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How do people grow?

"...Give your servant success today by granting him favor in the presence of this man." [Nehemiah 1:11]

I've been fascinated with how people grow all my life. It's why I studied psychology, and it's been why I've loved being involved in church - to the point of planting a church.

I've been reading recently researching a psychologists work modelling how people and groups intentionally change. And I've found it both fascinating, and deeply connected to how God works.

The model of how people change is called "Intentional Change Theory" (ICT).  As the name suggests, it is a theory, backed up by increasing amounts of psychology research, about how people intentionally change. The original author of the work, Richard Boyatzis, has spent a reasonable amount of his professional career working out how people change in desired and sustainable ways. So far, so good. His modelling suggests that personal and group change is not linear (hallelujah - who has lived a life where personal or group growth just proceeded in a nice step-by-step, linear fashion???) but rather happens as a result of a series of discoveries that interact with each other. I'll list them and briefly explain each one below:

  • Discovery #1 - My Ideal Self - I think over and uncover who I want to be.

  • Discovery #2 - My Real Self - I think over and uncover who I am now - the good, bad and ugly.

  • Discovery #2.1 - My Strengths & Gaps - I look at where my ideal self, and real self, are similar (strengths) and different (gaps)? 

  • Discovery #3 - My Learning Agenda - I develop a learning agenda that helps me build on my strengths whilst reducing my gaps.

  • Discovery #4 - I develop new thoughts, behaviors and feelings through acting on my learning agenda and experimenting into growth. 

  • Discovery #4.1 - New neural pathways (learning patterns and habit building in the brain) are built through practicing to mastery.

  • Discovery #5 - Resonant relationships are sought and built that help and encourage me through this whole growth process.

This is, if you like, an "agenda" for growing in your personal life. In a group situation (like our church), the agenda would be modified for a group environment - for example, Discovery #1 would be the groups Ideal self (otherwise known as our vision). 

I think this is a pretty powerful model for sustained and intentional personal growth (and I am going to set about using it for our church as our church's "growth agenda"). But you know what's even more cool? I think the Nehemiah series we're in at the moment fits really quite powerfully with this framework.

ICT & Nehemiah

Think about it like this:

  • Nehemiah, in chapter 1, has a really clear picture of his personal and national future, and it is very different to their current circumstances.

  • Nehemiah, in chapter 1, also has a really clear picture of the real personal and national situation - it wasn't good, but there was hope based in God's promises. 

  • Nehemiah, in chapter 2, goes about working out the strengths and gaps (quite literally) in the city of Jerusalem - particularly the walls - and develops a learning agenda for change (think - he made a plan for how to rebuild the walls and recruited people).

  • Nehemiah 3 - records how he begins to work on the learning agenda for change with the inhabitants of the city of Jerusalem.

  • Nehemiah 4 on-wards - records lots of different developments in the rebuild project - experimentation is happening, there is resistance to change they have to work through, there is the building of resonant relationships, there is development and adaptation of the learning agenda, and there is further discovery of the strengths and gaps between their real situation and their ideal situation. 

In short, Nehemiah is a study, not just in Daring Greatly, but in Daring greatly to Grow. It is a study in Daring Greatly to Grow as individuals, and as a church. 

Over the next few weeks, I'm going to dive in and unpack Nehemiah from this personal and group growth perspective, drawing on insights from ICT to make it all the more interesting, and personally applicable for each of us. Because in the end - who doesn't want to grow. And even more - who doesn't want to see how the bible can help me do so - with clarity and wisdom!

Written by Ps. Rob


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