Churches are typically made up of two groups of people: Those who say they are “just fine” and those who feel that they need help. Those who need help often feel that they don’t belong, that everyone else’s needs are being met—but not theirs–and that no one really cares about them. Often the people who are “just fine” are coaxed or goaded or guilted into helping the needy ones, which would be okay if it really helped, but it usually does not. Those one-sided relationships often become burdensome because the needy people feel that they never get enough and those who are “just fine” feel resentful and wonder why the needy ones can’t get it together.
The Life Model has answers for this age-old dilemma because it combines character development and healing.
About three years ago I had a intern who introduced me to the Life Model. The life model came out of a ministry to street kids in Van Nuys California called Shepherds House. As the ministry grew the leaders began to see Christian leaders who were struggling. They began to question why some people came to Christ and began to grow while others seem stuck and kept relapsing. At one point they were seeing about a thousand people a month. They began to examine people on a case-by-case basis so as to identify what people need to thrive. What they learned integrated well with groundbreaking work on the brain as well as infant and child development. They were informed by their Biblical worldview and their experience with healing prayer and over time came up with programs that helps our left brains understand while our right brains receives the non-verbal training it needs.
We are huge fans of Theophostic at Church of the Apostles, but what we have found is that Theophostic alone is not enough. It is healing, and comforting and you would think this would be enough, to connect with God and have him dispell the lies. But we find some people settle into their dysfunction. They are comforted into complacency. Ed Smith the founder of TPM freely acknowledges that TPM exposes lies and renews the mind, marvelously– but it does not give us all that we need. We also need community; we need to know what is our job, where we have deficits and what we need to recover. If you never learned to tame your cravings as a child, TPM will help uncover the lies you believe that make taming those cravings so pernicious, but in the end you will have to abstain. You will need to follow the ancient spiritual practices of fasting if you want to tame them. If you never learned to do hard things (another childhood task) you have to start doing them. If, like me, you fail to explain yourself to those who misunderstand you, you have to start doing it. Getting TPM helps me be at peace when I approach those who have misunderstood me but I still needed to force myself to go back to the person and explain, “I don’t think you understood my heart here.” It is easy to think it is their job, after all we’re they the ones who impuned my motives? But the Life Model makes it clear that helping people understand me it is a childhood task, one someone in their fifties should not find so difficult. Sigh. TPM helps in so many ways: it is transforming to know you are loved and have value but it does not fix the whole problem.
The Life Model is not just for the people who we typically think of as being wounded. Everyone is missing something they should have gotten as children. Often we don’t know what we are missing. What we experienced as children feels normal because that was our model, all we had.
When I first encountered the Life Model, I thought that I was doing rather well and I was compared to where I used to be. I had been running the Healing Center at Church of the Apostles for four years and I had processed much of my pain. I no longer had frequent meltdowns. But I had never held my life up to any kind of ideal measuring stick. It is a little akin to growing up in Japan and thinking you are tall until you visit Sweden. Or Sudan.
The Life Model provides just such a measuring stick. It has evolved into a think tank where pastors, psychiatrists, social workers and teachers have come together to define where we should be–had life been perfect–and how we can get there, even though it wasn’t. Not that we will ever reach perfection but there is so much more maturing that we can do! It is joyful, fulfilling to find our true hearts and begin to live out of that solid center.
Much of the early work was done by Jane Willard the wife of the late Dallas Willard, but there are other familiar names that are involved like Daniel Amen, famous for scanning tens of thousands of brains, and other not so well known names like Jim Wilder who mentors many of the Life Model players. Karl Lehman, Chris and Jen Coursey, and Ed and Maritza Khouri.
The life Model breaks life into stages: Infant, child, adult, parent and elder. An infant should have his needs met without having to ask; a child learns to take care of himself. An adult learns to satisfy two people, at first a friend and later a mate. A parent takes the whole family’s needs into account and an elder sees those who are at risk in the community and reaches out to them. There are needs and tasks for each level. One of the biggest mistakes we make is when we try to become elders too soon. Parents need to raise their little ones; there will be plenty of time to save the world when their children are adults.
One of the hallmarks of the Life Model is the belief that we were created by God to live in joy, that joy should be our natural state. When I first heard this I gulped. I am pretty serious and I would not have characterized my normal state as one of joy.
Life is meant to be characterized by rhythms of joy and quiet. Knowing how to quiet yourself should have been learned in the arms of your mother but you can only download from her what she had to give. Do not worry, if you don’t have that skill! One of the first Life Model exercises is learning how to quiet yourself.
The Life Model also teaches that we are created as relational being, meant to attach to God and to a spiritual family. To thrive we need to live as if relationships are more important than anything else.
They also believe that we need more than teaching to heal. If understand principles were sufficient, the church in the west would be vibrant and whole. The western church has largely focused on the left brain, the part that is rational and logic, but apparent that is not enough. We need to train both the right and left hemispheres our brains so we can have healthy relationships much in the same way we train to learn to play a violin or speak Spanish. Reading about playing the violin is not going to make you even a mediocre performer.
On the Life Model website they write: “Contemporary Christianity has failure to achieve moral and character change. Beliefs do not change your character.”
Another belief is that someone can be gifted, even anointed and still not be mature. It is like building a tall building. If the foundation is missing a few bricks it won’t matter at first, but as the building goes up (more responsibility), those missing bricks destabilize the entire structure.
Most people don’t recognize what they are missing.
Addictions come from a catastrophic failure to reach adult mature and mimic the ideal rhythms of joy and quiet. Some drugs mimic quiet; other mimic joy but they are all counterfeits, taking the place of the joy and quiet that should come from within as we connect deeply to God and safe people. So the addict who uses something to calm himself is looking for quiet while the addict who uses to get high is looking for joy.
Another eye opening concept for me was the realization that we can miss out on infant maturity primarily because the adults who took care of us did not know what we needed, and yet we can still appear fairly mature. The Life Model calls this pseudo-maturity and likens it to flying upside down: The plane that is your life appears to be at the right elevation but if you look closely it is upside down. Ouch! We know how to do hard things, but don’t know how to receive or rest or be still before God. Skills we should have mastered in infancy. In our culture, the pseudo-mature often rise to the top where they burn out or become addicted to something to get them through. Sadly you are only as mature as the lowest hole in your wall. So pseudo mature people are . . . infants.
The average American man is halfway through childhood maturity; the average woman is half way through adult maturity. No wonder our nation is in trouble!
Life Model program are solution based. That means you don’t just learn about principles, you also exercise your brain (play the violin) so your brain and body learn the skills it needs to connect to God and people. You can grow and mature.
When I first heard about brain skills I thought, what? I pictured people sitting in yoga position humming. But the exercises are as simple as inviting God to speak and listening to him. Being quiet with a group of people. Practicing telling short stories about your life to other people, walking in sync with two other people, learning to recognize when someone is overwhelmed so you can give them room, evaluating your maturity using an easy checklist, recognizing your own attachment style and attachment pain. So much of what is learn is what healthy, socially-skilled adults learned in childhood, but we all have deficits so if I can’t return to joy from anger but someone else in my group can, I can connect with them and over time download what they have.
Because there are so many players involved in developing the Life Model there are many ways to experience it—lots of books, DVDs, online essays, conferences and at least three websites. The original way people learned was by attending a one week conference in July. They have four levels and participants go every year for four years. People rave about these conferences but they are expensive—nearly 1000 bucks for the conference registration with hotel bills and transportation on top of that and they are only held in two locations—Edmonton, Alberta, Canada and Peoria, Illinois. I am not making this up! And you had to go with a bonded pair—two sisters, a husband and wife, mother and son—someone with whom you have a permanent bond.
In 2007 one of the Life Model developers, Ed Khouri, decided to develop a program that could be done in groups so churches and recovery groups would have another way to learn the material and practice the brain skills as well as develop community. He knew that most addicts have burned their bridges and did not have a family member who would be willing to spend a week–and a lot of money to bond more deeply with them. No, I don’t think so! Restarting was the first module in Ed Khouri’s program. In October, 2013 a prequel book, Joy Starts Here, was released. The program is comprised of five modules Restarting, Forming, Belonging, Healing and Loving; each runs 12 weeks. The first three modules are currently available the other two are still in development.
What kinds of things do you do in Restarting?
Every week you watch a DVD—between 25 and 45 minutes long, and then you have exercises you do in groups of three that are the equivalent of brain training. I have to admit that I was skeptical because so many groups talk about transforming lives so in 2009 I ran two test groups and saw the change before my eyes. I don’t know that I understand it entirely but somehow you are giving each other what you should have gotten as children and infants which causes transformation.
Some of the topics you learn about in Restarting include:
Trauma, hope and recovery
Leaving co-dependency behind
You learn to tell great stories from your life in two to three minutes, you learn to express appreciation, you learn to connect with God experientially, you learn to recognize when you are in attachment pain, you learn to build joy, so you increase capacity and at the end of the class you evaluate your maturity.
You DON”T spend a lot of time talking about your problems. You DON’T spend time problem solving or trying to fix each other. You DON’T share painful details of your story (we teach you how to take the thorns out of your story).
You DO connect with God interactively and listen to him. You DO learn how to better regulate your emotional pain and pleasure so your attachment to BEEPS does not run your life.
This one of my favorite Life Model stories from Jim Wilder’s book: A Complete Guide to Living with Men. This story shows what can happen, over time, when a group comes together and does the work.
Here is an example of a spiritual family and how it might work. A small church, comprised largely of cowboys and rodeo riders, asked me to do a men’s weekend. During that weekend we talked about the levels of maturity enough that all the men identified their own level. There were two elders, about three fathers, five adults and 20 boys and infants. By the end of the weekend the elders, fathers and adults decided (on their own) to help the boys and infants mature. Remember that when I say infants we are talking about men in their 20s, 30s, and even 60s. Each of the children/infants checked off a list of the needs and task they had yet to complete to become adults. The group, under the direction of the elders, assigned men who were strong in those areas to guide the immature men through to adult maturity. One of the least mature men was Bob, the town drunk. The elders assigned three men to him. When I returned to that town a number of years later Bob was a sober father of two with a happy wife. There were three men glowing with pride in how Bob had grown. The entire group of men was heavily involved in summer and after-school programs for the community children—a sign of life to give.
Life Model websites
http://thrivingrecovery.org/ Ed Khouri
http://www.equippinghearts.com/ Ed and Maritza Khouri
http://www.thrivetoday.org/ Chris and Jen Coursey
http://www.kclehman.com/ Karl and Charlotte Lehman
The Life Model is the best model I have seen for bringing Christ to the center of counseling and restoring the disintegrating community fabric within Christian churches.
Dr. Dallas Willard
Speaker, Author, Professor of Philosophy USC
The answer given in the Life Model is very real—a combination of healthy spirituality, intellectual insight, a need for community and friendship—all put together to help us become transformed.
Dr. Francis MacNutt
Founding Director, Christian Healing Ministries
My counseling practice has been revolutionized by what I have learned from Dr. Wilder and the Shepherd’s House team. Utilizing the principles from your books and the Thriving: Recover Your Life materials, I have been able to give the parents of the children I work with simple, do-able activities to build bonds with their kids and make a difference. I can also explain to the parents why they work, which gets them more on-board with doing them.
The Life Model is more practical and applicable than any of the theories I learned in my master’s program or since. It makes sense and it works. I can apply the theory to what’s going on in my clients’ lives (not to mention my own) and provide simple, practical ways for them to make the changes that they need to make. Thanks for making that possible!
Dawn C. Bartels, M.A., L.M.H.C.
(Licensed Mental Health Counselor) Orlando, FL
To read more endorsements see: http://www.lifemodel.org/info.php?page=endorseLM