Helping People & Home Groups through Change

Author: 
Doug Patch

Introduction

Christian living is all about change. Have you seen a character fault in someone, a sin, that you wish you could help them with? For individual Christians, God is in the business of changing our actions, attitudes, emotional responses, and even our motives into conformity with Christ (Rom. 8:29). He also simultaneously changes our lifestyles to reflect his value and priority on the importance of leading non-Christians to a relationship with Christ and helping younger Christians to grow in the ways just described. Whether we look at our need for godly moral character or adopting a ministry lifestyle, we are talking about change from where we were before we knew Christ, to where he would like us to be.

As Christian workers and leaders, we often see the need for change on a broader scale as well. Our home group may be weak in a specific area of ministry, or perhaps does not have a consensus on the mission of the group. Even our local church as a whole might need to change its view in similar ways, or change direction in the structure or ministry strategy.

Clearly, stagnation — personal or community-wide — is antithetical to a dynamic God who desires us to be more like his son in character, and to hold his work as central to our life's mission. As God's workers, we are key elements in how he desires to affect changes in other people's lives and in the church. Often though, we are overwhelmed with the enormity of the problems and confused about how to proceed to motivate change. How should we address the issue? What do we say? Hopefully, this paper will help provide a model for helping us motivate people or groups to change — in the direction God intends — and with the motives he prescribes.

The Dynamic Change Model

There are various models of change, and most have value under specific circumstances. There is no one right way, nor is there a formula we can plug elements into and have properly motivated change always result. However, particularly in the early stages of motivating change (we will explain this qualification later), there is one approach that best harmonizes the various biblical principles that apply to Christians helping others to change. Yet, this approach allows for flexibility depending on the individual's specific needs. We will call it "the Dynamic Change Model."

We will use Dennis McCallum's definition of motivation in the Christian context. People are motivated when they are:

  • convinced of the correctness and the urgency of Christian goals;
  • willing to admit their contrary actions, attitudes, or values;
  • committed and eager to act and keep acting are willing to admit to their contrary actions, attitudes, or values, in order to reach those goals regardless of what others do, don't do, or think. (Dennis' paper, "How to Motivate People" provides practical insights on human nature as it relates to motivation in Christian ministry).

The central value of this description is the inclusion of proper actions AND the internal drive perpetuating that action or attitude. Certainly the early stages of motivation may need to include emotional support from others to maintain perspective and promote actions. However, we cannot say people are motivated in the true sense unless they carry on for proper reasons, with or without support from others. Likewise, those who act without understanding why they act may be motivated by the world's values, but not be driven by their relationship with God. Unless we work through people's understanding and consent, we may be manipulating rather than motivating. How can we help people understand their situation and enhance their desire to change it, without being manipulative?

The basis for this model is understanding motivation to change occurs when certain elements are present:

  1. The person understands and personally owns the goals and vision for where she would like to be, and the biblical basis for that vision.
  2. The person humbly admits, and personally owns where she falls short of the vision, which includes actions, attitudes, thought-life, values and priorities. She must know the biblical basis for this assessment.
  3. Tension results from #1 and #2. Tension is produced when she wants that goal, believes in the vision of what is important, yet also honestly admits and comes to grips with how far she is from achieving that. This tension is an essential catalyst in the process of a person's motivation to change. Without it, it is usually fruitless to press the person for change, and potentially manipulative to do so.
  4. Based on #1,2, and 3, a practical, spirit-led plan for change is developed.
  5. Finally, with the above understanding, the person will need to reassess the extent to which she wants the goal, God's goals for her life (#1) in the area needing change that is being discussed. Now she can commit to the efforts needed so that God can effect these changes.

This model focuses on putting the needmotivationpower and direction for change where it belongs between the person (or group) and God.

 

Dynamic Change Model Diagram

The critical component is the development of tension. This only occurs within the person as he chooses to "own" the spiritual goal and his present status compared with that goal. This tension should not be forced by anyone trying to help the young Christian or group needing change. If the worker pushes, it usually leads to confusing their motives for change (they might worry more about complying in order to please you rather than God, or put up a wall resisting change, not because they don't agree with the need, but because you are pushing them around). The latter clearly contradicts the spirit of 2 Timothy 2:24-26.

The discipler or group leader's role in this process is to facilitate #1 & #2 and perhaps share his own tension (they might also later help develop a spirit-led plan for change). Another author terms this process of developing tension to motivate change as "unfreezing." He describes it in a different order, but the same elements are present:

"...unfreezing, or creating a motivation to change...is, of necessity, composed of three very different processes, each of which [emphasis mine] must be present to a certain degree for the system to develop any motivation to change: 1) enough disconfirming data to cause serious discomfort and disequilibrium; 2) the connection of the disconfirming data to important goals and ideals causing anxiety and/or guilt; and 3) enough psychological safety, in the sense of seeing a possibility of solving the problem without loss of identity or integrity..." (Edgar H. Schein, "Organizational Culture and Leadership", (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1992), pp. 298,299.)

Let's see how this is applies to working with individuals and then groups.

The Dynamic Change Model Applied to Individuals' Needs

Let us consider Paul's commitment to helping others change.

That process of becoming complete in Christ entails change in character and morals, as well as a lifestyle of ministry—in other words, sanctification.

Paul's description is a reflection of the Great Commission, it isn't something that was unique to his ministry. We should be like Paul, laboring in the power of God to help Christians live out their new identity by helping them go through this life-change process (naturally this assumes our lives are changing as well!). The dynamic change model works well in character and ministry issues.

EXAMPLE:

Let's consider a somewhat common example Christian workers experience when helping motivate a young Christian to reach out to their friends and family. Typically, in the earliest stages of a young Christian's life, they primarily are receiving teaching and enjoying fellowship. Now the time has come to point out that there is a goal to their spiritual walk outside of their own benefits. Applying this process might look something like this:

  1. Creating Vision: The person has a vision for growth when she understands and personally desires the goals that God has described for her in the Bible. How do we help her get to that point?

    During one of our regular times together with this young believer we might tell her that we've been thinking about how God can use her to reach the lost. We ask her if she has thought similarly. Draw her out on how she sees God working through her in evangelism.

    The POINT is for her to see this area as GOD does, not as you do. Direct her toward passages that speak of God's perspective in evangelism. She must understand and agree upon its importance from God's perspective, not just because you are saying it.

    She might already have some convictions in this area, but be prepared to add to her vision if needed and communicate it with passion and excitement. Incorporate what you know about her to show how her life can look in this area. This vision might draw on her uniqueness: how God has spiritually gifted her, her personality traits, opportunities she has, observations you've made, experiences she has had in evangelism (including talking about who reached out to her).

    By doing this, you set the stage for a grace-oriented discussion regardless of her response to your initiative. Too often, leaders and workers start the discussion with the next step in this model, omitting this important part.

    If she doesn't see this goal or vision for her life, go no further at this time. There is no sense in moving toward an honest assessment of her own shortcomings, if she doesn't agree on the goal or believe it is important. Ask her to pray, study the scriptures, and get input from other Christians about the subject. Be willing to engage her again on the topic in the relatively near future.

  2. Honest introspection: Now it's time to ask how she thinks she is doing compared to what she believes are God's goals in evangelism (which they just articulated in #1). Be careful to stay away from a legalistic finger-wagging session here. Allow her to provide her own assessment; ask questions about why it is that way, does she understand how God's grace covers any problems in this area, etc. Often the worker is surprised by how clearly the person sees their weaknesses without us elaborating!

    It is very important to also positively affirm any strides they have made in the subject being discussed. It is often the discipler who has to remind the younger Christian where they have seen positive steps.

    But overall, you have brought up the subject because you believe there needs to be more positive movement and now might be the time in this conversation to point out what you have or haven't seen that needs to change, adding to what she has said, or broaching what she doesn't see as a problem at all.

    "Might be" because ideally, they come up with most of what you have noticed without you telling them in the early part of this step. In that case, you still should agree that you have the same concerns.

    But, often the person only sees part of the picture and you'll need to provide a more detailed picture of the concerns. It is key that you communicate with an attitude of grace and vision where the person can be if there is growth in this weak area.

    Be specific, and objective when possible, about your concerns. In our example about weak outreach you might say something like: "I agree that you don't spend enough time building relationships with non-Christians. Do you think your work schedule of 60-80 hours per week is related to this? Are your values and priorities matching what you claim you'd like to do in serving God?" "How do you relate 1 John 2:15,16 to the problem?" Or perhaps the lack of outreach is because they are afraid of rejection, and this is exposed at this time.

    If she was willing to acknowledge the goal or vision (#1), but not where her problems lie in respect to that vision, there is no sense going any further. Ask her to think and pray through the concerns you've described, and perhaps to ask other Christians for their input on the subject as well. Give the Lord time to work and have follow-up discussions with her.

    You will have to regulate the frequency of follow-up discussions based on the subject of concern. If it is highly damaging to her or others, potentially dangerous or very serious sin, there is call to move quickly and frequently. However, most issues although needing to change, require some prayerful consideration by the person (like the example we are describing about developing an evangelism lifestyle), and it would be inappropriate to badger her about this every time you get with her.

    If she has "owned" the first two parts, then she is experiencing what we hoped for — tension.

  3. Tension: Tension results if she has processed the vision and goals for her life in this area, AND honestly admitted where she lacks in respect to that vision. Schein states that it is the discomfort, guilt, or shame feelings that come when our equilibrium has been disrupted.

    At this point, she has agreed with God's priority for every Christian to be part of and acknowledged she should be part of the plan. She has also admitted she is not living out that vision (including probably providing specific examples). The resulting tension provides the proper motivation to develop and act on a God-empowered plan (next step) for change.

    If there is no tension, then either she does not actually have the problem you thought you discerned, or she hasn't actually come to grips with #1 and/or #2. If this is the case, there is no sense in going to the next step. It is time to return to #1 or #2, or both. Encourage her to review what you have talked about, pray, and ask other mature Christians that know her what they think.

    But, assuming there is a proper tension, or "discomfort", it is time for the next exciting step.

  4. Plan for Change: This newly motivated Christian needs a plan for change! It should be clear direction, doable (not asking too much for where the person is in their walk), practical, and in the power of God.

    Obviously, the worker should have thought this through beforehand (Hebrews 10:24), including getting advice if needed, so that he can provide solid help. But during the discussion the person getting help should be encouraged to think through a plan for herself before the worker gives their input. We should give him time to continue to think this through and write their ideas down over the next week or so. This is where teaching the basics on walking in the power of the Spirit is essential. You may want to refer her to the Christian Principles overview on this subject.

    It is tempting to think that the job is done at this stage, but for two reasons it is not. First, even if the person begins to act on the plan for change, your follow-up help, reminders, and prayer will be instrumental. It takes time, particularly for more substantive areas, to become a way of life. And second.....

  5. Count the Cost: Now that she sees exactly the plan entails, and the cost (EG. priority changes, lifestyle sacrifice, financial sacrifice, humility to admit wrong, etc.) she might question if she really wants to change. It is part of "counting the cost" that Christ requires in Luke 14:27-31. If she begins to vacillate in her commitment to change, encourage her to rethink the vision for this area; to understand again what God's perspective is. Is this what she really wants regardless of the work ahead?

    You should encourage her to think through proper biblical motives for all we do as Christian workers, especially as a response of gratitude for the work Christ has done for us on the cross. Paul's exhortation in Romans is exactly for that purpose as he launches into instructions on how they should use their spiritual gifts:

    12:1 I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.

In summary, the Dynamic Change Model provides the Christian worker with a framework that helps another Christian develop:

  • their own convictions of God's perspective in character or ministry weaknesses,
  • humility to assess their progress toward that goal, under grace
  • a concrete plan of action based on the proper motives and our own real source of power for change.

The Dynamic Change Model Applied to Group Needs

Home group leaders often see an area of weakness across the board in their home group rather than limited to just a few individuals. Although the final solution is for the individual members to go through the change process, the beginning point of addressing broad-scale needs in a group is usually addressing the group as a whole. Later, individual follow-up, similar to what is mentioned above, will be helpful.

Let's use the same example of "lack of evangelism", but now as a leader you recognize that it is a group-wide weakness and suspect that the Christians in the home group are not living an evangelism lifestyle.

  1. Creating Vision: The first step is for the group to agree on the goal or vision in the specific area of weakness.

    In our example of group-wide weak outreach, we hold a meeting for the Christian "workers" so the discussion can be frank (I.E. it might be insensitive to non-Christians and also perhaps very young Christians who don't understand the need for evangelism yet). One of the better communicating leaders facilitates a discussion on God's view of evangelism.

    Discussion includes the church's role in it, the mission of our home group as it relates to that biblical view, and what it looks like, practically speaking, in an individual's life to do evangelism. Discuss specifics (E.G. consistent time spent building friendships with non-Christians) as part of the vision and goal, so they can later (#2) objectively discern how well they are doing in those areas. The leaders try to draw those things out of the group first, rather than just teach the material— This facilitates a group consensus on the vision.

  2. Honest introspection: Now it is time to ask them to honestly assess "how are we doing as a group in this area?"

    Schein's point on providing "disconfirming data" is excellent. Whenever possible, rather than just appealing to your own opinion, offer evidence from which the group can draw their own conclusions. In this example, you could provide a chart that plots the growth of the group and the number of first time guests.

    Then, as a leader, you can facilitate a discussion on the specific weaknesses (attitudes, actions or non-action, etc.) of the group that contribute to the weak evangelism. Compare the specifics of the vision in #1, with their actual performance. Again, draw them out while they self-assess.

    Example: People admit their own personal hobbies and job have consumed them to the exclusion of building friendships with non-Christians.

    If the group has "owned" #1 and now #2, this should lead to...

  3. Tension: As a whole, the group will now feel tension as they realize they aren't living out priorities and goals they agree are important.

    In this group setting, we cannot account for the reaction of everyone to this process. But most members of the home group now will experience discomfort as they admit they aren't successfully living out the area (evangelism) they have just said is very important. The discussion and self-discovery environment of the meeting usually lends itself to people admitting what's important and verbalizing personal weaknesses.

    In other words, a consensus has been reached by the group and they want things to change. This doesn't require everyone agreeing, just a general sense of agreement from more than only the leaders.

  4. Plan for Change: Now it is time to develop a plan for change.

    Again, the leaders should prepare to discuss key areas that need tuned up and how to go about it. Ideally, the group discussion should bring out most of these practical items. Even better would be if new ideas are proposed that the leaders hadn't yet thought of!

    Example: People see the need to plan to set aside time for evangelism, they have not been managing their time well. The group also decides a Conversation & Cuisine event is an excellent catalyst. The leaders decide to spend time in their small men's and women's Bible studies equipping Christians in apologetics. And people who meet during the week in shepherding or discipling relationships resolve to pray specifically for outreach.

  5. Count the Cost: It is time for a reminder of the vision for where the group can be if as individuals they step out in the ways discussed, and the sacrifices that are probably involved as well.

    Now that the desire for change is there and some practical ideas are on the table for that change, remind the group of why they should do what they do. Remind them of the proper motives for ministry, central of which is a response of gratitude for what Christ has given to them.

At this point, the workers should resolve to continue discussion of this topic when they get together in their various shepherding and discipling relationships. Personal application, assistance, ongoing follow-up and prayer will best be done in that context, versus in a meeting (not excluding the importance of corporate prayer of course!).

Conclusion

God uses Christians to help one another change in character areas and to adopt an other-centered ministry lifestyle. (Actually, these two are integral to one another.) It is an astounding concept when we contemplate the Creator of the universe choosing his fallen creation to play so key a role in his plan. Because of this, we experience strong conflicting thoughts and emotions when serving him in this way. Helping others change is one of the most fulfilling, yet sometimes most frustrating and challenging aspects of Christian ministry. The responses we encounter, our own ineptitude, and often our own sin can make this ministry challenging. But the reward of God sanctifying us while working through us in other people's lives makes it one of the most exciting aspects of ministry. No wonder Paul uses words like "labor" and "striving" to describe his role, and God's role as "power, which mightily works within me" to accomplish it.

And no wonder Paul understands the real source of his adequacy.

2 Cor. 3:5 Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, 6 who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter, but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

In other words, it is God who will perform this through us if we make ourselves available to him.

The Dynamic Change Model provides a highly practical framework guiding the Christian worker in helping others change. It simultaneously puts the onus of change where it really belongs, between the person who needs the help and God.

(For further reading on this subject, please also read Dennis McCallum's paper on "How To View Change in the Church.")

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