Friday, October 22, 2021

Full-Brained Small Groups


In our previous article, we introduced the concepts of right and left-brain associations with one’s pursuit of relational development, as described by authors Jim Wilder and Michel Hendricks in their book The Other Half of Church. As we journey through this series of articles, we will continue to study the principles from this insightful text while applying them to our respective small group ministries. Today, we will unpack what Wilder and Hendricks label as “full-brained Christianity,” a practice of pursuing one’s faith where both sides of the brain are healthily engaged within the process of an individual’s relational development.

Full-Brained Christianity Within Small Groups
Although their book encourages us to view ministry from a vantage point that intentionally engages the right-brain more often, Wilder and Hendricks are quick to uphold the importance of discipleship programs and left-brain activities. It is here in this balance where “full-brained Christianity” can thrive within a church’s small group ministry. But do we nest right-brained activities within a left-brained discipleship structure of small groups? Or do we nest left-brained activities within a right-brained relational structure of small groups? Wilder and Hendricks opt for the latter. To them, forcing character change without first engaging the right-brain is like putting the cart before the horse since “our preconscious right brain is the driver of character change, not our conscious thoughts and willpower.”

So if relational growth is strengthened through activities that promote right-brained engagement, then is opening the Bible and reading Scripture together a worthwhile activity for a group that wants to grow? Before answering, perhaps it might be better to reframe the question: Rather, does the group have a level of relational connectivity established so that they can explore the text and also feel safe in their vulnerability with one another? I confess that I’ve been on both ends of this spectrum. In one group that I had attended, we opened the Bible to read the Word and would typically end up pointing out a few items that we liked within the passage; Yet I’ve also been a part of a group where the text was opened and we poured out our souls over the living Word of God, allowing the Holy Spirit to saturate our conversation with revelatory insights. The difference between the two groups that I experienced was the level of relational connectivity that we had established before we engaged in studying the Word.

Relational Brain Skills and Covid-19
While the pandemic certainly inflicted collateral damage upon various areas of our lives, our willingness to pursue relationships may have been one of the more impacted areas of them all (A phenomenon we introduced last year as individuals were returning to groups). Wilder and Hendricks note that when we possess a lack of social interaction, it can lead to a church system that leans more towards left-brained Christianity. From here, this type of framework begets a loss of relational and emotional skills, which further compounds and inevitably results in ineffective discipleship. In other words, without a relationally-focused recalibration of the direction of our small group ministries, the pandemic may likely be causing our discipleship programs to become less effective.

On the other hand, Wilder and Hendricks note that when we increase our “relational brain skills,” we build up a joy capacity that can help us navigate through the larger emotional events that occur within our lives. Indeed, “when our identity is not well developed, our personality will change in different settings. With a well-formed brain, our identity will not change in different circumstances.” If an individual’s identity—or even their church’s identity—still feels “off” after returning from lockdowns, it might be worth considering a season that focuses intently on the pursuit of developing the community’s relational skills.

The Road Ahead
To help encourage healthy character transformation within the church, Wilder and Hendricks present four essential ingredients: hesed love, relational joy, group identity, and healthy correction. In the weeks ahead, we will explore further what these ingredients mean within the context of our small groups, and what we can do as leaders to stimulate organic growth. Let us forge a community with a foundation that will not be easily shaken by the tumultuous seasons that may lie ahead. Let us pause for a moment and truly ask one another how the other person is doing. Let us strive for the type of Spirit-filled whole-brained community that we read about through the book of Acts, where both the temple courts and the house-to-house meetings actively took place (Acts 2:46).

Friday, October 8, 2021

The Brain and Small Groups


What encourages continual transformation within the heart of a believer? Some say it is reading Scripture, while others might say that it is a healthy prayer life. Certainly, these items are vital and they incorporate two core activities of the Christian faith. Yet if you asked those who study neuroscience, it’s likely that they would have another item to add. Coauthored by Jim Wilder and Michel Hendricks, the book The Other Half of Church explores the neuroscience of transformational change and what we in the church can (and probably should) do in order to unlock huge opportunities for our churchgoers’ spiritual growth. Over the course of the next few months, let us unpack some of the larger concepts introduced by the authors while looking at the text through the lens of one’s small group ministry.

Our Brain’s Two Halves
For those who remembered their lessons from high school biology, our brain is made up of what our authors refer to as two “processors” (the left and the right), which work together but specialize in different responsibilities. While it is common that the right side of the brain is often associated with art or emotions and the left side of the brain is often associated with logic or problem solving, what may not be as commonly understood is that all of the information that our brain receives will traverse through a pathway that begins on the right side of our brain before it travels to the left side of our brain. As a result, our right brain processes data more quickly than our left brain. According to Wilder, “The right hemisphere process that creates our working identity integrates our reality six times per second. The brain brings together current experience and emotionally important personal memories to create an active sense of who we are in our relationships at that moment.”

Relationship-Fueled Transformation
When you reflect upon a season of your life where you experienced some of the greatest character growth you ever had, who was surrounding you in your life during that time? When I gave my life to Christ, I not only had a mentor in my life who was teaching me up in the faith, but I was also spending time with other Christians on a weekly basis. While I was reading Scripture and finding out who God was through the living Word, I was also observing others who were leading by example and who were showing how to live a Christian life. Indeed, I couldn’t imagine what my formation in the faith would have been if it hadn’t been for those individuals who were walking alongside me during that time. Testimonies of that “on fire” stage for new believers often echo similar details, where relationships typically seem to be at the core of the person’s season of transformation. Wilder and Hendricks agree, explaining that since “our right brain governs the whole range of relational life,” our “character formation develops out of our community, the people we call ‘my people.’ Our loving attachments and the values of our community drive our character.”

The Brain and Small Groups
When we encourage individuals in our church to grow in the Lord, what types of activities do we normally recommend for them to pursue? A common sermon on spiritual growth will likely include Scripture reading and increased prayer time, but are relationships included within such a mix? And if fellowship with other Christians is indeed mentioned, to what degree is relationship-building encouraged? If our brains are wired to process our world more through our right brain, and if our right brain governs our relational life, and if our relational life is what accelerates our ability to have positive transformation and character growth, then does our church’s prioritization of its small group ministry reflect this? In the weeks ahead, we’ll explore how small groups are the perfect vehicles for delivering the ingredients that Wilder and Hendricks list as essential for fruitful growth.