Last year I attended the Colson Center National Conference in Indianapolis. As wonderful as the conference was, there was one pre-conference moment that had a transforming impact on my life and leadership. It both deepened my relationship with Christ and equipped me to respond to the challenging cultural issues of our day with greater confidence and compassion.
My wife and I arrived at the conference venue just in time to leave our luggage in our room, grab a quick bite to eat, and get to the first session minutes before it began. We spotted a row with a few empty places, moved to our seats, and exchanged introductions with those next to us. Just before the first speaker stepped to the podium, a gentleman on my right scribbled something on the back of a business card, handed it to me, and said, “You might be interested in this book.” The book’s title, The Other Half of Church: Christian Community, Brain Science, and Overcoming Spiritual Stagnation, intrigued me, so I stuck the card in my conference folder but didn’t think about the book until I got home.
A FAMILIAR JOURNEY
A few days later when I looked through my conference folder, I saw the card and remembered a prayer of mine before the conference: “Lord, help me be open to anything you want to show me through the conversations I have.” Immediately, sensing in my spirit that my pre-conference encounter was a part of the answer to the prayer, I downloaded The Other Half of Church by Jim Wilder and Michel Hendricks to my Kindle and read these words in the introduction:
THIS IS A STORY, not a theological term paper. I (Michel Hendricks) take you on a journey with me and my friend Jim Wilder. It is a journey that we hope will broaden your horizons about how we grow as followers of Jesus Christ. We may not wrap everything up neatly at the end, so consider this book a first step. As the title suggests, we are explaining what is missing. The Other Half of Church suggests a venture into the unknown. We hope you will feel this tension throughout the book. If we want to engage in the other half, we need to be open to what has been missing. We will need to make some fundamental changes to how we have been doing things. You will be tempted to think, That’s not how we do church.
I, too, am on a journey. I want to grow in Christ, but am I missing something? Does something need to change in the way I (and we) do discipleship and spiritual formation? As I read further, I identified with Michel as a pastor who longed to see his people grow but admitted he was often disappointed in the fruit and change produced in his life and in those he led.
WHAT SCRIPTURE AND SCIENCE SAY ABOUT SPIRITUAL GROWTH
In The Other Half of Church Wilder and Hendricks show how modern neuroscience confirms and illuminates what the Scriptures teach us about spiritual growth and change that we need to understand. They argue that left and right-brained activity are indispensable for effective discipleship and character formation.
Here are a few excerpts from the book that make their case:
The right side manages our strongest relational connections (both to people and God) and our experience of emotional connectedness to others. And character formation. Don’t miss that. Character formation, which is a primary responsibility of the church, is governed by the right brain, not the left brain. If we want to grow and transform our character into the character of Jesus, we must involve activities that stimulate and develop the right brain.
When we neglect right-brain development in our discipleship, we ignore the side of the brain that specializes in character formation. Left-brained discipleship emphasizes beliefs, doctrine, willpower, and strategies but neglects right-brain loving attachments, joy, emotional development, and identity.
I am not suggesting that the familiar left-brain strategies are unimportant in discipleship. Biblical teaching, Scripture meditation, beliefs, strategies, and the choices we make play an essential role in forming our character. We don’t grow without developing these left-brain skills. However, without the proper right-brained relational and emotional environment, our fruit will be meager. When the right brain and left brain work in harmony, character transformation becomes commonplace in our skills. However, without the proper right-brained relational and emotional environment, our fruit will be meager. When the right brain and left brain work in harmony, character transformation becomes commonplace in our communities.
When I realized that my training was ignoring half of my brain, I also realized that there was an entire half of my brain just sitting there waiting to be trained! I finally had answers to the puzzling inconsistency I saw in myself and others. The neuroscience of character transformation taught me to use my entire brain. I was excited to experience a full-brained faith and eager to share it with others.
FOUR RELATIONAL SOILS
The last quote from the book is a good description of my own experience, and I was thankful for how the authors provided a practical introduction to four relational soils that encourage full-brain discipleship:
- Group Identity
- Healthy Correction
Here’s how these relational soils work together to produce growth and change in us:
HAVING OUR EYES opened to the relational disease that grows in depleted soil, let’s explore the alternative—the vibrant transformational community. Whole-brained Christianity makes full use of truth and relationship. Half-brained Christianity parks on the truth and leaves the relational soil untended.
Jesus wants a church with healthy soil that keeps relationships in the center. Each of the four ingredients of healthy soil is relational. Joy is what I feel when my brain senses that you are happy to be with me. Hesed is our family attachment of joyful love. Group identity is our corporate map of who we are and how we act as children of the living God. Our culture of correction leaves no man or woman behind. When someone forgets who they are, we bring them back gently to their true self. Healthy soil is relational through and through.
THE FIRST STEP
I can honestly say that if The Other Half of Church had only been to encourage my walk with Christ, it would have been enough, but it has done far more. As I share and visit with other leaders on a daily basis, many have expressed that they have felt the same way as me. And I know of at least two churches in our network that have included this book in their leadership training, which has produced positive results and real fruit and change.
This book is not the one answer to cure all the problems related to discipleship and spiritual formation. But it is the first step in a full-brained approach to our relationships with God and others. I encourage you and anyone who wants to see more joy, growth, and fruit in their discipleship and spiritual formation to take the first step.
Ray Williams, Co-Founder of CityChurch Network