Chapter OneHarder Than I Thought
It was my (Henry's) first day on the job in a Christian psychiatric hospital. I was all
geared up to teach the patients how to find the life I knew awaited them as soon as they
learned the truth I had been taught. I was thinking all I had to do was tell people God
loved them, and if they would understand more of what he has said, they would be well.
Then a woman in a pink bathrobe walked out of her room, extended her arms
outward, and exclaimed, "I am Mary, Mother of God!"
Suddenly I was shaken into reality. This is going to be harder than I thought, I
realized. It was a thought I would have many times in the years to come.
FOUR MODELS OF HOW PEOPLE GROW (Page 16)
In Christian circles at the time I was beginning my training, there were basically
four popular ways of thinking about personal growth.
The sin model: All problems are a result of one's sin.
The truth model: The truth of the Bible will set you free.
The experiential model: Get to the pain in your life, and then somehow "get it out."
The supernatural model: The Holy Spirit heals, sometimes instantly and sometimes
• What value do you see in each of the four models? (Pages 16 and 17 offer more
details about each one.)
• Which model makes the most sense to you and/or which model have you relied
on-intentionally or otherwise-in your valleys? Why?
I connected most with the truth model, yet at the medical center I saw people who
had walked with God for years and many who knew more about God's truth than I did.
These people had been very diligent about prayer, Bible study, and other spiritual
disciplines. Nevertheless, they were hurting, and for one reason or another, they had
been unable to walk through their valley.
• When have you seen one of these models of personal growth fail a person-or
when has one of these models failed you? What was the result, and why do you
think the model failed?
The woman in the pink bathrobe was a missionary who had been called off the
field because she was out of touch with reality. Other more normal clients had tried the
things they knew to deal with marital, parenting, emotional, and work struggles, and
they felt as though these spiritual answers had let them down. And I began to feel the
same way. Again the realization hit me: This is going to be harder than I thought.
THE FAILURE OF THE TRUTH MODEL (Page 18)
People were getting better and gaining some relief through these four models.
Prayer, learning Scripture, and repentance were very powerful elements in healing
many clinical conditions. But something was missing. I did not see what I had gone into
Christian counseling to see-namely, people's lives being transformed.
• When have you-or someone you know-hit an area of life that did not give way
to your best spiritual efforts, whether prayer, Bible study, Christian service, or just
"being good"? What was the area of life? What efforts to grow did you make?
• Currently, what area of your life does not seem to be changing despite your best
• What area of your life would you like to change?
I often saw high-functioning people who had followed Christian methods of
growth as best they could but without success. I knew there had to be more.
BEING BORN AGAIN, AGAIN (Page 19)
I continued to work in Christian counseling, and something happened in the next
four to five years that turned my world upside down. I saw people grow past their stuck
places. I saw processes that actually changed people's lives; I found the "something
more." But what helped people grow did not seem to be what I had been taught was
the "Christian" way to grow.
• It seemed to me that there was the spiritual life, where we learned about God and
grew in our relationship to him, and then there was the emotional and relational
life, where we learned how to solve real-life problems. When have you sensed this
disconnect between the life of God and your "real" life? Put differently, what areas
of your life don't you expect "spiritual growth" to affect? Be specific.
But this disconnect made no sense. All of life is spiritual, and God is involved in
every area of life. So how could there be spiritual growth and then "other" growth? I
went back to the Bible to discover how spiritual growth addresses and solves life's
problems-and I discovered that everything I had been learning that helped people
grow was right there in the Bible all along. Not only was the Bible true, but what was
true was in the Bible!
• Which of the following two emphases and/or three approaches are intriguing, encouraging,or exciting? (Review the discussion on pages 21 and 22.) Put differently,which make(s) you want to keep reading this book?
We wanted people who came to us for counseling to understand that the
issue(s) they were working on were not growth issues or counseling issues, but
spiritual growth issues.
We wanted to bring the idea of working on relational and emotional issues
back into the mainstream of spiritual growth. Spiritual growth should affect
relationship problems, emotional problems, and all other problems of life.
We wanted those responsible for helping people grow to know how the
spiritual and the practical are linked.
We wanted those who were working with people to be aware of the things
that deeply change people's lives.
We wanted people who were growing to know not only how to grow, but
that their growth was biblical growth.
For thirty years or so the church has become increasingly interested in personal
growth, the resolution of relational or emotional problems, and their integration into
church life. The spiritual and the practical have been addressed but not linked together
with a biblical understanding.
ALL GROWTH IS SPIRITUAL GROWTH (Page 22)
In this book we would like, as best we can, to link the great doctrines of the Bible
with how people grow spiritually, emotionally, and relationally. So three of the questions
this book will answer are these: (1) What helps people grow? (2) How do these
processes fit into our orthodox understanding of spiritual growth and theology? and (3)
What are the responsibilities of the person helping others grow (pastor, counselor,
group leader), and what are the responsibilities of the ones who are growing?
• Which of these questions interests you? Why?
• What other questions do you hope this book will answer? In other words, why are
you reading this book?
Our desire is that the book be practical, that it help you understand how to help
people grow. We also want it to be a book that enlightens you on how the growth
process, at its very core, is theological.
BACK TO SEMINARY (Page 23)
As we offer a biblical perspective on how people grow, we will go through the
major Christian doctrines and talk about how each doctrine applies to personal growth.
Even though we won't always call them doctrines, you can rest assured that the major
doctrines of the faith are the architecture of this book, as they are the architecture of
all that we do. Here are the major doctrines and themes that we will apply to growth:
The theology of God The Bible
The person of Christ Poverty of spirit
The Holy Spirit and brokenheartedness
The role of truth Guilt and forgiveness
The role of grace Confession
The role of sin and temptation Discipline and correction
The created order Obedience and repentance
The role of the Body of Christ Suffering and grief
(the church) The role of time
• Think about your own growth. Which of these items have contributed to your personal
growth, not just your "spiritual" growth?
• Which of the items on the list surprise you? Why?
• What part of your life does this list invite you to think about differently? In other
words, what aspect of your life or what life event might have been an opportunity
for growth? What current aspect of your life or recent life event can you-with
the help of this book and the resources it points you to-view as an opportunity
We're glad you're joining us as we take a look at what the Bible reveals about how
Lord God, it makes so much sense that we can't-and shouldn't try
to-compartmentalize life into "spiritual life" and "real life" and, as a result, that
spiritual growth is the answer to every problem I face. It's also exciting to
realize that you, the author of life, are also the author of our growth. I look
forward, Lord, to receiving from you the gift of growth as I work with the
ideas in this book. I look forward to seeing what the Bible reveals about how
people grow and to growing in ways that you would have me grow. I pray
in Jesus' name. Amen.
Tips for Growers:
• Consider the model of how people grow that you had before you opened the book.
Note what specific changes in those preconceptions would give you a more biblical
• Identify any disconnect in your thinking between "real" life and spiritual life and
growth. Note especially any areas you don't expect "spiritual growth" to affect.
Chapter TwoSeeing the Big Picture
Many times, in the process of helping people grow, we forget the big picture of
what God is doing in the human race. But the big picture-the story of God and
his creation that was lost and of his work to restore or reconcile it to himself-is very
important. As we enter into the specifics of people's lives, we must not lose sight of
what God is doing in the world.
• The challenge faced by those who help people grow and by those who want to
grow is this: to figure out ways that the Fall is operative in a person's life and discover
a redemptive path that will "reconcile" his or her life. We are to be working
with God as he reconciles all things "to himself" (2 Cor. 5:18-19). What benefits
come with approaching a marriage problem, a parenting challenge, or depression
from this perspective? After you complete this book, you'll be able to give a much
more detailed answer, but jot down the thoughts you have now.
• Exactly what are we trying to reconcile? We are trying to get people back into relationship
with God, with one another, and with the idea of holiness and pure living-but
this is not enough. Spiritual growth is not only about coming back into a
relationship with God and one another and about pursuing a pure life, but it is also
about coming back to life-the life God created people to live. We must be reconciled
to life the way it was created to work. However extensive or limited your
knowledge of the Bible and of God's design for human beings, list what you know
or glimpses you've had of what your life would look like if you lived God's way.
In the rest of this book, we will talk about how we believe this process works. But
first let's look at the way God created life to begin with (Creation), what happened to
that life (the Fall), and what God has said about getting it back (Redemption).
ACT ONE: CREATION (Page 28)
How was life designed to be lived? What is it supposed to look like?
Big Idea Number One: God Is the Source. Everything-the resources, the
principles, the purposes, the meaning of life, as well as life itself-came from God.
He is the Source, period.
• We understand that living things come from God. But we have to understand that
God is also able to bring life to dead situations in our lives. God is not only the
Creator but also the re-Creator of life.
- Is "God is the Source" merely a belief you hold or a real practice in your life? How much time do you spend looking to God to hear how he can change your
situation? How often do you look to him? Hourly? Daily? Weekly? Monthly?
- Specifically, when have you seen God as the Source for resolving your life issues? What did you do to turn to him? What resulted from your looking to God as the
- What keeps you from looking to God as the Source of the resolution of current
- Jesus tells us that an abiding, seeking, hungering, and knocking relationship is
what makes God as Source available to us. What evidence is there in your life that
you are abiding? What are you doing to seek and knock? How hungry are you to
know God? What could you do to increase your hunger?
Many Christian systems of growth have many principles-even a lot of biblical
principles-about God, but little or no God. Remember, God is the source of life. He
is the source of growth as well.
Big Idea Number Two: Relationship. God put people into relationship, first
with him and then with one another. God made people for himself and also for one
another. And relationship was vulnerable and open, without duplicity and without
brokenness or breach.
• Evaluate your relationship with God. What growth would you like to experience?
• What role do you see God playing in your relationship with him and with others?
• Where, if at all, are you experiencing the true vulnerability of Eden?
One aspect of genuine, healthy relatedness is that people don't hide their vulnerability
from one another and are not ashamed of who they are before one another.
Big Idea Number Three: God Is the Boss. God created an order to our
relationships. God was the Boss, the Lord, the Authority. He was in charge, and he
gave us both positive and negative directions. We were to live life in submission to
God, or we would not have life at all. Life and submission to God were one and the
same. This is how things were supposed to be at Creation, but all of this changed
and was lost.
• When have you seen life lived in rebellion to God bring death-spiritual,metaphorical, and/or even physical? Or when have you experienced this "death"
for yourself? Describe the situation.
• When have you submitted to God and had a taste of life lived fully? Describe the
• In what current circumstances are you choosing life? In what present situation are
you choosing death? Explain each choice. Why did you make the choice? What
have been the results?
The Bible begins with the ideas of God as Source, relationship as primary, and God
as the authority-and the implications of this theology for how people grow are
Big Idea Number Four: Roles of God, Roles of People. God is the boss, and
we are to obey. But there is more to this structure than just "who's on top."