MY TWO MENTORS
I don’t think most people know how much I struggled when I was younger. I grew up in a dysfunctional home and I had a lot of problems. I struggled with depression and anxiety for a good portion of my life. I was overwhelmed with worry most of the time.
As a teenager, it got so bad that I almost dropped out of High School. Somehow I found a way to “graduate” with a 1.6 GPA without attending school.
My worries, anxieties, and fear followed me into college and adulthood. I couldn’t shake them. I was on a trajectory of self-destruction at worst, or mediocrety at best. I knew I had to find a different path.
This is when I started reading. Reading saved me. Reading great books opened up a world of possibility to me. I started reading all kinds of books. Christian books on spirituality. Books on mental health and psychology (my original college major was in counseling). Then I found books on personal development and leadership. That forever shaped my life.
Through my newfound love for reading, I found two mentors. Actually, two sets of mentors. Both helped me immensely, but they didn't always get along very well. I felt like a child caught in the middle of arguing parents. Both demanded loyalty. I was stuck in the middle, crying out, “Can't we all just get along?”
MY TWO MENTORS
Who are these two mentors? Well, I don’t actually have two mentors. I have many mentors, and they fall into two categories. But it’s easier for me to describe these two types of mentors as two different people.
Let's call my first mentor “The Pastor.” He is a Bible Teacher, pastor, theologian, discipler, church leadership guru. I love and respect him. He helped me discover the Bible, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, the Church, and timeles spiritual principles. “The Pastor” is represented by people such as J.I. Packer, John MacArthur, John Piper, Tim Keller, Andy Stanley, and many others I have learned from through the years.
Let’s call my second mentor “The Life Coach.” He is the self-help guru, motivational speaker, psychologist, personal development consultant, counselor, and business leader. Although he’s not (overtly) a Christian, he is spiritual, wise, and and extremely practical. He's helped me overcome many personal obstacles in my our personal development. “The Life Coach” is represented by names such as Stephen Covey, Zig Ziglar, Tony Robbins, Jim Collins, Jack Canfield, Brian Tracy, Byron Katie, Mel Robbins, and many others.
The problem is that I have two mentors, and they don’t get along with each other. They don’t think they can coincide, or cohabitate in the same house. They don’t think they have much in common. But I think they are wrong. I think they really need each other. They just don't know it.
WHAT EACH MENTOR LACKS
I believe something is missing. Each of my mentors brings something special and unique to the table that has been helpful to me. They think they disagree with each other about everything, but they really don't. They just look at the problems from a different angle from the other.
Each of my mentors are missing something that the other has in plenty. “The Pastor” is a great guy. His biblical teaching is spot on. He teaches solid doctrine and clear spiritual principles to live by. But he falls short on practical advice. He can be a bit vague on application. When I listen to him, I’m inspired to change. But he never gives me practical advice on how to actually change. He just tells me to “pray about it and God will show you what to do.” Sometimes, I get frustrated because I just want some practical advice. But he just gives me principles.
“The Life Coach” is also a great guy. He gives me extremely practical advice. He tells me to wake up early in morning and gives me a specific routine to follow. He teaches me about mindset, mindfulness, and how to form habits. He teaches me how to stay organized and get things done. Really practical stuff.
However, where “The Life Coach” falters is in his foundations. As in, he doesn’t really have any. He is helpful and practical. But he’s also very humanistic. And he doesn’t believe in the presence, power, and purpose of a loving God who wants to be involved in our lives. He believes in weird ethereal concepts such as “The Universe,” “The Secret,” and “The Law of Attraction.”
It’s hard to invite my two mentors over for a BBQ. They inevitably will get into an argument. They are worst than cats and dogs, or Democrats and Republicans. But I can’t disown either of my two mentors. I’ve learned and benefitted from both of them.
GUIDELINES FOR CHRISTIAN PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT
It’s my goal to bring together the best lessons that I learned from both of my mentors. I don’t think I’m the only person who believes that integrating the worlds of personal development and Christian spiritual formation is a good thing. John Townsend, Henry Cloud, John Ortberg, Ken Blanchard, and others have done good work in this arena. I just want to take it another intentional step forward.
Of course, there are landmines on this path. To avoid the landmines and obstacles, there are three principles that should guide us in our pursuit of Christian Personal Development. If we followed these three guiding principles, we should be fine.
1) It must be practical and effective.
This is my personal pet peeve of Christian Theology. It’s often so deep and profound that no one knows how to apply it. So much of what is taught in Christian circles is so airy fairy that it doesn’t actually help real people with real problems.
I think it’s because Bible teachers are afraid of saying more than what the Bible says about a subject. It’s out of their commitment to remain strictly biblical, that they don’t actually get practical.
Where does the Bible teach about how to break habits, lose weight, find a fulfilling career, and get out of debt? Sure the Bible refers to these issues, but it doesn’t specifically show us how to do it.
Here’s something I believe that may sound controversial, but I think is pretty obvious. The purpose of the Bible is reveal to us the person and work of Jesus as our Lord and Savior, not to show us how to live and reach our goals in life. Sure, there’s wisdom for living in the Bible. But that’s not the main point of the Bible. Sometimes you have to go outside the Bible for help in applying biblical principles.
I believe Christian Personal Development should be practical and effective. It should teach us real skills for living and give us a clear path to achieving our desired goals for life.
2) It must be consistent with a biblical worldview.
Originally, I was going to write that “it must be biblical.” But “biblical” is such a loaded term. What does it mean to be “biblical”? Does it have to come directly from the Bible for something to be biblical? What if it's something from the Bible (like polygamy) but it isn't wise (or legal) today, is that still biblical?
So instead, I prefer to use the phrase “consistent with a biblical worldview.” For a system of personal develop be considered “Christian,” it must be consistent with what is taught in every Theology 101 course in seminary. It must be consistent with a biblical Doctrine of God, Doctrine of Man & Sin, and Doctrine of Salvation. That’s what I mean when I refer to a biblical worldview.
3) It should be wholistic.
I've outlined a book I’d like to write called, "What’s Wrong with Me?" The answer to that question is, “More than you know.” The truth is that there is a lot wrong with each of us. Our problems are complex and go deep to the core of who we are. Because our problems are deep and complex, the answers must be wholistic in order to address them.
There are three primary problems that each of deals with. They are sin, wounds, and weaknesses. Let me try to describe each of these three problems.
The problem of sin is our first problem. The Bible tells us that we are born into sin, and we actively and constantly choose to rebel against God willfully. It is our nature to sin and rebel. It's just who we are. We are sinners. And as sinners, we can't stop sinning.
The problem gets deeper, because we live in a world full of sinners. And as sinners, we sin against other people, and people sin against us. When a person sins against another person, it leaves a wound. Each of us are wounded individuals. We have been wounded by our parents, siblings, families of origin, the world, friends at school, ex-boy/girlsfriends, bosses, and co-workers, enemies, frenemies, trolls, and others.
We also have some blindspots, character defects, and areas of immaturity in our lives. These are called “weaknesses.” Maybe you are selfish, have impulse control issues, are short-tempered, or a people pleaser. That’s not necessary a sin issue. It’s a weakness, or a maturity issue.
The key is to understand and distinguish what is a sin, a wound, and a weakness, and to deal with them different. You can't treat each problem the same way. You have to be wholistic in your approach.
If something is a sin issue, how would you approach that problem? Sin issues require a spiritual response. The Bible tells us to repent and ask for forgiveness. This is where “The Pastor” can be helpful.
But what if the issue is not my sin, but it’s the result of being wounded by someone else’s sin against me. What if I have a problem with trust because others have hurt me badly in the past? I have been wounded by the sins of others. Should I deal with my wound the same way I deal with my own sin issue? Can I repent from a wound? Of course not. Wounds don’t need repentance and forgiveness. Wounds need healing. And this is where psychology and counseling helps.
But, what if the problem is an issue of a blindspot or a weakness? Can I repent of a weakness? Nope. You address a weakness differently. You design a plan of growth, set goals, and offer practical accountability. This is where the “Life Coach” comes in.
This is what I mean by being wholistic. It is looking at each problem individually and treating each differently as it’s needed.
THE INTENTIONAL LIFE BLUEPRINT
I believe there is a huge need for Personal Development resources for Christians created from a biblical perspective. We need Christian resources on goal setting, meaningful work, creating good habits, productivity, etc. Do you agree? I would love to get your thoughts and feedback on this subject.
My hope is to help Christians find the abundant life that Jesus promises. It’s with these goals in mind that I have created a personal development and life coaching resource for Christians. It's called the “Intentional Life Blueprint: Personal Development from a Biblical Perspective.”
The Intentional Life Blueprint is more than just another online course. It's intended to be a vibrant online community with committed members journeying together and helping each other along the way. If you are interested in learning more about the Intentional Life Blueprint, click the following link for more information.
Thien has been working in the area of church planting in various roles for more than a decade. He has personally planted three churches in Southern California.
Thien and his wife Kerry have been married for 17 years and have three children and live in Fountain Valley, California.