Bill Donahue at the Building Biblical Community video shoot

Former small-group pastor and small-group pioneer Bill Donahue recently addressed the notion of “story” at churchleaders.com. Bill has been involved—one way or another, as group member and leader, at smaller churches and Willow Creek alike—in small groups for a long time. The only conclusion we’re left to draw is that he’s managed to pick up a thing or two during his association with the more-than-20,000 groups with whom he has been in touch.

The post, Learn How People Are Shaped By Their Stories, describes the path to be taken from isolation to community that begins with a close examination of one’s story. This notion of my own “story” and how it continues to play itself out in my life was introduced to me early on in my tenure here. Admittedly, initially I was somewhat skeptical about what appeared to be a very self-centered approach to discipleship. In fact, in some ways it seemed to run counter to everything I thought I had been taught. But over the years I’ve come to understand the role my story plays in my life, the impact it has, and how God continues to reveal not only truth about who I am through a careful examination of my own story, but also the truth about who He is, through such as examination. Bill’s post calls attention to both of these by products.

As small-group leaders we should always been mindful of the many stories represented in the room. The cumulative effect of these stories contributes to our understanding of God, ourselves, the ways we relate to one another, the way we process external events and circumstances, and our own conclusions about the world around us. One of the reasons “The Question” is so significant in group life is because only through a great question can we begin to re-construct the story—the role the enemy has played, plot twists and turns, disorientation, the heroes and villains. Sure, discussion is great and keeps us engaged, but the ultimate goal of any group must be transformation. What Bill is describing in this post, most importantly, is a means to transformation through the story God is revealing through each of us.

For additional work in this regard check out Robert Mulholland’s Invitation to a Journey and The Deeper Journey. We also have several resources specifically created for drawing our stories out into the group space—certainly not for the timid, but perhaps the most redemptive exercise in small-group ministry—in the Canvas series we created with Pete Wilson and the MORE series inspired by Ron Keck. We also took great lengths to integrate this model for transformation in the God + the Arts series (Finding Jesus in the Movies, Finding Redemption in the Movies, Finding the Larger Story in Music).

I’ve heard it said that we are “always being spiritually formed.” It’s true, either we’re being spiritually “re-formed” or “de-formed” throughout our days and weeks and months. One of the seminal points in Syd Field’s book Screenplay is this: “know your story.” God as the ultimate and final teller of our stories knows this … and He is inviting us to join Him.

 

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“Seldom, very seldom, does complete truth belong to any human disclosure.” from Jane Austen’s Emma

First, do you agree or disagree? Is it possible for any of us to be completely honest—taking the taint of the fall into sin, our emotions, the messages of the enemy and of our own woundedness, and the many false selves into account?

Second, how do you think this applies to the redemptive journey God is calling us into? How do you think the notion of complete truth fits into your small-group ministry?

A Road Map for Spiritual FormationTo prepare for a new project we’re creating I’ve had to catch as much as possible what’s going on in the spiritual formation conversation. One of the books I’ve read recently–M. Robert Mulholland’s Invitation to Journey: A Road Map for Spiritual Formation–employs a bit of Jungian psychology to its understanding of the spiritual pilgrimage. Like most of us, I am only an amateur psychologist and my “practice” has been limited to my attempts to understand my spouse, my mother, and my teenage daughter. Again, I assume a very common application of one’s psychological skills. Apparently, Carl Jung concluded that human beings have four essential preferences that shape the way they relate to the world around them and process the stuff (my word) they receive from the world.

Preferred Focus
• Introvert (inner world of self and ideas)
• Extrovert (outer world of persons, events, and things)

Preferred means of receiving information
• Sensing (physical senses)
• Intuition (inner urgings of the spirit)

Preferred means of processing the “stuff” received through sensing or intuition
• Thinking (cognitive process of reasoning)
• Feeling (reliance on stirring of the heart)

Preferred relationship to the flow of life
• Judgment (closure, completion, control)
• Perception (open-ended and laid-back approach)

The differences between the introvert (I) and the extrovert (E) are not particularly insightful. The extrovert is a people person who not only enjoys company, but is energized by it. The introvert prefers solitude to fellowship, reflection to action. Keeping in mind that this is a preferred focus, or “default”, I believe I am an introvert.

Mulholland distinguishes the intuitive person (N) as a problem solver that first solves the problem, then wants to move on to the next. This person does not like repetition and grows impatient with details. The sensing person (S), on the other hand, receives information primarily through physical senses. The sensing person likes routine and details and finds comfort there. Initially I thought I’d fall categorically into sensing, but after reading Mulholland’s description I am closer to intuitive as a preference here.

The third pair of preferences, thinking and feeling, suggest the means for processing the data received through intuition and sensing. Thinking persons (T) do not show emotion easily and tend to be uncomfortable around those who do. They are very analytical and logical and tend to make decisions in an impersonal way. Feeling persons (F), however, are very sensitive to how others feel. They like harmony. They have a need to please others and sometimes let their decisions be influenced by others’ likes and dislikes. This one was tough for me, but give myself an “F”.

The final pair, judgment (J) and perception (P), is an easy distinction: closer, completion, and order vs. open-ended as a preferred way for dealing with the flow of life. I concluded my own assessment as an INFP.

So why is this important? I would recommend reading the book–not a difficult read and very helpful to anyone called to lead a congregation of any size or composition. But Mulholland uses this method as a springboard to unpacking the holistic spiritual pilgrimage and understanding the spiritual disciplines. Basically, a person’s non-preferred methods for shaping the world and processing information become his or her “shadow side”. Because Mulholland believes that to be conformed more and more into the image of Christ, we must not be allowed to habitually default to our preferences. We must put ourselves in positions that force us to exercise this “shadow side” in order for God to form us more holistically. In other words, we need to “get uncomfortable.”

But more than just getting uncomfortable, Invitation to Journey contends that these shadow sides point us to a set of personal spiritual disciplines. In addition to the classic disciplines of prayer, Bible reading, worship, fasting, study, and retreat, Mulholland concludes, my shadow sides suggest to me those areas that need unique, personal attention in order for me to become more Christlike. In other words, it’s in those areas where I am least Christlike that God most wants to work with me. I need to be more inclusive and engaged. More concerned with the details of my work, home, and spiritual journey. I need to be more prayerful about showing emotion and, maybe even more important, being comfortable around those that do (instead of trying to “solve” their emotions) and be less open-ended and more concerned with closure and order. If allowed to default to my preferences time after time, my spiritual formation will become more and more self-referenced and less and less holistic. For instance, because I tend to be more introverted, my natural spiritual path is reflective. Because of this, one of my personal spiritual disciplines would be action i.e. I need to get out more, put action to ministry.

I don’t know if there is a tool to use for assessment out there, but the book does a really decent job of describing each preference and spiritual paths of each as well (pp. 51-73). How cool would it be to help each member of your small group develop personal spiritual disciplines for a more holistic spiritual pilgrimage and more intimate relationship with God?