Have you ever changed your mind about something? I have changed my mind more about things in the last few years than I would have ever dreamed possible.
More than Knowing
For example, when I started working at an industrial job, I had the idea that a person should not miss work for anything—even when you're sick. So for more than six years straight, I never missed a day of work because of illness. Did I get sick during that time? Yes. But I just strapped on my boots and said, "No matter, I'm going to work."
That line of thinking started to spill over into how I viewed other people. I had friends at the company who, every month or two, got sick and missed a day of work. I became convinced they had poor values, and that they were either uncommitted, lazy, or just wimpy. I knew that everyone has times when they don't feel well, but I truly believed that if a person was committed enough, he or she could still make it to work.
But then I started to change my mind.
Why? Over time, I got some information from my "wimpy" friends that helped me understand why they struggled to make it to work when certain health conditions were a problem. The information helped me to empathize with them. Still, down deep, I was doubtful that they really needed to be off work as much as they were.
But then something really caused me to change my mind: I got a chronic illness. I—the guy who thought anyone who would let illness interrupt everyday life was just wimpy—became chronically sick. And I stayed chronically sick. Low and behold, it did interrupt my everyday life. It did make work and normal activity impossible at times. That's when I got it. I changed my mind.
So, what does it take to change your mind?
Knowledge about something can change a person's mind, but what really tends to do the trick is knowledge coupled with a related experience. We can have a lot of information that would lead us in a direction to change our minds, but knowledge of the truth doesn't always tip us over the edge until we have a relevant experience.
True mind change, in a spiritual context, is called transformation (Romans 12:2). So when does transformation happen? Does it happen when we receive information regarding biblical truth? Sometimes. My experience has been that biblical truth is very important to the transformation process. Still, we often allow truth to change our beliefs, but our actions don't always flesh that out.
Sometimes we need to both understand and experience the truth in order for genuine transformation to take place. Real application of a truth is where life-change happens—not just talking about application, but living the application. Academic or informational Bible studies can be important within a small group, but if you're not living out or experiencing the truths of those studies together in community, your group members may not be changing their minds as much as you think.
So how can you help the process of genuine transformation? Here are some practical suggestions:
- Always allocate a significant amount of time to focus on the application of any study you are doing. At least half of any "lesson time" should focus specifically on application.
- Don't make application theoretical. In other words, share as many personal and specific examples of application as you can, including past victories and defeats. Encourage and spur one another on through those examples.
- Be intentional about planning experiences into group life—service projects, prayer walks, confession exercises, hospital visits, and so on.
- Discern specific areas where transformation is slow for your members, and plan experiences around those areas. For example, if several group members are having trouble loving people of a different ethnicity, plan a time when they can serve others of that different ethnicity.
- Draw the connection or ask questions about how God is using specific circumstances to transform your group members. Here's an example question: How is God using your current suffering to change your mind about things?
- Recognize and celebrate times when people acknowledge they have changed their mind at a deeper level about deeply held issues.
- Pray that the Holy Spirit would be constantly renewing the minds of your small-group members.
Remember that changing a mind goes beyond knowledge. It requires knowing the right things and living those things. as well. Don't let your small group settle for just the first step in the process of genuine transformation.
—Dan Lentz; copyright 2007 by the author and Christianity Today. Originally appeared on SmallGroups.com.