I just finished reading The Walk by Shaun Alexander. You may remember him as the running back for the Seattle Seahawks a few years back, or from his days at the University of Alabama before that. After injuries led him to an early retirement from the NFL, he began to follow his true calling into ministry. I must admit that I wasn’t sure what to expect from a book on spiritual growth written by a short-time running back. I am glad that my doubts didn’t prevent me from reading this book.
It isn’t my purpose here to give a review of the book, but rather to explain just enough of the book to share what impacted me so much. It is also not my intention to over-spiritualize this post either. I think that many of the things that are true in our spiritual selves are also true in our physical selves. “True for the body; true for the soul”, and it works both ways.
In a nutshell, Shaun takes the reader through the growth that each person experiences in a relationship with Jesus. The stages are: Unbeliever, Believer, Example, Teacher, and Imparter. Shaun explains the importance of pursuing growth from each level to the next, but also shares the dangers of skipping levels in an attempt to grow at a faster pace. Such is the case with me. I could go into the laundry list of reasons why I do it, but I always struggle to remain at the Example phase and allow God to work. I am prone to move from unbeliever to believer to teacher in almost a single step. I rarely let the full effect of my new beliefs marinate in me long enough for them to really change me and prepare me to share them with others.
The real issue I think is that this fast-track method leads us to teach from our weaknesses, and not from a position of strength. We are still so close to our old self, that we can’t lead beyond our minimal growth. I can’t lead you to a place that I have never been. I can only lead you to the place that I am. That’s it. No further.
I started running about 18 months ago and have run races ranging from 5K to a half marathon. I am training for a marathon in October, but I can’t teach anyone to run further than a half, because I don’t know how the body will respond to the intense training required to lead you beyond that.
It’s true for everything major change in life. Faith. Exercise. Diet. Family Issues. Work Issues. I need to go there myself, and then reach back and pull people along with me as I push further myself.
Don’t get me wrong; I feel gifted to teach. I took the Strengthsfinder assessment a few years ago, and my top five strengths are Restorative, Intellection, Connectedness, Relator, and Context. I have the ability to see problems and how they are interconnected and what the multiple root causes are, and my desire is to fix them.
The problem is that too often I don’t apply my strengths to my own life (it’s so much easier to see the problems in others) or I don’t develop the depth and maturity in an area of my life before I rush out to try to lead others. Whether we are talking about spiritual growth, family leadership, running, healthy eating, or any other topic, I need to “soak” in the teaching myself before I attempt to lead others.
Many times, it is the change that other people see in us during the example stage that leads them to make changes in themselves. We don’t necessarily have to teach anything; just marinate.
But when the marination is done, then in the oven it goes.
I’ve got some big dreams that I hope to see realized one day. Until then, I want to continue to press myself further into uncomfortable places and situations that develop me into the man who is prepared to go where he is supposed to go.
How about you?