From February 16th until March 29th, all LIFE Group leaders will begin trying to use the Tree Diagram. Please read below for support on how to implement the Heart Tree Tool. [NOTE: This tool comes from Garrett Higbee and his ministry at Harvest Bible Chapel – http://biblicalsoulcare.org/uncommoncommunity]
What Is the Purpose of the Heart Tree Diagram?
Once you have used the GPS and Covenant Tools to open a dialogue with your LIFE Group about becoming a community of committed, vulnerable friends focused on helping each other grow in the grace and truth of Christ, you have the green light to learn some key biblical soul care tools together. The first tool is the Heart Tree diagram.
Imagine you have a couple, Joe and Sally, who are experiencing martial conflict. You have begun to observe a coldness between them at group time. Perhaps Sally makes comments that are growing more and more sarcastic toward Joe. Maybe Joe’s non-verbal communication demonstrates an obvious annoyance with Sally. How do you handle this? If your group has begun to desire a vulnerable community of change, Joe and Sally will likely allow you into their life to help them. But what do you say? How do you help them?
Our default in giving advice is to offer practical tools to change the circumstances of someone’s problems. For example, if Sally is upset with Joe not listening to her, you might offer Joe some tips on listening skills. If Sally tends to struggle staying within the budget and frustrating Joe, you might show Sally how to use a cash system instead of spending on credit. These are good skills to learn, and Joe and Sally must learn them, but they aren’t sufficient to heal their marriage. They won’t bring about lasting, life-transforming change. In fact, any change they do bring might be shallow and short-lived. Counsel that only offers practical skills is often like a New Year’s resolution. It may change our circumstances for a season, but because it doesn’t truly transform the person, the circumstances eventually go back to normal. Joe and Sally need the kind of radical life transformation God specializes in: heart change.
The Heart Tree tool will help you go deeper with the Joes and Sallys in your group. It will help you be a good counselor who can guide those you lead to understand not just how to change what they do, but why they do what they do and how to be changed by God at the level of their heart (James 4:1-10). “The purpose in a man’s heart is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out” (Proverbs 20:5). Anyone who has the Word of God, the Spirit of God and love for God and others can and must do this work. The Heart Tree Diagram is a great tool to help get you started.
How to Use the Heart Tree Diagram
Just as a tree produces either good fruit or bad fruit based on the health of its root system, we produce good or bad thoughts, emotions, speech and behavior based on the health of our heart’s beliefs and desires (Matthew 12:33-35; Jeremiah 17:7-10). The Heart Tree diagram helps you look at the current circumstances a group member is facing and how they are responding (a.k.a. “Fruits”) so you can begin to discern the motives and desires (a.k.a. “Roots”) that are causing the production of those fruits (Mark 7:21-23).
First Steps. So let’s think about Joe and Sally again in light of this Heart Tree tool. You observe some of their not-so-good fruit in group and you ask if you can get together with them for a one-on-one meeting. You remind them of everyone’s desire in the group to be vulnerable friends who want to humbly help each other grow. You remind them of your mutual commitment to the group covenant to keep each other accountable for God’s glory and each other’s good. Then you explain how you have noticed some of the ways they have been communicating with each other in group and that you just wanted to see how they were doing. You don’t need to say more than that. Let the Holy Spirit work. He’ll lead you to one of three outcomes: 1.) you either misinterpreted your observations and they simply had a normal marital struggle and are doing just fine – you can rejoice; 2.) they aren’t doing well but say they are just fine because they aren’t ready to open up yet – you can pray; or 3.) they aren’t doing well and they open up with you about it – you have an opportunity to use your soul care tools, like the Heart Tree, to help them.
Data Gathering. Once a struggling group member opens up with you, you want to understand them and their problems as well as you can. The right side of the Heart Tree diagram helps you do this by asking them questions about three key timeframes in their life story.
Current Situation: First, you want to learn more about their current situation. What are the problems they are facing right now? How are they responding? The HRQ Tool will give you guidance on the best heart revealing questions to ask.
Early Adulthood: Second, after you are beginning to sense some desires and responses that seem dominant, you want to learn about any similar struggles they have had in their early adulthood years (approximately 19-25 years). How did they respond then? What themes or patterns of response appear repetitive over time?
Shaping Influences: Finally, you want to discern any shaping influences in their early life (0-18 years) that may have instilled strong desires and motives that drive them to act the way they do. What did their parents value? Did they experience significant suffering that might have been a catalytic shaper of their fears and desires? For even more help in guiding your people to understand their deepest desires and motivations, check out David Powlison’s excellent X-Ray Questions of the heart. Just asking a few of these questions will bring new and life-changing insights to those you are trying to help.
Assessment. As you get these pieces of their life story, you can begin to make sense of the left side of the Heart Tree diagram (the “Responses & Motives” column). Understanding their current situation will help you have a better knowledge of the actual fruit that is coming out of them. Knowing their early adulthood patterns of life will confirm that the current fruit responses you are seeing have been dominant themes or patterns of behavior throughout their life. As you understand their early shaping influences, you will eventually begin to see the deep heart desires that motivate them to respond in the way that they do.
Let’s use Sally again as way to illustrate this data gathering process. In her present situation, she often displays the bad fruit of anger at Joe because he doesn’t seem to listen to her. You find out that she had the same responses in her previous marriage and even in some dating relationships prior to that. You are beginning to see that although it is true that Joe needs to learn some listening skills, Sally has some patterns of response that are so deep she would probably still struggle with anger even if it were possible for Joe to become a perfect listener! As you learn more about her early life and shaping influences you find out that she had a father who always gave her anything she wanted and would even pay attention to her more than he did his wife. Perhaps Sally’s sense of self-worth is determined by the level of attention she gets from the primary man in her life? You may begin to wonder if her identity is based more on Man’s approval than Christ’s. It could be that the lack of attention from the primary man in her life threatens her sense of emotional equilibrium. This sense of being unable to control her environment in a way that makes her happy could be making her angry. And Joe naturally becomes the target of that anger. Sally is not a greater or lesser sinner than Joe, you or anyone else. Your growing knowledge of her simply confirms that she is a messy sinner like all the rest of us, just in different ways. Gradually you will be able to respond to her with the wisdom of God’s Word in humility, compassion, and grace.
Soul Care is a Process
This depth of understanding Sally will not come from one meeting. As her LIFE Group leader, your calling is to get to know her and Joe over time so you can properly care for their souls. As you use the Heart Tree tool, the Holy Spirit will help you gradually proceed from initial Fruit Observation to accurate Root Identification. He loves Joe and Sally. He desires to use you to help them guard their hearts from the attacks of the Enemy so they can produce good fruit for God’s glory. “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it” (Proverbs 4:23).
Using the tools of soul care, you will begin to know your people so well that you will be able to assess the condition of their hearts and help them understand why they do what they do (Proverbs 27:23).
Your assignment: to begin using the Heart Tree tool (along with the previous GPS and Covenant tools) over the next 6 weeks to develop this skill of heart assessment. Eventually, you will have the skill to know how to biblically respond to the problematic motives and desires in the hearts of your people, but this will come in a later learning assignment starting March 30th.