The first step in God’s method of transformation into Christ-likeness is growing in a more intimate knowledge of Him. To effectively lead others in this process requires that we begin with the reality of who they are and where they stand in relationship to the Father. While the simple act of hearing someone’s story is often the best, most natural place to start, it’s often one of the most overlooked exercises in the life of a community group. One reason we encourage all new groups to begin with the group study Community, by Andy Stanley is that it incorporates this exercise. How then do you listen to someone’s story in such a way that you have better insight into leading them into a more intimate knowledge of the Father?
A general question will get a general answer. “I’d love to hear your story,” may be an easy way to ask, but probably too open-ended, by itself. So give some structure in your ask. “What would you say have been the three most pivotal events in your life?” “Tell me about who have been the most influential relationships in your life.” “Describe the highest mountain-top experience, and the lowest valley experience thus far in your life.” “What would your family and closest friends say you are passionate about?” Be creative, but be specific. These are examples of providing specific structure to the story-telling that will get past just the dates and generalities, digging for the heart of who they are as a person.
Listen with Transcendent Curiosity
As they share, look for recurring themes in the story. The way in which we share our stories is often reflective of how we view ourselves and God. Dr. Larry Crabb uses the term “transcendent curiosity” for the practice of looking for the story beneath the surface story.
Every person’s life is a transcendent drama, whether he or she sees it that way or not. There is a battle going on beneath the surface of every story. And there are two simple keys to recognizing and entering the battle. First, realize there is always a hidden story beneath every shared story. Second, the hidden story always includes shaping events that taught the person wrong definitions of life and gave shape to how he lives his life.*
Crabb suggests at least four typical ways in which a story can be told that will give insight into the story behind the story. It’s sometimes difficult, but listen with transcendent curiosity to someone telling his or her story as:
- A tragedy—I’m a victim; support me
- A romance—I’m a hero; applaud me
- An irony—I’m a cynic; sneer with me
- A comedy—I’m a clown; laugh with me
Being curios about someone’s story, and the story behind the story, is ultimately about being able to love and care enough about that person to go beyond just the surface. Give them the focus and presence to know that you care enough about them to engage them in their story.
Open the Door for Reflection
Listening intently for the story behind the story allows us the opportunity to then reflect with them about where God might be at work in them. What are the Spirit’s whispers of truth you sense coming through the story? While sharing our story is a significant step, by itself, just sharing has no ability to change us. It’s only in the reflection on the story that the door is opened for the God’s truth to enter and be embraced.
Help them move beyond the what of their story, to the why of who they are. Open-ended questions can be a powerful tool to make this jump. “You mentioned ____ was a pretty major shaping event in your life. How did that affect how you viewed God?” “What do you think is driving that fear that has kept you from fully accepting God’s grace?” “I wonder if your desire for ____ has kept you from completely embracing this aspect of who God is?” Plant the seed for reflection. You will most likely be able to see their blind-spots much more clearly than they do, but it’s your job to lead them with probing questions, to the point of personal reflection. Read more about the art of the follow-up question.
As you relate with your group members this summer, look for the opportunities to begin the dialogue that can set the stage for growing in intimacy with the Father. Whether it’s sitting by the lake at Family Camp, around the grill at a cook-out, or interacting in a men’s/women’s sub-group, be intentional about making the most of every occasion!
* Crabb, Lawrence J.. Soultalk: the language God longs for us to speak. Nashville: Integrity Publishers, 2003.