Conversations that Transform

Conversations that Transform

These communication tips steer people toward change.
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Yes, we talked about porn filters, but what was central was inviting him into something better than porn. Why?

Scottish preacher Thomas Chalmers (1780-1847), in his famous sermon "The Expulsive Power of a New Affection," explains: "The best way of casting out an impure affection is to admit a pure one; and by the love of what is good, to expel the love of what is evil."

My word to this artist was what I call a "pastoral invitation." It's pastoral because it comes with an element of spiritual authority. But it's also an invitation. I don't want to control or to fix, and I can't anyway. This person's life is his life. God was working in it long before I got here and God will still be working in it long after I leave. All I offer is an invitation to one or two things that will help this person grow in Christ, to love God and others more, to live out of his heart.

In Invitations from God, Adele Ahlberg Calhoun explains: "Invitations from the Holy One serve God's dream for the world. They don't call me to become what I produce, what others think of me or what I know … . They let us know that we are wanted, loved, named, and known."

What does a pastoral invitation sound like?

For one businessman, I invited him to "move toward the weak, vulnerable, poor, street people. That's when you come most alive and are at your best."

For a young guy starting out in ministry, I invited him to "watch the RPMs. You are able to give much because of your willingness to live sacrificially. But doing too much for too long, with too little rest and too little money, can overheat the engine. Rest."

For another person my invitation was a question: "Have you ever considered that you may have apostolic gifts, to start new works for God's kingdom?"

Offering such an invitation is scary and awesome. I often feel I don't know what to say (and I usually don't offer an invitation until I've listened for at least two hours). I pray earnestly to God that I would say what he wants me to say and not say what he doesn't want to say. To do this well, we must have shepherding hearts, and we must be able to speak the truth in love.

Follow Up Without Nagging

The first three pastoral essentials build a relationship; I must walk with the person and not just drop him or her. So I follow up periodically. But following up doesn't mean I ask, "Are you doing what I invited you to do?" It's not accountability the way most people understand it. I'm not here to check up on him; I'm here only to catch up on how he's doing, and then pray together.

This is not laissez-faire; instead it trusts that God is better at growing this person spiritually than I am. And when I don't see progress, I must be patient. In Interior Freedom, Jacques Philippe challenges me here: "If the Lord has still not transformed this person, has not relieved him of such and such an imperfection, it is because he puts up with him as he is! He waits, with patience, for the opportune moment. Then I must do likewise. I must pray and be patient. Why be more demanding and impatient than God? I think sometimes that my haste is motivated by love. But, God loves infinitely more than I do."

Spiritual development always seems to come in a slow, quiet, mysterious way. You can't see soil getting richer.
Yet throughout the Bible this is the primary way faith has been passed on. Moses works with Joshua; Eli trains Samuel; Jesus calls the apostles; Timothy's grandmother Lois trains up her daughter Eunice, who trains up her son Timothy; Paul calls Titus his son in the faith. When it comes to helping people grow into spiritual maturity, the Bible gives us the Clarence Principle: the older teach the younger, and those more mature in the faith guide those who are newer in the faith. We can trust the process God has ordained.

— Kevin A. Miller is associate pastor of Church of the Resurrection in Wheaton, Illinois; adapted from our sister publication Leadership Journal, copyright 2012 Christianity Today.

Discuss

  1. Which pastoral practice above rang most true to you? Why?
  2. What prevents you from employing these practices with members of your group?
  3. How can you incorporate the suggestions above into the conversations you have with your group members—especially those newest to the faith?

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