The Woman Nobody Knew

…CNN reported it this way on their website March 7, 2014

For years, the payments went out of the woman’s bank account.

Nobody batted an eyelid. Bills were paid. And life went on as normal in the quiet neighborhood of Pontiac, Michigan

Neighbors didn’t notice anything unusual. The woman traveled a lot, they said, and kept to herself. One of them mowed her grass to keep things looking tidy. At some point, her bank account ran dry. The bills stopped being paid.

After its warnings went unanswered, the bank holding the mortgage foreclosed on the house, a common occurrence in a region hit hard by economic woes. Still, nobody noticed what had happened inside the house. Nobody wondered out loud what had become of the owner.

Not until this week, when a worker sent by the bank to repair a hole in the roof made a grisly discovery.

The woman’s mummified body was sitting in the backseat of her car, parked in the garage. The key was halfway in the ignition.

Authorities say they believe the woman died at least six years ago. They’re still trying to figure out what happened.

“I’ve been doing this 37 years. Never seen anything like this before,” said Undersheriff Mike McCabe of Oakland County, Michigan, just outside Detroit.

The woman, who authorities aren’t identifying until they’ve informed her family, paid her bills from her bank account through auto-pay, according to McCabe.

Neighbors said they didn’t know much about the dead woman, describing her as in her 40s and of German descent.

“She really kept to herself. We never really heard anything from her,” neighbor Caitlyn Talbot told CNN affiliate WXYZ.

Talbot said she wasn’t aware of anyone having seen the woman, who traveled a lot, in about six years.

“She was probably there for a couple of days, then she’d leave for a week, then she’d come back. Then she’d leave for a month and come back,” Talbot said.

McCabe says neighbors chalked up the woman’s absences to her returning to Germany for long periods of time. Despite years without a living owner, the house was never broken into, he said.

Another neighbor, Darryl Tillery, told the Detroit Free Press that mail never piled up at the house and the lawn never grew out of order. McCabe said one of the neighbors cut the grass for years.

My Question: Is it OK to let a person “keep to herself?”

She kept to herself…but should we let someone “keep to herself?” I wondered about that when I read this. I am such a proponent of community – in neighborhoods, churches, workplaces and educational institutions. While I never force myself on people (I, too, have an introverted side), I like to get to know people where I live, work and play.

So what if a neighbor is a loner? What about the guy at work who eats lunch alone, or the professor who teaches and heads to her study? While we cannot force people to have relationships, we can move toward them in love and service. In this sad story I kept wondering:

Would I knock on the door? Would I go in? Call the cops? Would I care if a neighbor seemed to “disappear” for too long? What does “love” look like if it does not look like movement toward people? If I love people, can I ignore their apparent desire to be alone? Can I at least nudge forward by asking, seeking and knocking (literally), wondering if God might use me to break through?

The next time you see a pattern of isolation, don’t assume it is desired or even the best thing for someone. Ask, seek and knock. I wonder if she was so lonely she ended her life. We do not know the cause of death, but loneliness had to be a contributing factor.

People are dying for community…literally. Are we aware? Isn’t our lack of awareness and action a sin of the worst kind?

This story could have ended differently. If it had started differently. We can be part of the solution.

Ask…Seek…Knock. Don’t let someone be “the woman/man nobody knew.”

Extraordinary Groups – achieving personal transformation and great results

Extraordinary Groups

I am working with a group of young leaders in the area of high-performance teams and groups. One of the best resources I have come across for this is Extraordinary Groups by Bellman and Ryan.

Extraordinary Groups by Geoffrey M. Bellman, Kathleen D. Ryan

Extraordinary Groups by Geoffrey M. Bellman, Kathleen D. Ryan

 

In my opinion this is one of the most comprehensive resources in this arena because:

  • it combines author experience with very practical ideas and approaches
  • has a sound working model easily adapted to your situation
  • has transferable concepts and processes for any team, for-and-non-profit
  • walks you through the model in very practical ways
  • focuses on outcomes and how to engage robust discussions for your team
  • is well written with a language and style that is engaging, accessible and not too complex

 

Geoff Bellman’s approach is based on research and experience – you can watch a 40-minute presentation here that your team would get a lot out of! Very solid work.

Kathy Ryan and Geoff are a competent people who have built teams, led high-capacity groups, worked in complex organizations, understand the non-profit sector, and are advocates for relational transformation while honoring the need for great results

I like Kathy’s bio where you find this

Through The Orion Partnership, a consulting firm based near Seattle, Washington, she has been known for her work in turning fear-based organizations into ones where collaboration and trust are the keys to high performance.

There are many organizations that could really use her help!

Here are a few of my big takeaways from their work and this book.

First, get the book. It really is solid. And work the model with your team – the exercise is worth the effort.

Second, the 8 Characteristics of a an Extraordinary Group make for a solid framework and assessment (the work and book have been so well received that they just developed a team assessment and resources for the process.

Here are the 8 Characteristics
Outstanding Results Transformation
  • Compelling Purpose
  • Shared Leadership
  • Just-enough Structure
  • Full Engagement
  • Embracing Differences
  • Unexpected Learning
  • Strengthened Relationships
  • Great Results

 

 

Take your team through a discussion and reality check on this list alone, and you will be glad you did.

And third, the Group Needs Model they use is fresh, coherent and very applicable for creating a high-performance culture with a strong emphasis on personal growth not simply team results. The model addresses 3 major aspects of a team with 2 components in each, with an overall focus on personal and organizational change:

SELF = Self Acceptance and Potential

GROUP = Team Purpose and Relational Bonds

WORLD = Current Reality and Desired Impact

How is your team doing with respect to building people who connect deeply and together achieve great results? Where are the gaps? What is your process and model for evaluating and guiding a team?

 

I plan to utilize more of this work in my work with church and leadership groups – outstanding tool!

Oh No! There’s a Small Group Shutdown!

Dr. Donahue works with catalytic leaders and leadership teams to help leaders maximize their leadership capacity, sharpen missional clarity, build transformational groups and teams. He is a growth coach to senior leaders who act as catalysts for change personally and organizationally.

shut downCurrently, our government leaders are debating and haggling about what services to fund. It’s a political wrestling match as we are well aware. Someone said, “When are these losers going to get their act together?” Sadly, regardless of your political affiliation, the real “losers” are needy people. Meanwhile many who are not dependent on government assistance or investment can laugh and throw stones. But a slowdown or a shutdown is a real letdown for so many. A government shutdown is indeed a crisis.

But today I realize I have avoided an even greater crisis in my life.

A Small Group Shutdown!

That’s right. I cannot imagine the impact of such a thing if it ever happened.  As I look at the small groups I have been a part of over the years, shutdown would have been devastating for me and many others I know – at least from the human side of things.

 

Here’s what a Small Group Shutdown would have meant for me…

  • No connection with Jesus a leader, lover and friend
  • A disastrous marriage to someone who did not follow God
  • A misfire on God’s moving me into a new career
  • I would have never learned the real power of the gospel
  • I might not have many real, lifelong friends – deep, genuine and “for me”
  • An undiscovered teaching gift
  • Participation in a weak church that had drifted from the truth
  • I might never have attended graduate school for theology
  • I would have missed seeing real prayer and real healing
  • My own prayers and gifts would lay dormant or underutilized for years
  • Serving opportunities would have passed me by
  • International ministry and service would have likely evaded me
  • I would have missed the support I needed for my marriage
  • Raising kids would have been a disaster
  • My personal pain and suffering would have had much less support
  • My 2nd and 3rd career moves would have been made without wise counsel
  • Might not have had close friends in the group become believers
  • Would have missed tons of personal growth, love, and truth-telling I needed to hear

 

And I could go on for pages…A Small Group Shutdown would have led to a personal Breakdown.

It is sad that some critics believe that “small groups don’t work” and are not focused on making disciples.

Hmmm.

I guess I was just lucky to be in the only group on the planet that is an exception. I am sure the rest are just hokey little gatherings of bubble Christians hiding from the world and ignoring their communities.

Sure, like parts of the government, some need to be shutdown.  But most, as far as I can see (and I have looked at these around the globe), are lifelines for people of all stripes and backgrounds. These little bands of spiritual transformation form the foundation for communal life and service.  Maybe that is why Jesus spent so much time with His.

So today my headline reads, “SMALL GROUP SHUTDOWN AVERTED!”

 

Happy People  Whew! Am I grateful!

 

 

 

After the Leadership Conference – Now What?

Dr. Donahue works with catalytic leaders and leadership teams to help leaders maximize their leadership capacity, sharpen missional clarity, build transformational groups and teams. He is a growth coach to senior leaders who act as catalysts for change personally and organizationally.

After the Leadership Conference ... Now What?

I develop leaders.

I speak at conferences.

I attend conferences.

 

This week, I attended the Willow Creek Leadership Summit. Lot’s of enthusiasm and inspiration, great talks and encouraging moments. I took my family and 5 of my honors students. We found the experience exciting and energizing. Like many others, that is why we go. It is an emotional thrill, and leaders need a leadership lift whenever we can get one.

Many of the speakers acknowledged this kind of event is a REMINDER event. We need to hear what we already know, and be inspired again to plug away, stay the course, and lead well. And often we gain a new insight or have an “aha!” moment. These are truly valuable.

But what happens after the thrill is gone? It is the age-old conference dilemma. In a few days the buzz is gone, the notebook goes on the shelf, the twitter frenzy dies down and people return to the same challenges, problems, lousy bosses, fundraising shortfalls and HR headaches.

Am I being pessimistic? Should we stop going to conferences? NO! Let me be clear. I love conferences! I love speaking at them and going to them! I love hanging with other leaders and getting to know their stories, successes and challenges. This is essential for every leader!

How “Group Friendly” is Your Church?

Dr. Donahue works with catalytic leaders and leadership teams to help leaders maximize their leadership capacity, sharpen missional clarity, build transformational groups and teams. He is a growth coach to senior leaders who act as catalysts for change personally and organizationally.

Is your church ” Group Friendly ?”

Group Friendly Small Groups

I work with dozens of churches each year as I work with their leadership teams about small groups, spiritual growth and transformational leadership. Often I am contacted and asked some variation of this question: “Bill, can you help us build/grow our small group ministry?”

Before I answer yes, no or maybe, I engage in a conversation, asking lots of questions and getting to know the current state of the church. As it relates to group life, I discover that churches fall into four categories:

  • Group-focused
  • Group-proficient
  • Group-wary
  • Group-hostile

You might be wondering why a “group-hostile” church would even ask me to help them build groups. Reality is, they do not see themselves as group hostile, but I do. So allow me to unpack each of these and see where your church is these days.

Ground Rules for Effective Groups and Teams

Dr. Donahue works with catalytic leaders and leadership teams to help leaders maximize their leadership capacity, sharpen missional clarity, build transformational groups and teams. He is a growth coach to senior leaders who act as catalysts for change personally and organizationally.

My friends Henry Cloud and I have worked together speaking, writing and training group leaders. To coach small groups – especially newer groups – we created Making Your Small Groups Work, a DVD groups watch a few minutes at each meeting to learn to be an effective community.

Cover of DVD Making Your Small Group Work Dr Bill Donahue DVD for Groups and Teams

 

Here’s a short sample if you want to take a peek.

Watch Video:

 

Setting ground rules is one of the things we encouraged groups to do, so that everyone is clear about how to create an environment for growth in a group context.

 

Here are 5 to think incorporate into your group process or team setting.

 

Care: Being for each other and coming alongside one another on any group or team is essential. We need more encouragement and less criticism; more urging onward than looking backward. To say “I care” means we not on have empathy with others, but we show that in a tangible way with words, ideas, support and compassion.

This may sound a little “soft” for some settings, like working groups or corporate teams. I get that. But it can still be communicated in appropriate ways. When a group really cares about one another they can begin to care for one another.

 

Safety: Creating a “Come as You are Culture” as friend John Burke likes to say, you make it safe for full participation and risk-taking. It means we can show up angry, tired, strong, weak, excited or cautious – and that is all ok. Sure, you need to monitor how you express those realities depending on the setting and the culture of the group or organization.

But the basic premise remains. You avoid having a “you’d –better-act-and-talk-and-look-like-this-before-we-accept-you” culture that ignores reality and demeans people.

 

Authenticity: Yes, authenticity is an overworked word… but it remains an underutilized practice. I believe this is because it is often misunderstood. Sometimes it is interpreted as putting all your cards on the table all the time, totally revealing everything about yourself.

Not healthy. We have reality TV to thank for that perspective. Unbridled and unwise communication and action is not authenticity – it is simply overexposure. And, like too much sun without sunblock, it does more damage than most relationships can tolerate.

Or, people fake authenticity with trite phases and clichés.  “I totally understand what you mean!”  “Wow thanks for putting yourself out there, Susan. It felt so real.”  Or what a women said in a group I was in “I hate my husband, he’s a creep!” That was certainly real…but was it wise to share in the second meeting of a small group just learning to become a community and trying to take basic risks?

 

Growth: We are told to “urge one another toward love and toward good deeds” and groups are a great place for that. We get so selfish, so cynical, so absorbed in personal realities that pushing one another toward growth is neglected. But if I am listening, I am eager to call the best out of you and watch you thrive.

Once a member asked me, “And how do you act with integrity and honor your boss even though now you realize he might never change his abrupt way of communicating?” He wanted me to understand I have a choice – my actions and reactions are under my control, regardless of what he says or does. I can be different. I can love. I can serve.

 

Help: Groups and teams flourish when members help one another in tangible ways. “Mike, I can get that report for you online and save you a few minutes of research time.” “Christine, let me take care of the kids for an hour while you get some quiet time – or just go shop!” Little helps make a big difference.

 

Let me know if I can ever help you or your teams get better at creating greater community and a vibrant group culture.

 

In the meantime, ask yourself:

Which of these 5 “habits” or Ground Rules can we make a reality in our group or team?

What will it take for us to make this a normal part of the culture?

 

 

Creating Margin in your Leadership

Dr. Donahue works with catalytic leaders and leadership teams to help leaders maximize their leadership capacity, sharpen missional clarity, build transformational groups and teams. He is a growth coach to senior leaders who act as catalysts for change personally and organizationally.

Carving out space for refreshment and renewal is essential for lasting leadership. Here is a great way to monitor your life and create space in your schedule.

 

 

 

Creating Margin in your Leadership – Transcribed

One of the challenges we face as leaders is creating margin in our lives and I want to talk to you just for a couple of minutes about having margin and space in your schedule and in your leadership to refresh and renew yourself.
A friend Shared a tool with me over 20 years ago that served me quite well along these lines. I would like you to take the seven days of the week and put them across the top, on a piece of paper, so Monday through or where ever you would like to start list out the seven days. And then down the left side put three blocks of time morning, afternoon, and evening.
You’re creating 21 boxes, 7 across the top, 3 down, 21 boxes in a grid. I want you to place an X in every box you have a commitment that you have to fulfill. It’s not optional, you have to do something go to work, maybe you go to church, maybe you go do part of civic duties, you’re on a board, you have to travel, you have to do something with the family, not choose to things these are have to things, these are demands placed on you.
Put an X in every box that has even the smallest meeting in it, it could be one hour, it could be middle of the afternoon or 8 o’clock in the evening you’re going to meet with someone X the whole time zone out, that whole block. Because what happens is emotional energy is spent, physical energy is spent, time is spent. And sometimes there is the meeting after the meeting, or even if you have phone calls you have to make, you think it’s gonna be 20 minutes it turns out to be 2 hours. It’s a block of time you have an obligation in, so X it out.
Here’s the key: if you have more than 19, week after week after week you’re headed to burn out. If you have obligations in 20, 21 of those boxes week in and week out, that’s a tough deal.
Now, sometimes we all have seasons like that or short seasons like that and I hope that the end of a season like that you have several days or some time to pull back, renew, refresh, restore.
But on a regular basis you should be probably in that, if you are active, probably in that 16 to 17 range. Were you have at least three or four blocks in the week, not that you are doing absolutely nothing, but that no one is making you do something. You don’t have to be somewhere, you get to choose what to do. You want to take a nap, you take a nap, you want to read a book, you read a book, you want to get the family and go out, you go out. But you’re not obligated.
So take a look at your life on that grid and see what a month looks like. Are you running constantly in that 20 to 21 zone? Then find blocks of time that you can guard, and create margin. You going to do some phone calls? Stock them all one night of the week. Put everything into one block and free up another block. Instead of having four one hour commitments in different areas maybe you can cluster those two areas so you free up a couple spaces on the 21 block grid.
Leaders need margin, you need some space, you need to build it regularly, and you need it at the end of a tough run. I’m just finishing a tough run, I’ve got some space built in for that but I am very aware that on a regular basis I need to create margin.
You need to do that in your leadership, you’ll thrive if you do.

Life-Shaping Values

Dr. Donahue works with catalytic leaders and leadership teams to help leaders maximize their leadership capacity, sharpen missional clarity, build transformational groups and teams. He is a growth coach to senior leaders who act as catalysts for change personally and organizationally.

Values that shape you

What are the values that guide your decisions or influence how you spend your time? A few years ago I set out to define a few. I wanted them to be broad enough to address most aspects of life but have enough clarity to use as a “grid” or a “filter” for actions I might take, relationships I would be seeking, and how I might approach my work.

Values answer “WHY” the questions of your life, mission or a direction you are considering. They provide a guiding framework for reflection, decision making and time allocation.

Here are my four driving values. Confession: I do waste time and I do make bad decisions. But I know I would make more and squander more without a growing, guiding sense of why I do what I am doing.

 

Compelling Truth

I have to ask myself sometimes, “Is there are good reason I am doing this? What do I really believe? Are there certain “life truths” that guide me. Because I am a person of faith in the Christian tradition, I hold to some truths I believe have been revealed by God to guide our lives. These are captured in well-know scriptures and creeds. I think of the Ten Commandments, The Lord’s Prayer, Psalm 23, The Apostle’s Creed, The Book of Common Prayer, and some confessions and statements of faith created throughout the ages by various groups. (For an artistic and beautiful video rendition of Psalm 23, you might look at this video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ervcj18qeyg .)

There are other important truths as well. Some of mine include “don’t sacrifice family to get ahead at work; honor your life rhythms; listen to your story and the stories of others; make the hard choice, most of the time it is the right one; your word is your bond; the news is not always true; everything works great until people show up; and, like they say, never take a sleeping pill and a laxative before bed. (Some awkward truths you just have to share!).

 

Does my life reflect truths I believe and do my actions contribute to their expression?

 

Inspiring Beauty

I love art, music, poetry, good food, great books and inspiring experiences. I use the term “beauty” to capture all of these because engagement with beauty moves me emotionally. Some beauty is superficial to be sure, and it can be used to manipulate and tempt and deceive. But at the core beauty lifts the soul, refreshes the heart and puts a smile on your face.

There is a deeper, truer beauty we need to pursue and embrace in the world and with one another. Model Cameron Russell shook the modeling world with her “tell all” talk at TED in January of this year. If you have not seen it, you must – especially you women. http://blog.ted.com/2013/01/16/model-cameron-russell-gives-the-real-story-behind-six-of-her-stunning-photos/

 

 

Does my activity add beauty to what we are doing; am I taking time to soak in the beauty of the moment?

 

Bold Love

Love is a most misunderstood virtue, often containing a mix of wondrous truth and awful lies. I wonder if many people truly understand love anymore, especially in light of how we demean and trivialize it.

Bold love implies adventure—the risk we take to offer loving acts of kindness, loving words of hope and affirmation, or simple loving expressions of touch or our presence to those whose lives ache with pain, heartache and rejection. “Bold” love challenges me to love others when at first they appear unlovable; it causes me to share love when it requires work to express that love (to the poor, the sick and the lonely); and bold love means receiving expressions of love from others even when I feel unworthy of love. It is the kind of love Dan Allender describes in his book Bold Love.

 

Does bold love define the way you view others, yourself, God and the world today?

 

Authentic Community

We are experiencing a return to communal life. The “rugged individualism” that Robert Bellah and others referred to in Habits of the Heart is finally giving way – in some places – to a more communal and “others-focused” mindset.

We all long for true community we are love, know, celebrate and serve one another, working together toward mutual goals and becoming a group of people that enjoy life together. I am privileged to share this kind of community with my family, a small group that meets regularly, some neighborhood friends, and some colleagues globally. For me, the “shared life” is the only life worth living.

 

Does a commitment to community guide the way you live, serve, and manage your life?

 

What are the values that shape you? Send them along so we can all learn from your thoughts – thanks.

Keeping Community at the Core

Dr. Donahue works with catalytic leaders and leadership teams to help leaders maximize their leadership capacity, sharpen missional clarity, build transformational groups and teams. He is a growth coach to senior leaders who act as catalysts for change personally and organizationally.

Community at the Core

I had the privilege of being with some great yet humble pastoral leaders last week at a forum in Atlanta. These 22 men and women are responsible for creating a climate where group life and effective teams can flourish in and through the life of the local church. Some world-renown churches were represented (Saddleback, LifeChurch, North Point) and some lesser known communities (Westridge, Sojourn, and Southridge in Canada) rounded out the list.

 

Church size, personal popularity, resources published, ministry longevity or the level of creativity were not the factors that made these leaders or their churches “great” in my eyes. Rather, they were successful because they maintained a relentless commitment to becoming a church with community at the core of everything they do.

 

Why? Because they knew and believed there is no discipleship without relationship! There can be no mass disciple-making using events and programs. Yes, you can create more followers with creative events, spectacular services and dynamic speakers. But you cannot make disciples.

 

As I listened to these friends and fellow leaders, it was clear that communal life and how it can change the world was truly at the center. It was not an afterthought, an add-on to be considered after focusing on fundraising, events, services, classes, programs and activities. I long for that kind of church.

 

But to be a place where community is at the core you must first believe that it really belongs there, where God put it and where Jesus lived it. And you must build everything around it. The heart of the gospel is community – the message that the God who lives in community came to restore community with his people through the life, death and resurrection of his son. (John 17:21)

 

 

How do we Become a Place with Community at the Core?

 

Here are some of the key insights that these leaders shared or that I took away as we engaged deeply about what it means for community to be central to the core of a church to catalyze spiritual growth and maximize world impact.

 

Strategy Matters: Organic growth is cool and new experiments are essential, but at the end of the day you need a cohesive, coherent strategy for building community life. It must not be so rigid as to inhibit innovation, nor so loose as to create unmanageable chaos. But you need one – missional groups, meta-church, life transformation groups, mid-sized communities…the models vary but not the need for a unified, cohesive strategy. And be careful not to over-program. The emerging discussion about Missional Communities was very provocative.

 

Clarity is King: Why do we do groups? What is our desired outcome? How do people get connected? Where do we find emerging leaders and how do we equip them? There are many questions and problems to solve, and most of them are complex or require real effort. But if you are committed to achieving clarity, you have most of the problem solved already. See Stanley on this.

 

Culture-Transformation is our Mission. Many Christians either attack the culture or run from it. But we are not called to build a community of navel gazers, obsessed with promoting an insulated, fortress mentality. People are lost, hurting, lonely, fear-filled, poor, hungry, homeless, hopeless, friendless, oppressed, unemployed, wounded and sick. We build community to strengthen the body AND enter the culture with a Luke 4 mindset. In God’s power we are setting captives free, bringing sight to the spiritually blind, offering good news and hope to the poor, and shouting out “God’s favor has come!”

 

Stories Stir the Soul: Listening to the stories of others and telling our story is a powerful way to connect people and build relationships with those outside our circle. Then we can connect our stories to God’s story.

 

Metrics Motivate the Mind: You get what you measure, but you cannot gauge progress without some markers. Without measurement there is no management. Plan to measure qualitative and quantitative growth, getting feedback so that you can focus your training and development of people.

 

Leaders Make a Big Difference: We all advocate the vision of shared ministry, mutual use of gifts, empowering one another to serve, and taking ownership of ministry at every level. But we also know that quality, committed leadership matters.  We want a flatter kind of church structure, and we know that leaders themselves have a big role in making that happen. We have to give more away, take more risks, allow others to fail, and be the first to work ourselves out of a job. See my post about your leadership.

 

The Good News is the Best News: We affirmed our commitment to the gospel-story of Jesus, teaching His way of being with people, loving others, living a sacrificial life, redeeming us from sin and shame, and putting us on a new path toward abundant life.

 

I was so proud to be in the room with such an amazing group of servants whose hearts are tender, minds are sharp, and souls long for real change. And who can laugh at themselves (and one another!) in a way that is simply pure joy.

 

With whom do you gather for this kind of inspiration? 

Where do you get real interaction and thought-provoking conversation?

Where do you discover fresh ideas and see strategies that actually work in real life?  

Not just more speakers and content and information – but real engagement about life and ministry issues that produces lasting change? 

 

 

 

We would like to encourage your feedback as it helps us to identify the issues that are important to you. It also helps others who are searching to develop new creative ways of leading. Thank you in advance for your comments.

Photo credit: http://welcome2hope.org

Spiritual Growth for Ordinary People

Dr. Donahue works with catalytic leaders and leadership teams to help leaders maximize their leadership capacity, sharpen missional clarity, build transformational groups and teams. He is a growth coach to senior leaders who act as catalysts for change personally and organizationally.

Quote on On-Spritual-Growth by Dallas Willard, “God is opposed to earning, but not to effort.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I can imagine asking a small group or team member in a church “Is spiritual growth important?” and hearing them answer, “Absolutely!” Then I would take a risk and follow that with, “Ok, but is it actually possible?” With some trepidation, most would likely say, “Yes, it’s possible.” Ok…now the defining question, the one I really want to ask. “Is spiritual growth possible for you and, if so, how is that happening now?”  

 

Silence. Confusion. Fear. Shame. Doubt.

 

Welcome to “Awkward Moments in Spiritual Conversations” – the hottest new reality show.

 

To be clear, I believe growth is possible. And I have seen growth in my life. But not without much pain, sorrow, heartache or effort. And almost never without OTHERS!

 

Spiritual Growth is Intensely Communal

 

Church leaders remain convinced that people find hope and strength for their journey when they gather regularly with a small community for mutual support and wisdom. But it is no secret that they are seeking so much more. Inwardly they wonder whether real, lasting change is possible or if a group experience will play a role in their progress toward Christ-centered living.

 

I’m talking about your group and my group here. Group members are asking, “Is it possible? And if so, how does it happen? How do we know it is happening?” And for many of us in positions of leadership, “What role do group leaders play in this grand communal kingdom adventure of spiritual growth?”

 

Yes, publicly we are quick to declare that intentional, relational community is essential for life-change. But privately many fearfully wonder, “Can our group actually produce disciples? Can we become radically transformed human beings who are nuts about Jesus, instead of just nuts?”

 

Let’s be honest. We expect John Ortberg’s group to change. And we’re certain that a few weeks with Dallas Willard will take us just a few feet from the throne-room of heaven. And is there really any doubt that if we invited Richard Foster and the Renovare team to lead our group or team we would experience non-stop spiritual growth, upward and to the right, 24/7, every week of every year?

 

That’s what most of us believe—really. For THEM it is possible. But not for US. THEY are Transformational Titans and WE are Spiritual Slugs.

 

Don’t you believe it. Not for one minute. They are not super saints. (Trust me. I have seen Ortberg make a mistake, bumble in the pulpit and sweat in a staff meeting. And once I heard him say a bad word in public.)

 

BREAKING STORY…Ordinary Person says, “Spiritual Growth is Possible!”

 

All kidding aside, what attracts us to our spiritual heroes is that they are pursuing a life of devotion, seeking to make themselves available to the transforming grace of God in every part of their lives. But in this they are neither unique nor specially equipped. But they (and many others around the globe) are doing something. And it is something we can all do. It’s normal. And it is normal to need others to pursue lasting change. It is what the church is supposed to do and be.

 

Todd Hunter puts it this way, regarding the church and the good news it offers the world.

 

“We are cooperative friends with Jesus, living in creative goodness, for the sake of others, in the power of the Holy Spirit.” – Christianity Beyond Belief

 

Thankfully we had guides throughout the ages who have experienced this kind of life. And apart from a few mystics called to a more solitary way of prayer and life, they will all tell you that intentional group life – communal living in the way of Jesus – is a major contributor to lasting progress and permanent change.

 

Such change is both the opportunity and possibility for every Christ-follower. And it is the potential for every team and group in your church – to become a catalytic, change-oriented community of people in hot pursuit of a new way of life.

 

But it will take effort, something we “grace-focused” people think is downright heresy when it comes to all things spiritual. I am not talking about works—I am talking about effort. Go ahead…look at the phrase “make every effort” in the Bible. Peter, Paul and Jesus all use it. Why? Because they have given up on grace? No. Just the opposite – because grace makes the effort possible!

 

The spiritual life takes effort. We do not drift into growth or wander into deep, transforming community. Words like strive, labor and effort are not foreign to the bible, or to spiritual growth. In fact, they are essential. Look for yourself.

 

Dallas Willard has often remarked, “God is opposed to earning, but not to effort.”  The words of the bible and saints through the ages bear this out. Effort is powered by grace. Earning is fueled by pride.

 

So make every effort – to persist in prayer, to work through conflict, to listen with intensity, to serve despite weakness, and to lead with diligence. In so doing you will not earn God’s favor – you already have that. But you will grow in grace, sharpen your focus and reap the rewards of faithfulness, as the scripture promises.

 

But whatever you do, do not do this alone. In community you will discover what real transformation looks like, for ordinary people like you and me, meeting in average small groups, led by reluctant leaders, yet fueled by the transforming grace of God and empowered by His Spirit. It is a messy process, this community thing. And it takes effort. But the Church—this ragtag group of spiritual misfits—is called to live in a community of oneness for the sake of others. And I, for one, am eager to learn more about how to enter this community with honesty, humility and skill.

 

I really need it. And so do you. And so do all the “spiritual giants” who have gone before us and guide us today.

 

Time to recognize spiritual growth is normal and not… uh … um … what’s that word… um… oh yes, …awkward!

 

 

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