The Connect Ladder
Habits for growing in connection with God and people
Connection with God brings healing, new life, and non-coercive order by establishing and restoring relationships. It empowers people to discern and then pursue their distinct, personal commitments and callings, and it creates the basis for abiding connections among people, even through the inevitable difficulties of movement building and shared life.
Connecting with God and people is essential to the growth of the church throughout the world, not only in scope but in depth. It is not only essential for attracting people to faith in Jesus, but it is the center of an ever-deepening and maturing spirituality for individuals, families and communities. The type of relational and personal growth that connection cultivates is ultimately a matter of deepening faithfulness to Jesus as a response to his grace and faithfulness. For Christians, growing in and through faith in Jesus must be a movement of God’s grace, from first to last. Far from being an empty theological assertion, this captures a crucial dynamic of gentle (and often slow) call and response that is absolutely essential to authentic Jesus faith.
The Connect Ladder provides a structure of ideas and habits that can help people connect with God and each other more consciously and intentionally.
The steps on the ladder are progressive, meaning they naturally build on each other in a specific order. They are also integrative, meaning the previous steps aren’t completed and left behind, but are instead integrated as personal and interpersonal habits. A good example of a progressive and integrative process is learning to read: we learn to read sounds, words, sentences, paragraphs, narratives, genres and more. Building on these skills, we can also learn to read critically, dramatically, and in other ways. In all of this, we never grow out of learning new words or stories. Instead, we constantly build on the prior levels in new, emergent ways.
The ladder is a helpful metaphor, especially if we think about a ladder in a huge library. The order of the steps matters, but the goal isn’t always to reach the top. The goal is to stand on the right rung, right now, depending on our relationship with whoever we’re with. Paying careful attention to God and the people in front of us helps us figure out where to stand on the ladder, which informs the kinds of questions we are asking and exploring together. The point of this ladder is not to arrive at the top, but is instead to enable us to stand in a helpful place.
The Connect Ladder isn’t a restriction on God’s activity, a magical formula, a social hierarchy, or an air-tight theory. Instead, it is a simple model that helps us communicate a common-enough process of growing in connection with God and each other.
Steps: Quick Overview
Building or finding enough trust to take another step.
Observing and learning with interest and curiosity.
Going beyond observing, to respond authentically to God in worship, prayer, meeting, action, rest, etc.
4: Discerning Commitments or Callings
Discerning, personally and in the context of a supportive community, specific roles that God may be inviting a person to embrace right now.
Receiving whatever is needed to take the next steps in a calling.
Publicly acknowledging and blessing the callings of people who have been equipped.
Persevering faithfully in our callings while trusting in God’s faithfulness together.
Step 1: Trusting
Building or finding enough trust to take another step
Examples of Trusting
Feeling safe with an individual or group.
Feeling like someone is with and for you, not against you.
Finding common ground, and being convinced that it is authentically shared.
Finding uncommon ground, or differences, and trusting that we can honor and love each other even as we are different.
Deciding that someone may have something worthwhile to offer, and isn’t primarily a threat.
Being willing to sit down for a meal or drink with someone.
Being willing to invite someone into your home, or be invited into theirs.
Trust is an essential element in faith, even if faith also involves more than trust. Trust is often primary in our understanding of faith, in the sense that it is often the beginning of faith. Jesus calls disciples, and they trust him enough to follow. Only later do they come to fully understand and then commit to follow faithfully to the ends of the earth, as a response to his own faithfulness.
Trust already involves some of the risk that is ultimately involved in the fullness of faith, because connecting with God involves some element of risk. That may be the risk that things won’t work out the way we hope, or that time will be wasted. Even more profoundly, it often involves the risk that something really could happen.
It isn’t wise to do risky things with people you don’t trust, and so we look to God to help us build, and notice, the kind of trust that makes risk wise. Cultivating warranted trust, where there are good reasons to trust, is essential, in part because warranted trust helps us avoid unwarranted trust.
Questions Related to Trust
Should I trust this person, or these people? Is this a safe enough person or place for me, or my family? Do I want to take risks with this person, or these people, right now? Does this seem good or bad? Does this person or situation remind me of good or bad experiences with trust that I’ve had in the past?
(Often, these questions are implicit, and they are often initially answered implicitly through actions that demonstrate trustworthiness, such as sharing a meal or helping out in a general way. Still, it can often be helpful to make the questions explicit, and to encourage a conscious processes of distinguishing warranted trust from unwarranted trust.)
Step 2: Exploration
Observing and learning with interest and curiosity
Checking out a group or meeting.
Reading and thinking about an article or book that you’ve recommended.
Meeting with people who are exploring a practice or topic.
Trying to understand practices, viewpoints, opinions, doctrines, core commitments, behaviors, stories, beliefs, schedules, how to find a group, etc.
Asking open questions with genuine curiosity and interest.
(Hostile interrogation often isn’t real exploration, and it generally indicates that there isn’t enough trust for people to feel safe exploring.)
God is endless and we are finite, so connecting with God always involves exploring and learning more. Because God is love, this exploration involves freedom and wonder, although we also encounter profound challenges on the way. Exploration is an appropriate early response to God’s grace working in us, and its delights and challenges are never exhausted. Exploration involves at least a minimal act of faith: the willingness to trust that something is worth at least some investment of time and attention, and an openness to the possibility of learning and change.
Questions Related to Exploration
Where and how can I experience God? Who or what is God? What is God up to, here and now? Is this church or group a good place for me or my family or my community? What is this church/network/organization about? Is this something I want to investigate further?
Step 3: Response
Going beyond observing, to respond authentically to God in worship, prayer, action, rest, etc.
Saying “yes” to God in any area of life.
Repenting of sins in prayer, and resolving to move in a different direction.
Moving from being a spectator to being a participant in any spiritual activity: worship, giving, any form of prayer, helping out in an ad hoc way, etc.
Following up on a message (such as a sermon, prayer experience, spiritual direction, etc.) with a practical step.
Internally letting go of something that may be blocking us from following God more fully.
God is always engaging with us, because God loves us and pursues a deep relationship with us. Personal engagement and response are at the heart of our understanding of God: the Godhead, as a Trinity, fundamentally involves connection and response. So response is essential, because God invites us to creatively and actively respond to God, and the story that God is telling in creation. These responses involve enjoying and contributing to God’s work in the world in a unique and personal way, which is also deeply connected to the broader body of Christ. Responding to God involves faith. That is to say, it involves trusting God enough to commit to do something, and then following through and doing it.
Questions Related to Response
What practical step might God be inviting me to take right now? How am I responding? Am I resisting invitations that seem to be from God in some way?If so, can I describe what is happening when I resist? Am I resisting something harmful or helpful? Can I describe what is happening when I resist? How can I help others notice and respond to invitations from God?
Step 4: Discerning Commitments or Callings
Discerning, in community, roles that God may be inviting a person to embrace right now.
Discerning whether to become/remain committed to a specific congregation (including discerning whether that includes baptism).
Discerning how work and life relate to life with God and a specific congregation.
Discerning whether to take a job (paid or volunteer) outside or inside of a religious setting.
Discerning and creating your own job description, outside or inside of a religious setting.
Callings are not just for church workers or traditionally religious activities, but for everyone.
Discerning a rhythm or rule of life, or whether to adopt some community’s rhythm or rule of life. (These rhythms and rules may be explicit or implicit.)
We believe that Christ has been raised and is drawing all people to himself. This means that the discernment of a calling is not a matter of discerning whether a person has one, but what that personal calling looks like, and how each person can pursue it more and more fully. God isn’t a micro-manager who asks us to do an endless chain of seemingly random tasks. Instead, in Scripture we find a loving God who invites people to take on roles, creatively participating in God’s work. For all followers of Jesus, one central role we accept is ‘disciple of Jesus’: people who learn from Jesus, are trained and equipped by him, and take on his mission. Within this broader calling, we take on distinct and organically connected roles, like the parts of a body: each part important and valued for its unique contribution. Discerning commitments and callings is an ongoing process of seeing where our capabilities and interests meet the needs of others. Callings come from God’s faithfulness in pursuing humanity, and responding to a calling involves a trusting, committed response to God.
Questions Related to Discerning Callings
Where do my gifts meet the needs of the world? What role or roles might God be inviting me into right now? What is the next step to take, to pursue that calling? How am I responding to God’s general calling to all people, to express love, generosity and care to those who need it? What is the shape of my own specific, personal calling at this point in life, as far as I can tell?
Step 5: Equipping
Receiving whatever is needed to take the next steps in a calling
Praying and requesting assistance from God.
Studying a topic.
Attending a class, seminar, conference, training or event, at a church or elsewhere.
Observing and then doing something and receiving feedback from experienced practitioners.
Making a fundraising plan, strategic plan, or calendar.
Receiving funds, housing, food, or other material assets.
Finding a mentor or trainer.
Counseling and inner work to prepare us and get us ‘unstuck’.
Earning a degree or certification.
Equipping involves receiving what we need, ultimately always from God, in order to pursue a calling that we believe we have. God is the Creator, and God works new creation in our lives and our world, in Jesus. So whatever it is that we need to pursue a calling, we recognize God as the ultimate source of both the calling and the equipping. Prayer is the center of equipping, and involves both asking for, and receiving, gifts from God that are essential to our calling. In addition to prayer, equipping also involves meeting any emotional, physical or spiritual need that we have, as those needs relate to pursuing a calling. The work of equipping is always initiated by God, and comes through our congregation, other communities, and individual effort. Receiving equipping and growing in our gifts involves trust in God with respect to a calling, as well as faithful perseverance and risk-taking.
Questions Related to Equipping
What do I need to take the next step in pursuing my calling? How can I get that? How does God relate to that? What is my next step in that direction, right now? Am I taking risks that facilitate learning and further equipping?
Step 6: Commissioning
Publicly blessing the callings of people who have been equipped
Publicly acknowledging a calling or commitment, including:
Membership in a local congregation or community
Participation in a working team or other group
Accepting leadership responsibilities in a working team or other group
Throughout the ministry of Jesus and in the early church, the public blessing of people’s callings is an essential activity that honors God and people. How does it relate to connection with God and people? Commissioning connects God, the community, and the commissioned individuals as people formally step into a role in the body of a local congregation. It also communicates the nature of the commission to the church. Commissioning always involves prayer, and involves a release of power into the life of the person who is commissioned. At least two people are involved in commissioning: an authorizing individual who effectively represents the group’s commisioning ability, and the person being commissioned.
For the person receiving commissioning, it requires that they understand and commit publicly to a role. Commissioning often comes after a person has dipped their foot in a role to some degree, receiving equipping, doing some of the work, and clarifying their commitment and role in the process. Commissioning is an expression of faith in the calling of a person by the group, and of the commissioned individual’s trust in God and the church. It also involves a formal commitment to faithfully pursue the calling for which they have been commissioned.
Questions Related to Commissioning
For a specific calling, is it time to commission me or someone else? Has an individual discerned and been adequately equipped to begin their public pursuit of the calling? Who should be present for/informed of the commissioning? Are there areas where I or another person would benefit from an affirmation of a commission? Should the commissioning be more formal or less formal, given the role and the context?
Step 7: Faithfulness
Persevering faithfully in our callings while trusting in God’s faithfulness, together
Showing up reliably over a long period of time, in a particular community and context
Course-correcting after drifting away from a prior commitment
Carrying out a job with integrity, creativity and vision over time.
Leading a group faithfully over time.
Taking new risks to deepen and extend a calling.
Overcoming internal and external resistance in pursuing a calling.
Making funds or time available to sustain a mission.
The process of connection can also be understood as a journey of faith, from beginning to end. Faith follows commissioning not because this is where faith enters into the process, but because a lot of the important, ongoing questions that arise after commissioning involve faith. Because faith is ultimately about the faithfulness of Jesus, it helps fill us with hope, and with the love of God and neighbor: it is through faith that these graces come more fully into our lives. This motivates and empowers our own response of loyalty and allegiance to Jesus, as our King. Faithfulness in following God always involves persistence in the face of resistance, both internal and external, and some measure of risk. It also involves a shared commitment between the commissioned individual, God, and the community that has commissioned them. The work of the church, and of the individual as a part of the church, involves cultivating and encouraging faith in God even through the perils of success (like pride or distraction from the core mission) and the perils of failure (like discouragement or betrayal.)
From our human perspective, if trust in God’s own faithfulness is one side of the coin of faith, then faithfully persisting in a calling is the other side of that coin. Both sides of this coin are gracious gifts from God. Because faith integrates and is integrated into all of the other steps, there is always room for fresh trust building, exploration, response, discernment of calling, equipping, commissioning, and a deepening of faith.
Questions Related to Faithfulness
Am I being faithful to my commitments/walking by faith? How might God be refining my understanding of my calling? How am I responding to resistance? How am I overcoming resistance to God through the grace and power of God? (And how is God helping me resist evil?) How are we, as a church, being called to faithfully nurture and support the callings of our church? Am I trusting God right now … if so, how is that showing up in the way I am using my time and attention and talents and influence and money? Does faithfulness to God involve changes in my understanding of calling, equipping or commissioning?
A Simple Connect Ladder Training
One good way to train people in the use of the Connect Ladder is to review the content, and then facilitate a discussion around these questions. One person can choose one question (or more) to explore, and share what they find over the course of an hour. The rest of the group can listen, asking open-ended questions to help them reflect on and communicate an experience of disconnection or connection.
- Using the Connect Ladder as a tool, would you like to describe an experience of connecting with a group of people, or an organization, over a period of time in your life?
- Using the Connect Ladder as a tool, would you like to describe a process of connecting with God over a period of time in your life?
- If you could go back in time and be there for yourself in any group, are there any ways you might use any of these ideas to help your past self connect with a group or with God, or be wiser about disconnecting in helpful ways where necessary?