At the essence of many of the discussions a pastor has is the following question, “how can a person change?” The question may arise amidst personal upheaval, hidden in casual conversation about work, or provoked by the times we live in — what is one to do about social injustice, racial tensions or economic inequality?
There are three things that promote and influence change in everyone — regardless of worldview and faith background. All change is a result of these three things at work: the story one believes, the habits one practices, and the communities one engages and lives among. This applies to whoever the change is happening to, whether it’s just one person or group — whether actively desired or passively influenced. This idea of a “triangle of transformation” comes from James Bryan Smith. In his “Good and Beautiful Apprentice Series,” Smith says our lives (habits), inside God’s story (narrative), in relationship with those around us (others) is the context for all transformation (change).
We all have guiding narratives in our lives. Some we are aware of, and others are at work in the background influencing our decisions subconsciously. We all have ideas that we tell ourselves about God and how he works in our lives. Similarly, we all have ideas that we tell ourselves about ourselves, others and the way the world is supposed to operate. Some are true — but many are false. Those thoughts often determine not only who we are, but how we live. In fact the most important thing about a person is what they think about God (A.W. Tozer said that). The path to transformation begins here. The process of transformation invites you to put your ideas about how the world works, and you in it, to the test to see if they match up with what Jesus himself reveals about God and his advancing Kingdom.
The story you trust influences not only what you do, but why you do it. Jesus challenges us not only to hear his words, but to take action and put them into practice. The idea of practice makes complete sense to us when learning a new language, musical instrument, or sport. But the concept can be lost as it relates to spiritual transformation. Practices are activities that promote growth to the point of mastery. If we have yet to master something, there are likely practices that we can develop and habits that we can incorporate in our lives that can help us build upon the truth of what we believe (the new narratives) and direct our lifestyles to follow.
But all this is done within a larger communal structure and among key supportive relationships. “You can tell your future by looking at your friends.” This quote may sound trite, but there is some truth worth mining from it. For many of us, the desired transformation we hope for is hindered by the dysfunction, structure or expectations of the communities we are a part of and the key voices of influence that we listen to. How does our family, our faith community or the friends we have compel us the think about change, purpose and human flourishing? Are we around communities or individuals that inspire us to think about the possibilities or are the relationships that we most listen to or engage with fearful of the change and the cost associated.
This process is true for individuals, families, organizations, businesses and communities. On any scale, it requires courageous moments of reflection, an authentic community to engage in and the commitment to try something new. The times we live in are changing rapidly and they require personal and group change at the deepest levels. So … is the story you believe, the habits practiced, and the community you live among supporting or hindering the change you deeply desire?