Spiritual Integration, Book Review Example

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Book Review

A key principle in Cloud and Townsend (2003) that resonates in Corey (2008) as well is the idea that group counseling can achieve things that individual counseling cannot. The reasons that both sources give for this evince salient parallels. As Cloud and Townsend (2003) explained, the Bible enjoins believers to grow spiritually together, in groups, as a community (pp. 21-23). In fact, these authors explain that a key consequence of failure to properly appreciate small groups and engage in group counseling for spiritual formation is that “we often experience a stagnated, limited version of being in a relationship with God” (p. 23). And because humans have been fallen since Adam and Eve, we inevitably experience this in our relationship dynamics (p. 33). As a consequence, addressing sin and spiritual growth through the relational dynamics of a group is very beneficial, and it offers believers benefits that cannot be effectively reaped in an individual context (p. 33).

It is the relational aspect of groups, then, that is their first key benefit, and this principle is seen in Corey (2008) as well. In fact, Corey (2008) used very similar language to describe the import of group work, explaining that it is “frequently more effective than the individual approach” precisely because “group members not only gain insight but practice new skills both within the group and in their everyday interactions outside the group” (p. 4). And, too, working within a group gives people the benefits of feedback and insight from not only the small group leader, but also the other participants in the group (p. 4). Thus, as with Cloud and Townsend, Corey explains the basic efficacy of groups in relational terms.

Feelings of belonging and group cohesion are also discussed by both sources as important, indeed essential, characteristics of a successful group. Corey (2008) explained that cohesion is essential for maximum productivity (p. 96). Group cohesion is a sense of belonging within the group, identification with the group and its goals (p. 96). Unsurprisingly, groups characterized by a high degree of group cohesion shared amongst their members will tend to be more productive, because the members will feel a shared, common purpose and be dedicated to making it come to pass (pp. 96-97).

By way of comparison, Cloud and Townsend (2003) talk about “connectedness”: “people in a growing group soon notice what I experienced in my college group: You are not alone; you belong somewhere” (p. 58, orig. emph.). God created us to be social creatures, to need relationships “not only with him, but also with each other” (p. 58). In other words, the hallmark of a successful group is that its members have a strong sense of connectedness to each other, and thus a sense of belonging within the group (p. 58). Indeed, Cloud and Townsend explained that groups that are successful create distinct and different kinds of connections, connections that are very important and life-transforming: firstly, connections within the group burgeon and grow as the people of the group become like family to each other and open up to each other, and secondly,  connections outside the group improve as the members gain a new appreciation for connectedness and a new commitment to living it (p. 58).

Finally, both Cloud and Townsend (2003) and Corey (2008) see groups as opportunities for change and re-learning. As Cloud and Townsend (2003) explained, when groups have reached that “family” level, they provide a kind of second chance for their members: group participants can grow together, but only if they are appropriately humble and adopt a “childlike” stance (pp. 67-68). Accountability is another important part of this: members can share their spiritual struggles with other participants, and gain the benefits of emotional support and encouragement (pp. 56-57). In other words, groups are a place for people to start anew and learn things that they didn’t learn properly before. And through accountability, participants can increase their spiritual growth in ways that are much harder to do on one’s own. Similarly, Corey (2008) explained that constructive change in a group setting occurs only through a commitment to change (p. 103). Of course, this is true of change in general, but groups have the added ingredient of group support for change (p. 103). As with Cloud and Townsend, then, Corey (2008) argued that groups promote accountability and shared learning (p. 103).

Corey (2008) certainly offered some insights that could indeed provide significant additional contributions to the ideas and arguments expressed in Cloud and Townsend (2003). Cloud and Townsend (2003) advised group leaders to offer “grace, truth, and time” in ways that facilitate the group process and help all participants to learn (pp. 143-146). They indeed have many good ideas for how to go about this, but Corey (2008) has some specific tips for group leadership that could certainly augment the process. Firstly, leaders should exhibit qualities such as presence, or being emotionally ‘there’ during group times, as well as personal power, defined in terms of “self-confidence and an awareness of one’s influence on others” (p. 16). Personal power exercised by an effective, positive group leader can help the participants in the group to access their own personal power, Corey (2008) advised (p. 16).

Leaders should also be willing to confront themselves (Corey, 2008, p. 16). Leaders who are willing to confront themselves are willing to look in the mirror and be honest with themselves about areas that need to change in their own lives (p. 16). And, too, leaders should also consider the level and kind of self-disclosure they engage in during the group: self-disclosure needs to be appropriate, and it also needs to serve the ends of the group (p. 21). Thus, not only should leaders avoid disclosing too much about things that may be deeply personal or problematic for any reason, but they should also consider the relevance of their disclosures to the aims of the group and the well-being of the participants (p. 21). In some situations, it may indeed be advisable for a group leader to open up and share something about their past, because it will help other members of the group; in other situations, such a disclosure may be ill-advised.

Multicultural concerns are certainly something that the church should consider. If the church is to reach people of all cultures successfully, in order to fulfill Christ’s Great Commission and truly act as the Body of Christ, then it is absolutely essential that the church consider the impact of culture in ministry. Corey (2008) offered some very good suggestions regarding what to consider: firstly, ministry in a multicultural group setting may require the modification of certain techniques to the norms of different cultures (p. 11). Different cultures have different ideas about expressing emotions, about communicating, and about virtually everything else. Accordingly, effective group work in a multicultural context will require group leaders to facilitate different cultural understandings about how to communicate and act. Another key idea here, however, is that such cultural diversity can actually enhance group work: having a culturally diverse group can give participants insights from people of a different cultural background than their own (p.11). Of course, the wonderful thing about this is that it is a two-way street: two group participants of different cultural backgrounds may be able to give each other significant and salient insights as a consequence of the fact that they are cultural outsiders to each other!

Perhaps one arguable limitation of a faith-based setting is that it is unlikely to appeal to people who are not believers and are not interested in possibly becoming believers. Consequently, participants in such a group will not be able to have the potential benefits of dialoging with possibly very insightful people who do not share their faith. Conversely, people who might join a non-faith-based group but not a faith-based group will be deprived of the benefits of learning from believers, and possibly of hearing the Word in a way that they had not before.

Moreover, Cloud and Townsend (2003) explained that there really are trade-offs in essence: with a faith-based group, the emphasis is on growing together in Christ, which has many benefits and a great deal of structure (pp. 117-118). Conversely, groups that have “no agenda but helping people with whatever is going on in their lives”, so-called process groups, have less structure and are not focused upon God, the Word, and spiritual growth, but may provide participants with many other benefits, including directly addressing whatever is going on in their lives in a very open-ended way (p. 118). Thus, both groups have significant benefits and are approaches that are worthy of respect; which one is adopted depends upon the goals that are to be achieved.

I firmly believe that discipleship-focused small groups are essential for the church to follow, first and foremost (Cloud & Townsend, 2003, p. 118). Biblically speaking, the church is the body of Christ, and we have been called to be transformed by the power of God, in fellowship with God and with each other. From my own experience, I found these groups to be very effective: fellowshipping with my brothers and sisters in Christ has helped me to grow immensely in my walk with the Lord, as well as in my relationships with friends and family. These groups have the key advantages of being high in structure and focused on grace and truth (pp. 117-118, 143-144). As such, they help believers to advance in their walks with the Lord, and to grow in relation to others as well. Now, all of that said, I do think that other kinds of groups are important too: for example, the church should make use of groups that help people to recover from various problems and afflictions. The twelve-step groups are case in point: focused on helping people who are in recovery to find healing. This is discipleship in action.

References

Cloud, H., & Townsend, J. (2003). Making small groups work: What every small group leader needs to know. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Corey, G. (2008). Theory and practice of group counseling (8th ed.). Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole.

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