Welcome to Life in the Valley

This is an excerpt from The Sacred Valley, 2nd edition, by Peggy Hahn.

This updated and expanded version incorporates LEAD’s newest learning and includes a chapter on metrics.

A valley is a low area between hills, often with a river running through it. This is where we are located right now in the Christian movement. We are in this space, the sacred valley, between the ancient past and the not-yet future. Many wonderful writers have offered data, historical perspectives, and theological wisdom that inform our spiritual GPS. People like Phyllis Tickle have been especially encouraging. She wrote in her book, The Great Emergence, that every 500 years when the world and the church go through a social, political, economic, and religious transformation, we can be assured that the Christian movement grows. This is great news. But the problem with being in the sacred valley is that we lack confidence because we cannot see the end of the trail. In times like this, we must do what leaders have always done, have a little faith and pay attention to the bright spots. In their book Switch, Heath and Heath point to the idea of following bright spots as an effective method for making change.

There are definitely bright spots! LEAD has discovered certain behaviors that will help us navigate the trail. We encounter them over and over as we study leaders and look at faith communities that are growing. LEAD calls these the four Growth Indicators: Listen, Center, Explore, and Connect. Research shows that these behaviors are critical to growth making them a great place to start. Think of the Growth Indicators as trailheads, not the destination. Look for more information on these four Growth Indicators in later chapters.

What is important to know is that these four Growth Indicators are not uniquely Christian. They are at the core of organizations like Weight Watchers and Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.) with proven track records for changing people’s lives by changing behaviors. These programs work when individuals invest their lives in making them work. As you will see in Chapter 4, Four Growth Indicators and Growing Congregations, these four Growth Indicators are designed for people living in the valley.

The first step is to choose to change. At Weight Watchers, when you decide to lose weight you are given strategies to reach your goal. If you admit you have a problem with alcohol, A.A.’s Twelve Steps “are a group of principles, spiritual in their nature, which, if practiced as a way of life, can expel the obsession to drink and enable the sufferer to become happily and usefully whole.”

Both of these organizations are striving for sustainable behavior change: new, healthier ways of life. They both expect that:

  • People hear stories from others who are struggling and share their own stories. (Listen)
  • People shift their mindset with a moment of self-awareness and show up for help. (Center)
  • People progress toward sustainable behavior change by learning, using new resources, and working a plan. (Explore)
  • People participate in a supportive community that holds one another accountable. (Connect)

A.A. and Weight Watchers do not promise it will be easy. What they provide are real behaviors that help people navigate the valley. A.A. and Weight Watchers are only effective when people apply what they learn and develop life-changing habits. We have much to learn from our brothers and sisters who have walked through these sacred valleys.

Before we begin changing other people or our own congregations, we need to change ourselves. By the power of the Holy Spirit, with real commitment and openness, growth is possible for all of us.

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