The resource that has most inﬂuenced the way I’ve approached disciple-making in the last two years is Building a Discipling Culture (BDC) by Mike Breen and Steve Cockram. Here they introduce LifeShapes – simple geometric forms that make profound truths about the way of Jesus accessible and portable. The idea of using shapes may seem cheesy, but it works. Once these frameworks got in my head, I couldn’t forget them!
Except for one shape: the Heptagon.
Besides being a word that I’d probably never use in a sentence otherwise, I found the ideas housed within the Heptagon to be quite fuzzy. It was the hardest of all the LifeShapes to get my mind (and life) around.
Then my 3DM Coaching Huddle leader, Jeff Saferite, opened my eyes to it. I suppose this is as it should be – in discipleship it’s not enough to read a book about discipleship and try to understand the concepts. Discipleship happens as we see the truth embodied in the life of another person, we imitate what we see, and we ﬁnd ways to integrate that truth into our own lives.
It turns out that the Heptagon is a very helpful tool for evaluating the spiritual health of a person or a community of people. It’s a great framework to reﬂect on if you want to give yourself or your ministry a spiritual check-up.
The seven sides of the Heptagon represent the seven biological signs of life that resonate with the spiritual life as well. I’ll say on the front end – I’m no doctor or biologist! If you are either, please draw out further connections you see in the comments section!
- Biological sign: breathing.
- Spiritual sign: “Prayer is to the soul what breathing is to the body.” (Ole Hallesby, quoted in BDC)
- Biological sign: eating and drinking.
- Spiritual sign: Jesus says the will of God is his food (John 4:34), and that he is the Bread of Life (John 6:35). We eat by obeying Jesus’ teachings, following his example, and immersing ourselves in his story - particularly through a regular diet of Scripture.
- Biological sign: awareness of internal and external stimuli.
- Spiritual sign: awareness of promptings from God as he grabs our attention and speaks to us.
- Biological sign: response to internal and external stimuli; moving – walking, running, jumping, climbing, doing, etc.
- Spiritual sign: obedience, action and response to God’s promptings.
- Biological sign: physical growth of organs, muscles, bones, brain, etc.
- Spiritual sign: development of character, maturity, capacity, ministry engagement.
- Biological sign: giving birth to a new form of life.
- Spiritual sign: investing and multiplying oneself into the life of another; communities that multiply and start new communities.
- Biological sign: poop and pee – the waste that results from processed nutrition.
- Spiritual sign: removing the toxicity of sin through repentance and forgiving others.
I’ve found it particularly insightful to view the Heptagon through the lenses of two other LifeShapes – the Circle and the Semi-Circle.
The Circle illuminates the “hearing, doing, and growing” elements of the Heptagon. As we pray (respiration) and reﬂect on Scripture (nutrition), our awareness (sensitivity) of God’s activity around us is heightened. In other words, sensitivity is our ability to grasp the Kairos moments that occur when God breaks into our lives. The poorer our respiration and nutrition, the poorer our sensitivity. The poorer our sensitivity, the less likely we are to catch the Kairos moments that God sends our way.
Excretion connects to the movement of observe-reﬂect-discuss on the right side of the Circle where we open our minds to think differently about ourselves and others because of what God is saying to us. We discard old ways of thinking and being for new ones in light of God’s voice. This is why BDC associates the concept of “repentance” with this side of the Circle.
Movement relates to the action side of the Circle, where we make a plan, set up accountability and act in response to what we’ve heard God say.
Growth and reproduction occur as spontaneous, natural results of the other ﬁve signs of life around the Circle. As we hear God, discard old ways of thinking and doing, and respond in obedient action, something happens: we change. We grow. We experience transformation. That growth overﬂows into the lives of others to reproduce new disciples and new communities.
The Semi-Circle highlights two dynamics of the seven signs of life: 1) the connection to the rhythms of rest and work, and 2) their ﬂow and interrelationship.
1) Connection to rhythms of rest and work. Respiration, nutrition, sensitivity, and excretion relate to the rest or abiding rhythm of the Semi-Circle. Movement, growth and reproduction relate to the work or fruit-bearing rhythm.
2) Flow and interrelationship. Respiration and nutrition enable sensitivity, which makes movement possible, which creates growth, which creates the state of health required for reproduction to take place. As we grow and reproduce, waste must be excreted to remain healthy and continue to grow, much the same way a tree must be pruned back to grow out further.
If you’re not seeing reproduction, check your growth.
If you’re not growing, consider your movement – are you responding to God in obedience?
Not seeing much movement? It might be because your sensitivity to God’s prompting is dulled.
Not hearing from God much? Ramp up your respiration and nutrition.
Feeling stuck? Relieve the constipation and remove the toxicity of sin and unforgiveness in your life through repentance and forgiving others.
To perform a diagnostic test of your spiritual health or that of your ministry, rate yourself/your ministry from 1-10 in each area.
Which area is highest? Which area is lowest?
What next steps can you take to pursue spiritual health?