Creating an Environment for Healing and Growth in Churches

The Church is made up of all true believers, both Jew and gentile. The Church is an organism in which all believers have a living union in Christ.

Local churches which are communities of believers in local assemblies and various localities of single groups comprise the Church. Examples of local churches in the New Testament were "the church of God in Corinth" (1 Corinthians 1:2), "saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi" (Philippians 1:1), and "the church of the Thessalonians" (1 Thessalonians 1:1). "While local churches may develop extensive organizations, the work of God is done primarily through the church as an organism, directed by Christ the Head in keeping with the capacities of each individual member" (Chafer and Walvoord, 277).

Because an addictive society is dysfunctional and perpetual, ministry in this type of society is difficult. We need help in seeing beyond our own paradigms particularly since they are so enforced in our society. A lady recently told me of the bondage in her family that had been there for years. "My husband and I have faithfully served the Lord for many years, but there was something that was not right. It has only been in the last year that I saw my baggage clearly. Through my relationship with Christ and others in a small group, I was set free."

A gentleman from a small midwestern city stated, "This group has been an answer to prayer. I have grown spiritually more in ten weeks through this group than I have in 20 years." A pastor reported the power of Christ-centered, one another relationships in his church.

I have seen several new decisions for Jesus Christ, real healings in all types of situations, and many marriages brought back together in the name of Jesus. I have found that the best thrill of all is to see God healing marriages which were heading for divorce . . . . To see the whole family in church now all praising God is the beautiful fruits of the active Word of God applied through [our small groups].
Looking at the various aspects of this society--the breakdown of family and community, life-controlling problems, and hand-me-downs--we see they are also having an influence on the Church. A change from patterns of dysfunction to models of healthy and functional relationships is not only the right change, but it is also overdue.

Carl F. George in his book, The Coming Church Revolution, talks about the changing church and how to be prepared. He discusses the meta-church which "means a church in transition, a church that is turning, a church that is becoming" (27). He says "people are dropping out of churches because they're not being assimilated into the life (or relationships) of the church" (32). It is time to review our models and patterns of how we "do church." With Christ as our foundation and the Bible our road map, the paradigm shift will require more attention to relationship-based ministry. To go a step further, it must become our model because it was the pattern of the New Testament Church. "They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people" (Acts 2:46-47).

I am thankful for the seminary training I received, but it was inferior to the training in ministry I received from my father. I have learned much from college courses in business administration as it relates to ministry; nevertheless, it does not compare with what I learned through a relationship with the late Hugh O. Maclellan, Sr., who was chairman of the Maclellan Foundation. He taught by example. His emphasis was on building relationships--friendships. His interpretation of fund raising was friend raising.

Many times we tried to honor Mr. Maclellan for his achievements in touching so many people; however, he always preferred to remain behind the scenes and give the credit to the schools, principals, teachers, students, churches, and pastors. I spoke with him every six to seven weeks about ministry projects. His first question was not "How are you doing?" but "How are we doing?" He truly knew what it meant to be God's fellow workers.

My greatest remembrance of Mr. Maclellan goes back to 1981 when we were discussing the start-up of Project 714 and its possible expansion. I discussed with him the many risk factors involved in expanding a school-based drug prevention/intervention program. He looked at me with his usual gentleness and asked this question with firm conviction, "What are the risks if we choose to do nothing?"

As we move into the third millennium, we must focus on a return to our foundations and our relationship with Christ and with others. Most evangelical churches do a good job of emphasizing a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. However, we often lack the needed focus on the community of believers as it relates to our relationship with God.

What are some of the more important "nuts and bolts" of becoming a relationship-based church? We discussed in Chapter 5 the three primary resources used by God, and one of those resources is the people of God. In this chapter we will focus on some of the important aspects of developing the people of God into a relationship-based body of believers.


The Message of the Cross
First, the message of the cross has not changed. Paul states, "I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile" (Romans 1:16). The message of the cross need not be compromised to reach people in this society. "God does not alter truth to fit the spirit of the times or the thinking of a contemporary generation. He has not done so in the past; he does not do so today. Methods can be altered but the basic content of the message cannot" (Collins and Clinton, 85).

William Bennett reports in The Index of Leading Cultural Indicators that "biblically conservative denominations and other conservative Christian fellowships are among the fastest growing churches" (116). This book of index indicators also shows that some mainline Protestant denominations have lost as many as one-third of their membership since 1965. A first look at these statistics indicates that the gospel of tolerance and compromise is not working. Once the compromise begins, there seems to be no end to the delusion of mankind.

Dealing with the problems in the church at Corinth, Paul emphasized the message of the cross. Dysfunctional relationships and life-controlling problems were common, but Paul chose this message, "For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God" (1 Corinthians 1:18).


Creating an Environment for Healing and Growth

To create such an environment, we first must picture the church as a mission field. Kennon L. Callahan in Effective Church Leadership says, "The day of the professional minister is over. The day of the missionary pastor has come" (3). He further states, "We are called to share the Kingdom, not to grow churches. The fundamental category for this time is mission, not church. What we need is mission growth" (19). Callahan's insight is very important in light of an addictive society. It is easy to get caught up in "greasing the religious wheels" and lose sight of our mission.

For a local church to be effective in helping the hurting, it must provide an environment for healing and growth. This involves love, acceptance, and forgiveness.

An environment of caring and sharing should not be confused with giving a license to sin. Love and acceptance should be addressed in the light of firm love versus sloppy agape. This environment will encourage people to attend a loving church because they feel accepted. Paul describes this love and acceptance: "We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well . . . encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory" (1 Thessalonians 2:8,12). A loving and accepting church is one that is winning the right to be heard in its community. This New Testament church will help those who are struggling behind their Sunday smiles.


Utilizing Laypeople

A person does not need to have a Ph.D. to be a people helper. The laity can provide a valuable service in caring for the personal needs of the local church. It is impossible for the ministerial staff to deal with the hurts and staggering needs that most congregations are facing. Actually, this work should be the responsibility of the local body of Christ. This is truly a significant way to release the church to ministry.

Indeed, there would be more laypeople involved in helping those with life-controlling problems, but they feel inadequate. Many churches have been taught that this kind of help should be limited to professionals. L. Rebecca Propst in her work on paraprofessional therapy says:
Anthony and Carkhuff (1977) define the paraprofessional, or "functional professional" (the term they prefer), as that individual who, lacking formal credentials, performs those functions usually reserved for credentialed mental health professionals . . . various church workers would also fall in the category. . . . A review of the research in 1968 found that paraprofessionals could be trained to effect significant constructive changes in the clients they worked with (Benner, 88-89).
Although there is very little recent research available regarding their effectiveness, there has been an increase in the number of "functional professionals." I have observed on numerous occasions the effectiveness of laypeople in the areas of encouragement and exhortation. Their effectiveness has not always depended on their degree of education. Those who were most effective exhibited spiritual maturity, emotional stability, knew their limitations, and were blessed with Bible-based common sense.

It is true that some people are drawn to counseling-type ministries because of their own problems. Others may use the helping ministries as a way to build their own egos. "Regrettably, many who are drawn to a counseling role are insecure people intrigued by the opportunity for instant intimacy . . . others find the title 'counselor' personally fulfilling" (Crabb, 163). Caution should be taken to channel enthusiasm into proper directions. Paul provides solid direction in 1 Thessalonians 5:14: "And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone."

All of us need each other in the community of believers. We need the ministry of each other to help in the development of our walk with God and in understanding the principles of God's Word. The local church is designed to be an interdependent community accountable to the lordship of Jesus Christ. Paul describes the Church in 1 Corinthians 12:12: "The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body."

Helping people with life-controlling problems should be one of the main focuses of lay ministries. It must be remembered that Jesus is the healer (see Acts 9:32-35). No minister or layperson can bring healing in the life of a person who is encumbered with a stronghold; however, healing can occur where there is a proper environment of love and acceptance. The ultimate therapist is the Holy Spirit. A church with laypeople involved in helping ministries can be compared to a garden that has been prepared for the seed to grow. The Lord can use laypeople to clear the wound for the Great Physician to heal the brokenhearted.

"One another" relationships cannot be developed without utilizing laypeople. Dr. Mike Chapman, pastor of Lee Highway Church of God in Chattanooga, Tennessee, says that to view a church flow-chart properly, it should be turned upside down. Carl George says:
Show me a pastor-centered large church, and we'll find a very tired staff of clergy. Show me a lay-powered, simply organized large church, where the clergy are not completely exhausted because they're doing too much, and I will show you a church that will not stop growing because it will be able to take good care of people as God calls them to new life through it (35).

20-60-20 Ratio
Most churches can be described by what I call the 20-60-20 ratio. Generally speaking, about 20 percent of the people in the local church do most of the work. They are usually the faithful supporters and the ones on whom the pastor can count. Their lives are usually reflected by commitment to God and their church.

The bottom 20 percent are those in the church who are openly struggling with life-controlling issues of substances, behavior, and/or relationships. Most of the time, people are aware of their struggles. Most recovery-type ministries are geared toward this group of people often ignoring the rest of the congregation as though they do not have problems.

The 60 percent is the group in the middle. This group struggles from time to time, but their problems stay hidden and, at least outwardly, they seem to have their lives together. This part of the church is on a continuum from the top 20 percent to the bottom 20 percent. Many in the bottom 20 percent in the past were a part of the 60 percent.

The Apostle Paul says, "Remember that some men's sins are obvious, and are equally obvious bringing them into judgment. The sins of other men are not apparent, but are dogging them, nevertheless under the surface. Similarly some virtues are plain to see, while others, though not at all conspicuous, will eventually become known" (1 Timothy 5:24-25 Philips). These verses present a picture of the 20-60-20 ratio. In the bottom 20 percent, the "sins are obvious" as the problems are out in the open. Life-controlling problems are directing their lives, "bringing them to judgment," by pointing the way for them.

Some in the top 20 percent and many in the 60 percent have problems that "are not apparent, but are dogging them, nevertheless under the surface." 1 Timothy 5:25 uses the comparison of good deeds to show that those under-the-surface sins "will eventually become known." Although these verses can be interpreted to refer to the sins and good deeds to be revealed when we are judged by God, the principles are applicable now. If destructive behaviors that dog people under the surface are not dealt with, they will become obvious.

Although well-meaning and caring, recovery groups that segregate people with "like problems" can create a "those kinds of people" mentality in the church. People in the top 20 percent or 60 percent are not likely to be a part of a labeled group even though issues which have not surfaced are dogging them. They do not want to be identified with the bottom 20 percent (co-dependents, alcoholics, sex addicts, etc.), so the problems continue to grow. There are some in the top 20 percent who have a child or spouse in the bottom 20 percent but lack an understanding of how to help them and often become a part of the problem.

So, what can we do? We develop relationship-based ministry for the whole church. An approach is discussed in Chapter 13. We develop sermons that show people practical ways to live a free life in Christ. Our Sunday school classes focus on building relationships through God's Word instead of a lecture every week.

We develop small groups that focus on felt needs and friend-to-friend evangelism. The recovery groups that seem to have no goals or end and discuss the same old problems every week should be integrated back into the broader body of believers as soon as possible. When we segregate people by problems, an isolation of understanding is the result. Special needs groups will be necessary, but we will not leave them there to stay. We will help them grow in Christ and move from the "special needs" group to other relationship-based ministry.

Relationship-based ministry in small groups is more than sharing over a cup of coffee. Ministry in an addictive society calls for bonding and friendships that go beyond "plastic" and surface talk. People will know immediately if they are free to share in a group or if they are out of place.

Gary was involved in a church where he felt accepted even though he had a prison record and did not dress according to the latest fashion. This church is a multicultural congregation that spans age, race, and economic problems. Gary says, "I married and after a while ran into some real emotional, financial, and spiritual problems." He also states that he broke his marriage vows and started drinking constantly to escape his problems.

After church discipline, Gary was asked to join a small group. Speaking of his experience in the group, Gary said, "Nobody looked down their nose at me because of my problems, but at the same time nobody in the group condoned my sins. I began to look forward to the meetings."

Later, Gary was transferred by his employer to another city. He found he had difficulty fitting in at his new church because the approach was so different than his former church. Gary explains:
The home fellowship groups in most churches are good, but they are different from [my former church] groups. If I share some struggles in a home fellowship like I could in [my former group], I feel out of place. In some types of groups, people will not share their problems, and if they share a problem, they become the focus of the group real quick. People can deal with being uncomfortable only so long until they begin to look for a place where they feel accepted.

The Real Work of the Church

William Raspberry of the Washington Post writers group speaking at the annual council of the Episcopal Church in Mississippi issued a challenge for the church to play to its strength. He compared the church to a 7-foot basketball player who prefers to shoot from 15 or 20 feet from the basket or to bring the ball down to his chest which takes away his height advantage.

Speaking about social issues such as feeding the hungry and housing the homeless, he said the church that neglects the spiritual and moral aspects of man is not playing to its strength. In doing so, we are much like the 7-footer who is not playing to his strengths--a big man playing small, as coaches say. This writer from an obviously secular newspaper states:
Doesn't the neglect of the spiritual at least help explain the persistence not just of homelessness but also teen pregnancy, substance abuse, school failure and the whole range of problems that we tend to see as stemming primarily from bad economics or racism? Shouldn't organized religion take the lead in doing what the rest of us fear to try? (Raspberry, A6).
In the same article, Raspberry quotes Robert L. Woodson, Sr., head of the national center for Neighborhood Enterprise:
We have been looking for cures in all the wrong places. We don't have a crisis in recreation, or social services, or consumer capacity. Certainly our children need these things, and need jobs too. But these things have no redemptive quality, and what our young people need above all is to be redeemed (A6)
There is a difference between the real work of the church and doing church work. While doing church work, it is easy to get caught in "oiling the church machinery" and forget the real work of the church.
Church work involves its programs, organizations, corporate plans, etc. The work of the church involves what the members of the church are doing between Sundays--business, industry, the professions, education, labor, agriculture, sales, consulting, etc. (Halverson, June 22, 1994, 1).
Making the shift from dysfunctional to functional requires a no-compromise position toward the cross of Jesus Christ. Whatever method is used to reach an addictive society, the foundation must be the words of the Apostle Paul, "I am not ashamed of the gospel" (Romans 1:6). People in this society have turned inward for answers to life's problems to find only emptiness. Jesus Christ is the only foundation which provides an environment for healing and growth. "For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ" (1 Corinthians 3:11).

E-mail, on-line, the worldwide web, virtual reality, the information highway, and "alternative-you-name-it" are common terms as we move into the third millennium. Cyberspace cannot take the place of building one another relationships and character. Over 20 years ago, I heard Billy Graham make a statement at First Baptist Church in Jackson, Mississippi, I will never forget. Speaking to an audience of pastors and other church leaders, he said on a scale of 1 to 10, you may have the charisma of a 10, the communication skills of a 9, the biblical knowledge of a 9, and the intelligence of a 10. However, if your character is a 3, your ministry will always gravitate to the level of your character.

More advanced technology will never take the place of building a relationship with Jesus Christ and others. On this foundation we build character. Peter says, "As you come to him, the living Stone--rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him--you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 2:4-5).


Material from Understanding the Times and Knowing What to Do
Copyright © 1991, 1997 by Turning Point Ministries
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