SPIRITUAL TRANSFORMATION & Research Shows Crises Lead to a Need for Transformation

By Bob Whitesel Ph.D., 9/30/11.

Excerpted with permission from Cure for the Common Church: God’s Plan to Restore Church Health (2012) pp. 146-149.CureForCommonChurch

Researchers[i] have long understood that people usually seek change in their life while going through a crisis.[ii] Figure 8.2 shows how different crises create varying degrees of a need to change.[iii] The more severe crises (listed toward the top of the left column) create more motivation to change. Therefore, to help people change, an uncommon congregation will seek to first understand what crises a person is going through and what change she or he needs.[iv]

The middle column of Figure 8.2 offers questions they may be asking and in the right column are suggestions for meeting their needs. But, this scale is not a definite list of need-based miniseries, but rather a guide toward helping Christians find and meet the spiritual newness a person craves.

Figure 8.2 Crises and Need-meeting Ministries


that foster a desire for change

(most serve at the top)


being asked



1.     Death of a spouse ·  Did they go to heaven?

·  What will I do now?

·  Grief-recovery group/course

·  Course/study on refocusing life

2.     Divorce ·  How did my behavior contribute? ·  Divorce recovery group/course
3.     Marital separation ·  Can I prevent divorce? ·  Course/group on marriage
4.     Jail term ·  What will others say?

·  Who will help with my behavior?

·  Inclusion route for ex-offenders

·  Addiction recovery groups

5.     Family member death                                                                                                           

(see death of a spoue above)

6.     Personal injury /illness ·  How will I pay my bills?

·  Can God heal me?

·  Who will help me through this?

·  Benevolence program

·  Parish-nurse program

·  Prayer/healing opportunities

7.     Marriage ·  Are we truly compatible?

·  What kind of social environment will keep my marriage strong?

·  Newly married group/course

·  Marriage enrichment groups

·  Marital counseling ministry

8.     Fired from work ·  How can I find a new job?

·  How will I pay the bills?

·  Who will help me w/ new skills?

·  Resume writing course

·  Job-placement counseling

·  Benevolence program

9.     Marital reconciliation (see divorce & separation above)
10.  Retirement ·  What does God has in store for me?

·  Does my life still matter?

·  What should I do with my time?

·  Second-career programs that help retirees enter the ministry.

·  Mentoring programs comprised of seniors.

11.  Change in family member’s health ·  Why does God allow suffering?

·  How can I help a sufferer?

·  Is there a purpose in suffering?

·  Course/group on problem of pain.

·  Course/group on grief recovery.

12.  Pregnancy ·  Who will help raise my child?

·  Is abortion ethical?

·  Support for new mothers

·  Adoption options

13.  Sex difficulties ·  Am I unattractive to my spouse?

(see divorce & separation above)

·  Course/group on self-image

(see divorce & separation above)

14.  Addition to family (see pregnancy above)
15.  Business readjustment ·  Can I support my family?

·  How will I stretch my budget?

·  Job skill training

·  Course/group on finances

16.  Financial status change (see business readjustment above)
17.  Death of close friend (see death of a spouse above)
18.  Number of marital arguments changes (see divorce & separation above)
19.  Mortgage or loan over $75,000 ·  How will I pay for this?

·  Is this good stewardship?

·  Budget planning class/course

·  Financial seminar/course

20.  Foreclosure of mortgage or loan (see $75k + mortgage or loan above)
21.  Change in work responsibilities ·  How do I get along w/ a new boss?

·  How do I take on these new responsibilities?

·  Mentoring by those w/ good business relationships

·  Course/study on ethical decision making

22.  Son or daughter leaving home ·  What will I do with my time?

·  How will my child do?

·  Ministries for empty-nesters

·  Small groups for empty-nesters

23.  Trouble with In-laws See divorce & separation above
24.  Outstanding personal achievement ·  Will this success change me?

·  What are my obligations to God?

·  What platform does this give me?

·  Group/course on servant leadership

·  Christian ethics in business

25.  Spouse starts work ·  How will we raise our kids?

·  Will we still spend time together?

·  2-wage earner Course/group

·  (see divorce & separation above)

Such crises, which send the spiritual traveler seeking change, can overwhelm the traveler and the a navigator, unless both consider that God may have a purpose in the crisis. God often uses such difficulties to get our attention about the importance of renewing our relationship with him. Here is how Paul describes it:

“Distress that drives us to God does that. It turns us around. It gets us back in the way of salvation. We never regret that kind of pain. But those who let distress drive them away from God are full of regrets, end up on a deathbed of regrets.” 2 Cor. 7:10 (MSG)


[i] This adaption of the Holmes and Rahe Readjustment Scale with the explanation of how varying crises affect a craving for spiritual transformation is based upon Flavil Yeakley’s Ph.D. research at the University of Illinois (Flavil R. Yeakley, Dissertation Presented to the Faculty of the School of Communication [Champaign, IL: University of Illinois, 1976]). Flavil Yeakley’s dissertation is now available online here > http://www.pureheartvision.org/resources/docs/yeakley/Persuasion%20in%20Religious%20Conversion_Doctors%20of%20Philosophy%20Thesis.pdf

[ii] Usually people are seeking an explanation for the change (such as when a loved one dies) or they are seeking a sense of stability (as when going through a divorce, or a child leaving for college).

[iii] Researchers Holmes and Rahe listed these crisis in their order of severity (with the most severe at the top of their list). See T. H. Holmes and R. H. Rahe, “The Social Readjustment Rating Scale,” Journal of Psychosomatic Research (Waltham, MA: Elsevier, 1967), Vo. 11, pp. 213-218. It is interesting to note that some research on seminary students involved in ministry found that while a score over 300 is considered “critically high,” that the average score for seminarians was 348 (Gary L. Harbaugh and Evan Rogers, “Pastoral Burnout: A View from the Seminary” The Journal of Pastoral Care, [Decatur, GA: 1984], Vol XXXVIII, No. 2, p. 102). This tells us that seminarians also have high levels of stress, that while most may not lead to a new spiritual transformation, many of these stressors may lead to physical transformation such as leaving the ministry, severing personal relationships, or changing churches/denominations. Today’s seminary must be familiar with the consequence of these stressors, and thus seminaries should offer courses, small groups, etc. to help seminarians deal with increased stressors while in seminary.

[iv] Flavil Yeakley discovered that crises as defined in the Holmes-Rahe Scale often send people to religion in search of assistance in meeting these emerging personal problems (Flavil R. Yeakley, Dissertation Presented to the Faculty of the School of Communication [Champaign, IL: University of Illinois, 1976]).

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