We say all of the time, “You can’t grow spiritually unless you’re connected relationally.” But why is that true? Why can’t you just go to a Sunday school class, be taught theological information right out of the Bible, and grow? Why is it so important to put yourself in an environment where other people get all up in your business?
Well, it might be helpful to look at what groups do (ideally, anyway) through the lens of the Johari Window. Now, the Johari Window wasn’t our idea. It was created back in the 1950s by two psychologists, Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingham. But it’s a helpful tool in understanding how self-awareness contributes to personal (and even spiritual) growth.
As you can see in the image at the top of this post, each quadrant of the window represents categories of information about ourselves:
Open—This is stuff that we know about ourselves, and at least some other people know about us as well.
Blind—This is stuff that others know about us, but we don’t know about ourselves. That’s a pretty scary idea, right?
Hidden—This is stuff that we know about ourselves, but we hide from other people (often because we’re ashamed of it).
Unknown—This is stuff that no human knows about us, including ourselves. It represents a well of untapped potential or even wounds that we don’t know we need to address.
What does all of this have to do with spiritual growth?
Well, if we define spiritual growth the way Jesus did (and that seems like a good idea to me), then our goal is to love God with all of our heart, soul, and mind, and love our neighbors as we love ourselves.
Increasing our self-awareness—knowing the good and bad parts of ourselves; our strengths and weaknesses; our talents; the parts of us deep at our cores that drive us toward certain patterns of sin—helps us to become healthier, and that grows our capacity to love God and others in truly meaningful and substantive ways.
How does group (or Christian community, in general) fit into all of this?
Becoming healthier and more self-aware means is a slow process in which we move information about ourselves into the open and out of the other three quadrants. And relationships with other people are absolutely essential to making that happen. Information from books or classes won’t get it done.
Group offers us accountability. When we give people permission to speak into our lives, to encourage and challenge us, it enables us to move stuff from the Blind quadrant and into the Open. In fact, the only way we become away of that information about us is if we have close enough relationships with people to feel safe enough to ask them, “What’s it like to be on the other side of me?”
Group offers us a sense of belonging that builds trust. And when we trust others, we feel safe enough to begin to share the stuff that shame tempts us to hide. That process of moving the Hidden into the Open is never pleasant. But if you don’t do it, you’ll stop growing at some point because you’ll be refusing to deal with the struggles that are holding you back.
Group helps us to discover the unknown . . . together. When you lean into accountability and belonging, that process of moving the Blind and Hidden into the Open will begin to reveal the Unknown. You’ll just discover it. As you remove hurdles to your growth, you’ll unearth potential you didn’t know you had. And you’ll get down into the root of the junk you’re carrying around in your life, and it will reveal motivations, appetites, and beliefs that no one (including you) knew you were carrying around.
All of this can be a little scary, but it’s a healthy process that will make you a better, truer version of you. And that will make you able to love God and others more deeply and authentically.