Intentionally walking with others, helping them grow deeper in their faith, becomes transformative when we make space to notice others particularly. For it is in the conditions of lives shared, honored, noticed, and enjoyed—that is, friendship—that something of the Spirit’s nurturing grace is imparted to us and through us to others. This noticing involves expecting God to work in the lives of those around us. In A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, Eugene Peterson points out that we must cultivate a sense of expectancy when it comes to helping our community mature and grow. Peterson writes,
So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you
not only the gospel of God but also our own selves,
because you have become very dear to us.
1 Thessalonians 2:8
Regent College’s James Houston once commented that within the evangelical Christian world we have spiritual maps and mapmakers, ad nausea, when what we really need is a few mountain guides who have been there before us on the journey. Walking with Others is for those who have ears to hear what Houston is noticing in the church. Developmental theories and maps serve a vital purpose, but what we desperately need more of today are wise men and women who have the humility, courage, and patience to walk faithfully alongside others, helping them explore the real places in their lives that the map may describe.
So much of what passes for discipleship and leadership development today lacks interpersonal investment, life upon life. Simply telling others to grow up into Christ will not cut it, no matter how articulately or creatively or loudly we state it. The journey toward growth and maturity must be shared and explored from the inside out.
There are a lot of Toms in my family. My father’s name is Tom, my pop-pop was a Tom, and even my middle name is Thomas. I also have a Tom for a second cousin. But there was only one Uncle Tom in my world growing up. He was my dad’s uncle, one of my grandma’s four brothers.
Uncle Tom was quite a humorous character. In our family, the stories abound. He was the sort of person who when told not to touch the chocolate fudge cooling in the kitchen was known not just to brush aside such cautions by taking a finger full but he was known to take the whole tray with him to work. As a butcher he was known to cause a couple of unsuspecting women to all but pass out by his sharp chop of the cleaver followed by yelling and writhing as if he just chopped off a finger or two.
Susan (my wife) and I decided to tag team leading a Journey group in our church. Seven strong women (Judy, Jayme, Carla, Hannah, Rebekah, Andrea, Susan) as well as Seth and myself (we felt much less strong at times) made up our group. Everyone who leads a VP3 group believes they have the best one, and that would be true in my case. We quickly became a trusted community, learning more fully who we were as persons in the good company of each other.
Something shifts during the narrative sharing time. And it shifted for us. A level of honesty surfaced from the fathoms of our lives…an honesty that brought with it stories of visions and broken dreams, accomplishments and failures, cozy places and harsh desserts, influential heroes and painful abusers. All of it somehow used as tailored curriculum by the Spirit of God to etch out who we really are, and to prepare us for what is yet to come.
What caught my attention when Hannah shared her story was her written prayer–a prayer that reflected her courage to question and to confess. Hannah agreed to share a part of her story and her prayer. May both be a reminder of the One who draws near in those vulnerable moments of honesty.
At our core, we at VantagePoint3 strive to be a learning and praying community whose life together (i.e. our processes, service, & team) invites others to vantage points where they can discover more deeply who God is, who they are, and what God desires to do through them. This October 24-26 in Banff, Alberta, we will be hosting a unique VP3 gathering that expresses our deep desire to both learn and encourage a more relational way of life and ministry with God and others. The theme of the gathering will be “Walking with God and Others through Pain and Suffering.”
Throughout the past couple years we have leaned into the importance of walking along side others on the journey, adopting more of a mentoring way to life and ministry. As we have entered into these many conversations we recognized again and again that the theme of suffering, and how we make sense of it, plays such a critical role in our maturing and mentoring. Growing up into Christ is never a simple, straight line from infancy to maturity. If we are to walk compassionately and honestly with others like Jesus did, then we must bring to the table our best thinking and praying about living wisely and faithfully amidst great difficulties. Consequently, we thought it would be a good time to invite people, who are interested, to engage in a conversation about suffering’s place in our formation and in our work of serving others.
My brother is one of my favorite persons. Over the past many years he has been an odd blend of friend, priest, absolute favorite guitar player, and sometimes has even played well the role of annoying brother.
One time he said to me, “I think there are rare moments when we are so in-step with the Holy Spirit that it is like cutting through paper with scissors without squeezing the blades together. When all you need to do is lightly push.”
Let me tell you about a little boy’s trip to his favorite place on earth – the Ocean City, NJ boardwalk. If you have ever been to this boardwalk in the summer you know the extent of the crowds of people – it can be both exhilarating and overwhelming. For five-year-old Little Walker, with amusement rides and snacks and so many people, a night spent on the boardwalk was his most favorite thing to do. All day long he told everyone he encountered “I am going to the boardwalk tonight!” So when dinner was done and the dishes were all washed and dried, he headed up to the boards with his parents and little sister, his aunt and uncle. Little Walker could barely contain himself as he entered the scene: Ferris wheels and boogie boards and flashing billboards, skateboards and strollers, Steel’s fudge and Mack & Manco’s pizza and Shriver’s saltwater taffy, the sounds of the ocean in the background, and wave upon wave upon wave of people. Absolutely wonderful!
But when he spotted the Johnson Caramel Popcorn shop (his dad’s favorite) and excitedly looked back for his dad and could not find him, the whole scene turned on Little Walker. The lights, the noises, the smells, and the faces all began to press in upon him, and terrify him. The excitement was gone. Little Walker was lost. He began to quietly cry as he searched the crowd for his family. Face after face, big and small, young and old, missed him and his desperate situation. Not one of them focused any sort of sustained attention on him. Everything and everyone raced by the boy in a collective overlooking, until out of the crowd, one familiar face stood out.
Fall 2013 marks the seventh year I have joined others in my local church to begin one of the VantagePoint3 processes. As a facilitator, or a participant, each year the emphasis on mentoring another person seems to send shivers of emotion, often hesitation, around the room.
Most adults have a hard time imagining that he or she can be a mentor to someone else. Yet, when asked, most adults would like to have someone investing, listening, praying, and asking questions of them and their lives.
Last year in a VP3 group, the facilitator asked the twelve how many were mentoring another individual right now. About four hands went up. She then asked,
Thomas Hart’s The Art of Christian Listening (Paulist Press, 1980) has consistently provided me fruitful perspectives for the work of walking alongside others on their spiritual journey. Hart’s thoughts point to fundamental realities of helping another person. As I reread the book I found myself translating some of his thoughts into self-examining questions. As you think and pray about your desire to walk well with others as a mentor or friend or facilitator this year, allow these questions to orient and ready your heart:
1. Am I willing to listen? Listening is fundamental to building trust in the relationship. By listening attentively to one another we remind each other that our lives profoundly matter.
In Ephesians 4:7-16 the apostle Paul communicates a vision of maturity that one New Testament scholar has summarized this way, “each member contributes to the growth of the body.”[i] This is the mystery of how God’s Spirit nurtures us as Christ’s body. If we are to mature it will be done in the company of others. It is truly a “life together” that God has in mind.
One of the concrete ways in which we can learn to live this “life together” amidst today’s individualistic culture is through the practice of friendship. Spiritual friendship does not naturally grow out of the fast-paced and competitive lives so many of us live. In reality, our professional priorities, and our household busy-ness many times stand against the cultivation of deep friendship.
We are a few months away from an annual highlight on our VP3 calendar The Enriching Retreat.
We are gathering at a U.S. location this year, Green Lake, Wisconsin (October 5-7, 2012) for a time of shared reflection and discussion, pause and prayer. Randy Reese and I will be inviting a conversation around the topic of “Guiding Others on Their Leadership Journey.” For so many of us the Spirit is inviting us to pay attention, to move beyond the work of leading to the work of developing and guiding others as leaders. For others of us we are needing time to slow down and to reflect upon what the Lord is up to in our context and in our person. How can we help our communities pay attention and discover God’s good work with us and among us? We are excited that this years conversation will flow out of our forthcoming book Deep Mentoring: Guiding Others on Their Leadership Journey (IVP, to be released October 2012). We hope you and folks from your community will consider joining us for this unique opportunity. All of this is offered in the beautiful autumn setting of the Green Lake Conference Center. We are prayerfully looking forward to the conversation that develops at this year’s retreat. Click here for details…