, , , ,

Maybe do not try to fix people


Maybe do not try to fix people?

Love them, observe them, build community, instead

When I am coaching or mentoring or supervising others I rely mainly on imitation to see people learn new skills and grow in experience. Obviously head knowledge can be imparted directly by instruction – but skills are usually caught more than taught. The same is true for bringing up children.

Love is the principal way that people grow.

If God has our heart, he will almost certainly also get our head and our hands. It’s the same in life.

Those who gathered to David before he was king told him, as recorded in 1 Chronicles 12:18 (NIV-UK):

18 Then the Spirit came on Amasai, chief of the Thirty, and he said:

‘We are yours, David!

We are with you, son of Jesse!

Success, success to you,

and success to those who help you,

for your God will help you.’

So David received them and made them leaders of his raiding bands.

This is the true basis of all true Christian fellowship. We give ourselves to each other.

When we give ourselves to each other it naturally follows that our influence upon one another, for example through coaching, mentoring, or supervision, happens organically through relationship.

A dear friend, who was converted from Hinduism (at least in part by an Alpha Course) says:

“I came to church for the love of a woman (his believing wife); I stayed in church for the love of a man (Jesus Christ)” who he had come to know as God.

After he had been a Christian for some years, I noticed that he was increasingly listening to teaching from online preachers. This began to give him a different vision than we had as a church and led him to challenge and question the way we led in church. I brought things to a head and challenged him about this habit, and made a call to ask him, ‘will you follow me?’ He considered this for some days and chose to follow me. There followed years of fruitful ministry together and deep respect and appreciation in which we were both shaped by the other.

By the way, it’s great that we can access amazing preaching from anointed speakers from all across the world. However, those people do not know you. They will never know when you are sad, making a bad call, being distracted, etc. Useful those these talks can be − useful though these blog post on Theologica may be − they are not true fellowship. Don’t be deceived. You can only grow into Christ’s purpose for you by participating fully in an accountable Christian community.

Work banter tells us, ‘How can I soar like an eagle when I work with turkeys?’

Scripture would never sanction this foolish notion. In truth you will never soar like an eagle until you know you are turkey, and learn to love turkeys like you.

The example of those who followed King David

Writing about David’s relationship with his men, Viv Thomas opens up the event recorded in 1 Chronicles 11:16-19 (NIV-UK):

16 At that time David was in the stronghold, and the Philistine garrison was at Bethlehem.

17 David longed for water and said, ‘Oh, that someone would get me a drink of water from the well near the gate of Bethlehem!’ 18 So the Three broke through the Philistine lines, drew water from the well near the gate of Bethlehem and carried it back to David. But he refused to drink it; instead, he poured it out to the Lord. 19 ‘God forbid that I should do this!’ he said. ‘Should I drink the blood of these men who went at the risk of their lives?’ Because they risked their lives to bring it back, David would not drink it.

Thomas says this about this event:

“This story hits at the heart of deep friendship. Quality relationships are not based on duty or command but on a response of one heart to another. The reason why David’s mighty men were so mighty was that they listened to his heart and not only to his commands.

“Much has been written about how to build teams and how they work, but little seems to have been said regarding love and observation. David’s men are watching him closely because they love him a lot. Their observation of him allows them to know his heart and not just his commands. It is from here that great teams grow. The modern emphasis on teams being built out of an amalgam of talents and abilities is shallow in comparison to this world of love and observation. Enormous power is generated out of such observant and loving relationships, a huge amount of work is accomplished, spirits are fed, and life is full of colour for all involved.” (Thomas, p.38)

This is so true and so well-put.

Viv Thomas describes how coaching or mentoring or supervision should ideally work:

“Intimate friends do not just come from exchanging cognitive information. Lifelong close relationships are usually formed in shared experience. It is in experience together, not just in discussion, that we get the full and vivid picture of the person who will influence us. It is in the doing, and not the thinking, that those invisible bonds which cause positive mentoring to take place are formed. Love and intimacy are experiences, not principles or concepts. If the nature of idea exchange is marked by personal passion and engagement, it is possible to be shaped through ideas in a positive way. But good learning is at its essence relational, it is to do with experiences shared, rather than ideas understood.” (Thomas, p.36)

So yes, where head knowledge is lacking, instruction can be used to make up the gaps. However, where attitudes, or behaviours, or habits are misaligned then instruction rarely works. So if relational observation producing imitation is not working, if changes of attitude or behaviour are not being caught by proximity, then my next tool is hints.

But what do you do when subtle hints go unnoticed. Maybe do not try to fix people? But maybe that is a copout!

So you will pray for the Spirit to bring revelation. You may fast. Eventually, the Holy Spirit may call you to speak into the person’s life to be more direct.

Difficult conversations might follow – so it’s wise to prepare. Difficult conversations will be the subject of another post, but one tool I have found helpful at all stages of any relationship is Johari’s Window.

Johari’s Window is a useful tool when giving feedback

Johari’s Window provides a grid through which to discuss the notion of growth in self-insight and how that growth comes about.

You start with a simple grid as follows:

Table Description automatically generated

The top left quadrant is who you are today.

This quadrant represents our open self – consisting of both what we admit to ourselves and what we disclose to others.

It’s the character, skills, attitudes, passions, that are known to you and others and through which you bring life to the world around you.

The other three quadrants represent room for growth – your potential, if you will.

The utility of Johari’s Window is that it provides a visual tool by which to discuss how any person can grow into their potential.

The Window suggests two avenues by which we can grow.

We can grow by revealing more of our inner hopes, fears, ambitions, etc.

It’s a question of what we have declared or revealed about our inner lives.

It’s to do with self-disclosure. As we disclose ourselves we push the horizontal dotted line downwards and expand our opportunities.

This is your HIDDEN SELF. It’s yours to share if you choose – but if you do not share it then you will never grow into that potential.

Normally these disclosures would be to:

  • Our parent/carer
  • Our teacher
  • Our coach
  • Our mentor
  • Our supervisor

But these disclosures might be to anyone.

What we disclose may be that we have a passion for Mozambique, or that we’d like to learn coding, or the piano, or to pray, or to crochet, or we want to be an entrepreneur, counsellor, or racing driver, mechanic, or pop star.

It can take courage for people to verbalise a dream, a hope, etc.

We may be laughed at, belittled, rejected, scorned, and have our hopes and dreams despised and stamped on.

And yes, that may happen. But most things worth having in life do not come easily. Most skills, ambitions, hopes, can only be fulfilled by much hard work, and by persisting through failures and discouragements. The way people react to your disclosure is just another challenge to be sucked up. Don’t be the victim. Follow your vocation. Find out if it’s genuine, or it’s not yet a goer.

Charles Spurgeon wrote this piece of doggerel about how difficult people find it to discern what they are really made for.

He was a man of his age so just enjoy the Victorian way of writing:

Declare, ye sages, if ye find

‘Mongst animals of every kind,

Of each condition, sort, and size,

From whales and elephants to flies,

A creature that mistakes his plan,

And errs so constantly as man!

Each kind pursues its proper good,

And seeks enjoyment, rest and food,

As nature points, and never errs

In what it chooses or prefers;

Man only blunders, though possessed

Of reason far above the rest.

Descend to instances and try:

An ox will not attempt to fly,

Or leave his pasture in the wood

With fishes to explore the flood.

Man only acts of every creature

In opposition to his nature.

(Spurgeon, pp.25-26)

As you disclose that you can play guitar, or that you have experience in project-management, or that you’ve always wanted to work with youth, then this becomes public knowledge, and you become accountable to start to move into that potential.

Is it easy to start to embody your hopes and dreams?

No, it is not.

Some of our dreams and hopes and ambitions are misplaced. We will find that our skill levels are not adequate to be platformed, or not yet honed enough to justify being paid for those skills. They can be hobbies for us to enjoy, but no more -at least not at this time. We may grow into that talent at a later time.

This experimentation is far more easily done when we are children and teenagers. As adults we tend to let fear of failure trap us. Are you avoiding testing your calling through fear, or lack of opportunity?

Maybe now is the time to declare that hope, that dream, that ambition!

Then again, respect your season in life. Maybe you have young children and just now they are your priority. Maybe you have just started a business, so that other passion needs to take a back seat just now.

So, to summarise: in this avenue of growth you make progress by self-disclosing and then seeing if there are ways to test your hopes.

  • Are you as proficient at playing guitar as you suppose from playing alone in your bedroom?
  • Are you as capable in practice at recruiting and motivating a team as you are when you put the world to rights in your own head?
  • Are you as compelling a speaker as you believe you are from your dreaming on the bus to work each day?

As you make these disclosures, and test your secret inner thoughts against reality, you start to push the horizontal dotted line downwards and grow into your potential. You will find some talents which really are above average and which people want you to contribute because when you do, there is a flow of life, of energy, of momentum that carries us all forwards into God’s vision for our lives.

But what is the other avenue to grow into our potential?

We can grow by asking others how they see us.

That’s how we push the vertical dotted line to the right.

This quadrant is our blind self. It’s truths about us that we do not see.

Many of us assume that everyone can draw, is good with numbers, can think of something to say in any situation, etc. But that’s not true. We have skills that others do not have. And so very often, we need somebody to love us enough to observe us closely and to tell us what they see.

This is our gift to each other.

In the Gospels Jesus demonstrates this prophetic skill often.

For example how he addressed Peter and then Nathanael when he called them to follow him in John 1 (from NIV-UK):

47 When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, ‘Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.’

48 ‘How do you know me?’ Nathanael asked.

Jesus answered, ‘I saw you while you were still under the fig-tree before Philip called you.’

49 Then Nathanael declared, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.’

So many people imagine that Jesus was always scolding people. On the contrary, Jesus mostly spoke to call people into their purpose.

I venture to say that God’s vision for your life is far better than your own. That’s what Paul implies in Ephesians 3:20-21 (NIV-UK):

20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

Viv Thomas describes the way leaders observe others.

“To motivate people you have to communicate sensible reflection on the tasks in which they have been engaged. This demonstrates that you have been watching, have perceived the realities, and have the competence and care to feed back the results of the observations. People develop deep loyalty to such leaders even if the leaders were weak in other areas.

“We all want to be noticed accurately; this is especially important in a world moving further and further towards isolation and independence. If there is a leader or team of leaders prepared to notice those around them accurately and express their observations in a comprehensible way, then that group is normally a motivated group.” (Thomas, p.47)

Thomas observes how this loving observation allows us to bring influence in a godly way (because we certainly do not want manipulation or coercion in the Christian community):

“We all need to be understood by those who have influence over us; we need to sense that they grasp our reality even though they may miss the details of our lives. When we feel we are understood, we trust the articulation of our leaders. They are then able to speak on our behalf on many issues and they are able to speak directly into our lives with our permission.” (Thomas, p.35)

Influence is given not taken.

We always proceed with consent.

In the end everyone does what they want to do… so we work with desires, with affections, with love. We look for the Holy Spirit to pour out love for God in people’s hearts and thus to change their fundamental orientation. Those of us who lead need that for ourselves too.

So we try never to use Johari’s Window without sensing the Spirit is in the timing.

And if he is, its use can be marked by considerable growth in self-understanding.

Table Description automatically generated

We had someone in the church who was a one-man percussive orchestra. Without being invited he showed up every Sunday with an old wooden airer adapted to support his panoply of percussive instruments. The construction must have taken many hours. Trouble was he could not keep time. The other musicians were beside themselves. And so was the congregation, truth to be told. What was to be done?

I prayed much, and I felt God direct me to ask him where this man should be better deployed. I felt that the Spirit gave me a new name for this man, Onesimus, a Biblical name which means useful. One day I took time to talk with him about how God had wired him to contribute. I asked him to serve in a different area and told him how I felt God had given me a name for him – Onesimus, useful. He embraced the proposal fully and gave up being percussive. Life and fruit flowed.

But I have many epic fails to tell of too.

Maybe I am too keen to want to fix people. Maybe I do not trust the Holy Spirit enough.

Maybe do not try to fix people?

Sometimes you do not have much relationship with a person… but they are behaving in such a destructive way in a small group that for the sake of others they need redirecting at short notice − or, at least, you think they do. It’s not often pretty. Maybe I was being a busybody when I spoke into that person’s life. Maybe I should have tolerated the mess for longer! No doubt I have been misguided many a time, but…

I never wish to give up on the notion that God does intend to use us to shape one another.

The opposite fault is lacking the courage to speak when something should be said.

As Paul writes in Colossians 1:27-29 (NIV-UK):

27 To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

28 He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. 29 To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me.

Oh God, help us to fulfil this high calling as mothers and fathers in your new community, the church. For Christ’s glory, Amen.


Scripture quotations taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, TODAY’S NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION Copyright © 2004 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, a division of Hodder Headline Ltd. All rights reserved.

Joseph LUFT & Harry INGRAM, 1963, from pages 10-12 in the article called ‘The Johari Window: A Graphic Model of Awareness in Interpersonal Relations,’ in the book Group Process: An Introduction to Group Dynamics, National Press Books, Palo Alto, CA

Charles SPURGEON, 1954, Lectures to My Students, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan

Viv THOMAS, 1999, Future Leader, Paternoster Press, Carlisle


Share this post...

Related articles

Theologica Logo Aqua Green on White

Andrew Ryland's Blog

To love God thoughtfully

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. Mark 12:30 NIV-UK

Our favourites

Maybe do not try to fix people

Maybe do not try to fix people? Love them, observe them, build community, instead. When I am coaching or mentoring or supervising others I rely mainly on imitation to see people learn new skills and grow in experience. Obviously head knowledge can be imparted directly by instruction – but skills are usually caught more than taught. The same is true for bringing up children.

Read more »