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I saw that everything I had been learning that helped people grow was right there in the Bible all along.
It was my first day on the job in a Christian psychiatric hospital. I (Henry) was like a kid on Christmas morning. I had been taking college and seminary classes and reading all that I could get my hands on about Christian counseling for about four years, and I was ready to put my knowledge into practice. I showed up at the medical center in Dallas early that morning 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 went up to the nurse's station and waited for the head nurse to finish writing in a chart so that I could introduce myself. The unit was bustling with early-morning activity. I saw patients talking with their doctors and visiting with each other. Nurses were taking patients' vital signs as other people were beginning groups, completing homework assignments, getting medications, and having therapy sessions-all the typical activities ofa busy psychiatric unit.
I looked down the hall, and a woman in a pink bathrobe walked out of her room. She extended her arms outward and exclaimed, "I am Mary, Mother of God!"
Now think about this. Here I am, brand new at Christian counseling, and thinking that all I had to do was come in and tell people God loved them, and if they would understand more of what he has said, they would be well. This was what was going on in my mind. But when I heard what this woman said, I thought: This is going to be harder than I thought. It was a thought I would have many times in the year to come.
Four Models of How People Grow
In Christian circles at the time I was beginning training, there were basically four popular ways of thinking about personal growth: the sin model, the truth model, the experiential model, and the supernatural model.
The sin model said that all problems are a result of one's sin. If you struggled in your marriage or with an emotional problem such as depression, the role of the helper was to find the sin and confront you, urging you to confess, repent, and sin no more. If you did that, you were sure to get better. It was like many three-point sermons I had heard in strong Bible churches:
1. God is good.
2. You're bad.
3. Stop it.
The truth model held that the truth would set you free. If you were not "free," if some area of your life were not working, it must be because you lacked "truth" in your life. So the helper's role was to urge you to learn more verses, memorize more Scripture, and learn more doctrine (particularly your "position in Christ"), and then all of this truth would make its way from your head to your heart and ultimately into your behavior and emotions. Passages that emphasize knowing truth, renewing your mind, and how you "think in your heart" became a new theology of "thinking truth to gain emotional health."
The experiential model held that you had to get to the pain in your life-find the abuse or the hurt-and then somehow "get it out." Proponents of the more spiritual versions of this model either took the pain to Jesus or took Jesus to the pain. In a kind of emotional archaeology, people would dig up hurts from the past and then seek healing through prayer or imagery or just clearing out the pain. Proponents of this model emphasized Jesus' ability to transcend time; he could be "there" with you in your pain or abuse and could change it.
The supernatural model had many variations. Charismatics sought instant healing and deliverance; others depended on the Holy Spirit to make the change happen as he lived his life through them. Exchanged-life people (those who hold that you just get out of the way so Christ can reproduce his life in you) as well as other very well-grounded students of the spiritual life trusted God to lead them and make changes in them.
While I saw value in all four models-and practiced all four to some degree-it wasn't difficult for me to decide which one made the most sense. After all, I was heavily into theology and studying the Bible, learning doctrine, and knowing everything I could about God and the faith. I have always been a big believer in the authority of the Bible. So I found the most truth in the truth model. I found enormous security in learning about God's plan for life, his sovereignty, my position in him, and the doctrines of forgiveness, justification, and the security of the believer. I believed in the power of the Bible and knew that God's truth could change any life. And I knew that if I could just teach others the same things and encourage them to know the truth as I was learning it, they would find the same kind of growth I had discovered.
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, laypeople and pastors alike, 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. The woman in the pink bathrobe was a missionary who had been called off the field because she was out of touch with reality-out of touch with who she really was and where she was in time. Although the realization I had had with this particular woman came in response to an extreme situation, I had the same realization over and over with hundreds of other more normal clients. To deal with marital, parenting, emotional, and work struggles, people had tried the things they had been taught, 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
I would teach people about God's love, but their depression would not go away. I would teach them about the crucified life, and their addictions would remain. They would focus on their "security in Christ," yet their panic attacks would be unyielding. I was discouraged about the power of "spiritual interventions" as well as my chosen profession. I wasn't finding anything I could feel good about giving my life to for the next forty years.
Don't misunderstand. It wasn't that people weren't getting better and gaining some relief from these methods. They were. I often saw people improve, and prayer, learning Scripture, and repentance were very powerful elements in healing many clinical conditions. But something was missing. The feeling that "there has to be more" nagged at me. Four things specifically bothered me again and again:
1. Spiritual methods didn't solve some problems.
2. Life problems were often "helped" but not "cured"; spiritual interventions often only helped people to cope better.
3. Sincere, righteous, diligent, and mature Christians hit a ceiling in some area of life growth.
4. Spiritual growth grounded in good theology should be helping to solve these problems a lot more than it was.
So I became disillusioned. I even thought about doing something else with my life. I did not see what I had gone into Christian counseling to see-namely, people's lives being transformed. But God seemed to be telling me to keep going, so I did. I went for further training.
Continuing to hang around and work in Christian settings gave me further opportunity to study how people grow. What I had seen in the hospital was repeated in the world outside the hospital. Sincere Christian people who had been very diligent about spiritual growth often hit an area of life that did not give way to their best spiritual efforts, whether that was prayer, Bible study, Christian service, or just "being good." And these were often very high-functioning people; they were pastors and people in the ministry or in business 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
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 the things I had gone into the field to see. I saw real change. Instead of seeing depressed people coping better with depression, I saw depressed people become undepressed. Instead of seeing people with eating disorders cope better with their eating disorders, I saw them get over them altogether. Instead of seeing people with relational problems cope better with their relational problems, I saw them grow in their ability to be intimate and make relationships work. I saw processes that actually changed people's lives; I found the "something more" I had been looking for. People were growing past their "ceilings."
Sounds like a formula for happiness, right? After all, it would be great to find out that what you are called to do really works. And in one sense, it was. I was happy to be learning things that were helping people grow. But there was one big problem: What helped people grow did not seem to be what I had been taught was the "Christian" way to grow. What helped people grow involved paths of growth I had never been taught in all of my Christian-growth training or in my own spiritual life. It involved deep transformations of the soul that I had never seen. So I was faced with a dilemma.
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.
But it made no sense to me that there were answers other than spiritual ones. My theology taught me that God answers all of life's problems. We suffer because we live in a fallen world. God has redeemed the world, and as the Bible says, he has given us everything pertaining to life (2 Peter 1:3). How could there be spiritual growth and then other growth? I thought that all of life is spiritual and that God is involved in every area of life. Didn't it make sense that spiritual growth should be influencing these functional areas of life as well as the spiritual ones?
I did the only thing I knew to do. I went back to the Bible. I had to find the answer to this problem; I could not live a divided life. I could not live the life of a counselor helping people with problems, and then the life of a Christian, with a spiritual life that had value but did not solve the problems for which my clients were coming to me. Therefore I studied the Bible again to find an answer to the guiding question of my life: How does spiritual growth address and solve life's problems?
The only way that I know how to describe what happened at this point is to say that I was born again, again. Here is what happened: I saw that everything I had been learning that helped people grow was right there in the Bible all along. All of the processes that had changed peoples' lives were in the pages of Scripture. The Bible talked about the things that helped people grow in relational and emotional areas as well as spiritual ones. I was ecstatic. Not only was the Bible true, but also what was true was in the Bible!
For the first time in years, the world was the way it was supposed to be. God had said that he had answers to our problems, and it was true. I saw it as my mission to communicate what I was learning, so I began to teach workshops in Christian organizations.
About the same time, John Townsend and I began talking through some of the same questions. We had met in graduate school when I volunteered to help new students move in. Strangely, we became friends through our mutual love of rock music. At the time it was really un-Christian to like rock music, so we were both glad to find a friend who did not see the other as pagan. I found out that John was passionate about the same goal as I was (and, like me, was discovering that it was harder than he thought). He had been on a similar quest himself. We wanted to bring all of the issues for which people went to counseling back under the umbrella of spiritual growth, where they belonged. We were not against counseling. People need to get into a context where they can work on their issues in an in-depth way with an experienced counselor. But we had two emphases we cared about deeply.
First, when people came to us for counseling, we wanted them to understand that the issues they were working on were not growth issues or counseling issues, but spiritual growth issues. Spiritual growth, in our mind, was the answer to everything.
Second-and this is by far the bigger emphasis and the one that gets to the heart of this book-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. There is no such thing as our "spiritual life" and then our "real life." It is all one.
We began to develop resources that show how the Bible and the spiritual life speak to how people grow. We wrote books on how to apply the spiritual growth process to specific life problems.
As John and I shared our insights together, we saw a pattern in the Christian world we wanted to address. For thirty years or so the church had become increasingly interested in personal growth, the resolution of relational or emotional problems, and their integration into church life. In so many places, however, these issues were worked on with either spiritual disciplines, such as prayer, Bible study, and repentance, or in workshops that focused on the practical aspects of solving those problems. The spiritual and the practical were addressed, but not linked together with a biblical understanding.
We decided to address our concerns in three ways.
First, John and I wanted those responsible for helping people grow to know how the spiritual and the practical are linked. We wanted pastors to know, for example, how a small-group ministry that addresses people's emotional problems is an important application of the doctrine of the church, not just a good idea from secular humanism. And we wanted those who were leading divorce recovery workshops, for example, to know the theology behind those practices, not only so they could defend them, but also so they could make sure that what they were doing was truly biblical.
Second, we wanted those who were working with people to be aware of the things that deeply change people's lives. We wanted them to know the processes involved and be able to gain skills in all of them, not just a few. Many do a great job in working with people in the things they have been exposed to, but, like us, have a longing to know more of what the Bible teaches about what makes people grow.
Third, we wanted people who were growing to know not only how to grow, but that their growth was biblical growth. We wanted them to understand that "if you are getting better, it is because you are growing spiritually. You are doing what the Bible says to do." People need not only to grow, but also to understand where that growth fits in to a larger picture of God's plan for them and his plan of redemption. It is good to know that their growth is from him.
All Growth Is Spiritual Growth
Therefore, 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. Everyone who is responsible for the growth of others-pastors, lay leaders, small-group leaders, teachers, counselors-is doing not only a spiritual work but also a very practical work. Most of them would like to do that in a biblical way. And we find many are doing so. But many people long for some links between the great doctrines of the faith and the reality of growth. So two of the questions this book will answer are these:
1. What helps people grow?
2. How do those processes fit into our orthodox understanding of spiritual growth and theology?
If we could answer these two questions, we thought that we would be doing a good thing. And then it occurred to us that one more thing is important. If those who want to grow as well as those who help people grow are reading this book, it would be good for both to understand what they each are responsible for. So we also will answer a third question:
3. What are the responsibilities of the one helping others grow (pastor, counselor, group leader), and what are the responsibilities of the ones who are growing?
Our desire is that the book be practical, that it help you understand how to help people grow. And more than practical, we want it to be a book that enlightens you on how the growth process, at its very core, is theological.
Excerpted from How People Grow by Henry Cloud John Townsend Copyright © 2001 by Henry Cloud and John Townsend. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
|Part I.||Paradise Lost|
|1)||Harder Than I Thought||15|
|2)||Seeing the Big Picture||26|
|3)||How the Big Picture Affects the Small||41|
|Part II.||The Master Gardener: The God of Growth|
|4)||The God of Grace||63|
|5)||Jesus: Our Example for Living||79|
|6)||The Holy Spirit||94|
|Part III.||Finding the Best Climate|
|7)||God's Plan A: People||117|
|8)||Open Spaces: The Power of Acceptance||147|
|9)||Getting to the Warmth of Forgiveness||161|
|Part IV.||The Path of Growth|
|10)||The Gardener's Handbook: The Bible||189|
|11)||No Pain, No Gain: The Role of Suffering and Grief||206|
|12)||Growing Tasty Fruit: Becoming a Righteous Person||235|
|13)||The Value of Pruning: Discipline||249|
|14)||Water from a Deeper Well: Spiritual Poverty||264|
|15)||Following the Gardener: Obedience||278|
|16)||Pulling the Weeds: The Problem of Sin and Temptation||293|
|17)||Facing Reality: How Truth Deepens Growth||317|
|18)||Putting on the Gloves: The Importance of Activity||332|
|19)||Waiting for the Harvest: Time||346|
|Conclusion: Growth for Life||361|
Posted December 30, 2004
All serious Christians should be about the business of healing and growing personally and spiritually. This book is the best guide for spiritual growth I have ever read. The authors do a superb job of showing that the Bible is the manual for spiritual growth, and that being involved in relationship with other Christians who are serious in their pursuit of personal growth is the primary means toward achieving that growth. I appreciated the authors' honesty in describing their own growth issues and struggles in spiritual maturity -- admitting that we all screw up as we mature and that it is a life-long process rather than a course of study from which you 'graduate' at some point was very encouraging for me. The book is not only helpful for individuals who are pursuing their own growth, but it may actually be more useful for those who are leading or facilitating a growth/accountability group through their local church.
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Posted December 31, 2002
I found this book to be truly helpful. I'm preparing to lead a Bible study, and I'm incorporating many of their suggestions into the study. They suggest that while many people try to find recovery apart from relationships, true healing occurs only when we reach out to other members of the body of Christ. No one is an island. Many of their principles are based on the book of Ephesians. Includes practical suggestions for church leaders.
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Posted November 17, 2013