This week I’d like to share with you a model for spiritual transformation that comes out of Rev. Dr. Leanne Hadley’s work with trauma in children. I say “model” loosely because Dr. Hadley’s work isn’t a curriculum or a program. Dr. Hadley is the first to say that she didn’t invent anything, she just observed and codified it. (While I appreciate her humbleness, I’m reminded that “just” observing and codifying is what all good scientists do. Like Einstein “just observed and codified” relativity or Marie Curie “just observed and codified” radioactivity.) Hadley’s work, then, has been important for those of us interested in spiritual development because it’s a research based method for understanding an experience that’s remained rather mysterious, although good spiritual leaders have intuitively known or figured out this pattern.


In order for spiritual transformation to take place, people move through an opening phase, a discovery phase and then finally into an affirmation phase. 


  • Opening phase: introductory conversation, get to know you time or settling in time
  • Discovery phase: deep conversation, reflection and vulnerability with God and each other
  • Affirmation phase: accepting and affirming the work that happened, preparing to move back into “normal life,” blessing each other


As you can imagine, this model works in a variety of settings. The important thing isn’t the book your small group is using, or what materials the kids have. Many curriculums have already been following this model—that’s what made them so powerful. Godly Play works this way, for example. The Shine! curriculum we’ve been using in Children’s Worship works this way. As long as facilators are intentional about creating space and providing tools for people to transition through each stage, any specific curriculum or guideline can be a transformative experience.


Here are some examples of this pattern from around the church:


While I’ve found Hadley’s work to be both affirming helpful in planning group worship experiences, her original work was with one-on-one pastoral care with children and youth, which is something I’ve long been passionate about. In future posts, I’ll share a little bit about that looks and we’ll delve into a way of doing this at home.