challenged and affirmed by the truths of who God is and who I am in light of who He is – but sometimes I don’t like it. How are you being affirmed through the word of God? When was the last time your worldview was challenged by scripture?

We all need to be mentored. We all need to be mentoring. For every mentor that is challenging and affirming me, I need to be mentoring three other people. Those who merely convict, judge, or criticize are not mentors – they are just critics. Those who merely affirm, encourage, or pat us on the back are not mentors – they are just cheerleaders. We need cheerleaders and critics in our lives, but a mentor is both.

Contact Rob Tumbelston ( if you want training in mentorship/discipleship/coaching/parenting/teaching – we call it mentorship. If you want a mentor, then know that we will ask you to commit to mentoring three other people, (I have three kids). If you actively engaged in mentoring three people, then you need a mentor! Parenting is hard.

I’d like to challenge you to take a moment to write down the individuals that you are intentionally mentoring. I also want to say, well done. I see mentorship happening around the church – keep up the good work. Challenging…affirming!

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