People usually sense a need for change immediately prior to the point of spiritual transformation. They feel something in their life is not right and they want to change it. Usually they have tried to change it themselves, but have been powerless to do so. It can be an addiction, a destructive habit, egoism, insensitivity, lonesomeness, and a host of other maladies. Before spiritual and physical transformation, there is usually a realization that one is not satisfied with one’s life and she or he wants to change it. This can involve several areas, including the following:
Problems with self-image. This means people considering spiritual transformation are usually unhappy and dissatisfied with how they have come to be viewed by others. They may be profane (using sexualized and/or bigoted language), insensitive (to family and children), dishonest (a compulsive liar), prejudiced, having low self-esteem, or self-loathing.
Problems with uncontrolled behavior. They might have a habit, reaction, addiction, or compulsion that they are unable to control. It can be addiction to sexuality, destructive behavior, substance abuse, and a host of other compulsions.
Problems with relationships. These are interpersonal problems that arise from damaged or flawed relationships. People often feel they need supernatural intervention to restore such relationships. And the Bible is full of examples of God supernaturally bringing this about, including the remarkable story of how God reunited an outcast named Joseph with the brothers who tried to kill him (Genesis 37–50).
Problem with spiritual destiny. Most people also feel an acute sense of hopelessness or lostness about why they have been created and where their destiny lies. This problem usually occurs with the above problems too. This is the most common newness that humans yearn for. Humans crave to understand why they were born, what their purpose is, and where their destiny lies.
To meet these yearnings for newness, God replies, “I know the plans I have in mind for you, declares the LORD ; they are plans for peace, not disaster, to give you a future filled with hope. When you call me and come and pray to me, I will listen to you. When you search for me, yes, search for me with all your heart, you will find me” (Jeremiah 29:13).
Crises and need for transformation
Researchers8 have long understood that people usually seek change in their life while going through a crisis.9 Figure 8.2 shows how different crises create varying degrees of a need to change.10 The more severe crises (listed toward the top of the left column) create more motivation to change. Therefore, to help people change, an uncommon congregation will seek to first understand what crises people are going through and then what change they need.11
The middle column of Figure 8.2 (continued) offers questions they may be asking and in the right column are suggestions for meeting their needs. But this scale is not a definite list of need-based miniseries, but rather a guide toward helping Christians find and meet the spiritual newness people crave.
Such crises, which send the spiritual traveler seeking change, can overwhelm travelers and navigators unless both consider that God may have a purpose in the crisis. God often uses such difficulties to get our attention about the importance of renewing our relationship with him. Here is how Paul described it: “Distress that drives us to God does that. It turns us around. It gets us back in the way of salvation. We never regret that kind of pain. But those who let distress drive them away from God are full of regrets, end up on a deathbed of regrets” (2 Corinthians 7:10 MSG).
Discovering the needs of others
If God intends spiritual reconnection to be a reaction to crises, then how do we help people in the midst of crisis? And how do we know exactly which crises they are experiencing? There are two natural, organic ways to help those in crisis.
Be a friend. Becoming a friend and traveling along with a per- son on people on their spiritual journey in the role of a companion is the first and most beneficial step. Though we may also become their mentor, guide, and navigator, this process begins with being a friend. Proverbs 17:17 reminds us that friends reflect God’s love, stating “Friends love all the time.”
Ask. After a friendship has begun, at some point you just have to ask about the crises a friend is going through. Sometimes crises are so personal or unsavory that people are reluctant to share them even with a friend. John Wesley saw this problem and suggested questions for the small group meetings that would draw out people’s needs.
Discovering the needs for newness
From the above discussion it is clear that starting new ministries to meet the transformation needs of others is critical. To decide which need-meeting ministry in the right column of Figure 8.2 you should launch, using questions and discretely ask the following three steps of those seeking newness.
Excerpted from Cure For The Common Church: God’s Plan to Restore Church Health, by Bob Whitesel (Wesleyan Publishing House 2012). For further online notes: See Chapter 8 Complete Notes.
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Bob Whitesel / Bob Whitesel (D.Min., Ph.D.) is professor of missional leadership and founding professor of Wesley Seminary at Indiana Wesleyan University. A sought after speaker, church growth consultant and award-winning writer of 12 books on missional leadership, church change and church growth; he also holds two earned doctorates (D.Min. and Ph.D.) from Fuller Theological Seminary where he was awarded “The Donald McGavran Award for Outstanding Scholarship in Church Growth.”