This is going to be a lot of work” is what might pass through your mind when someone with an ingrained, sinful behavior seeks your help to change.
How would you like a new, more optimistic, thought to flit through your mind? Keep reading. This biblical strategy aids the change process and helps you see progress sooner.
Don’t wait until the person is changed to release him to do ministry
Helping a person with a long-held, destructive behavior can be frustrating and even overwhelming when the person takes more steps backward than forward. While you understand that it’s normal for people to continue to “make many mistakes” (James 3:2 NRSV), the reality of that can be so discouraging when you see so little progress.
Part of the reason you may not see progress is that you might be delaying it by not encouraging people to engage in some level of ministry sooner. We often see ministry as the culmination of the change process, but the change process actually involves doing ministry. Paul says that one way we change is by imitating the Father, and doing ministry is part of the change process—not the end result of it. For example, Paul has the thief work so that he can give to others in need: “Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need” (Eph. 4:28).
Now, encouraging people to minister doesn’t mean you’d immediately put the person in a leadership role or have him start up a new ministry. That person might not even have a leadership gift. And it would likely be too hard for him to manage at this point.
But anyone can minister.
And it starts with developing a ministry mind-set. Most people can start looking around at what other people need, regardless of personal struggles. Most can understand and learn to be sensitive to what the Spirit wants. So a big part of your strategy for change should be to get people to do different things—immediately. This is in contrast to waiting until “Jack has gone six months without a drink” or until “Alycia can understand that achieving a certain weight is not the key to feeling good about herself.”
Notice how in Ephesians 4:25–32 Paul encourages change by encouraging ministry. Notice that he’s not asking people to go on short-term mission trips or plant churches. He’s just asking people to think about others and act in a manner consistent with God’s character (Eph. 4:20–24, 5:1–2). Look at what he asks people to do:
- Think of what preserves and promotes unity and purity (Eph. 4:3, 26)
- Think of what others need (financially) (Eph. 4:28)
- Think about what others need (for spiritual growth, emotionally, etc.) (Eph. 4:29)
- Think about what the Spirit wants (Eph. 4:30)
Encourage people to pay attention to the needs of others and respond to them and to focus on creating/maintaining unity in the church. For example, having a commitment to things that build unity is a proactive approach to change. Praying specifically for a person or a ministry, showing a fellow believer that you care by simply listening and not judging, encouraging a person who is struggling through a kind word or a note, showing hospitality to another family in the body, and offering practical help to someone who needs a hand. These are the things that people can do, and often it’s those acts that strengthen, unify, and mature a church.
Look past the problem and see the potential
While you may understand that this person can immediately be enlisted to help serve others, he needs to have a vision for this. You need to make sure the person’s vision of doing ministry is not so large that he doesn’t think it’s possible, or that it will take forever to get to the point where he feels qualified, or able, to serve. (“Who, me? You don’t want me helping someone. Look at me, I’m a mess. What do I have to offer? Maybe next year.”)
Help people see what they can do right now. Because serving right away gives a person hope. Change is no longer something that’s coming or promised; it’s happening. The person can celebrate small victories daily in service—and you can too!
Change your own mind-set
So, when an individual comes to you because things have gotten so bad that he wants to change, you can think about it differently: “Here’s someone I can immediately enlist in helping other people. Let the daily victories in service begin!”
This approach to change is one that the whole church can embrace. While you can apply these points to an individual in a counseling setting, you can also communicate the points in preaching. No matter what behaviors people are struggling to change, they can always look around—immediately—and help fill another person’s need. The benefits will be observable as they continue forward on the path of change.