I have been interested in pursuing ways to develop churches into healing/growth fellowships ever since I heard a famous Psychologist say that is what the early church did so well. After so many years of disappointment I wonder is I am the only person so inclined. Why are so few churches pursuing what made the early churches grow and impact the culture?
There are two primary aspects of a healing community. The first is called, grace and truth and the second, healing flow. Both marks point to the importance of our attitudes, for out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks. Thus, an attitude of grace and truth toward all needy men and women is the first essential of a healing cell.
In Alcoholics Anonymous, it is the attitudes of the sober members toward those who have not yet reached sobriety, is critical to their change. It is the attitude of the saints' toward sinners, the insiders' view of those still outside the fold; the elder brother's view of the prodigal who wants to come home but is too ashamed; it is the Pastor's view of those unable to help themselves. When those in the group who have been touched by God's grace extend it to others outside the group, that community is prepared to help and heal. When those who have been personally loved with an everlasting love show the same kind of unrestrained and exuberant selflessness to the undeserving, the community moves toward health. When people are accepted as they are, warts, struggles and sins intact, we can see the beginning of a family that will heal the broken hearted and set the captives free. This is the grace-applied part of a healing community.
Grace applied goes so far as to suggest that the only persons who deserve to enter the group fail the test of acceptability! Only alcoholics can become members of a group dedicated to sobriety. Even then, each member, sober or not, must professes to be an alcoholic. Only sinners may apply to become members of a church dedicated to saintliness. Anyone professing perfection should be turned away at the door. The church is not a country club that checks credentials, to make sure that the applicants are worthy of entry, but a hospital that looks for wounds to heal. Those who are certain of their purity are actually too sinful to be accepted, but those who are certain that their sin is far too bad to be forgiven get the red carpet treatment.
A Vigorous Grace and Love
There is a second and important aspect of entering the healing community. Along with an attitude that accepts people as they are, is an attitude and expectation that the wounded, sinful, powerless person will grow and change. The healing group ministers both grace and truth in such a vigorous fellowship that change, growth and healing are inevitable. A good hospital accepts even the sickest and most hopeless patients but is never satisfied to leave the patient that way. A healthy community of both grace and truth pulls members upward, toward the high call of Jesus Christ. Truth will be preached, love shown and grace extended so the community moves together as a developing, growing family. Grace without truth will not have the power to set us free. We must know the truth in order to seek righteousness. Yes, the truth can set us free, but it will kill our hope without a generous flow of God's grace to provide the oil of gladness for our wounds.
The other major aspect of a healing community is the active, interactive and dynamic release of God's healing flow. When His word, His love and His gifts are flowing with liberty in the midst of fellowship and worship, His healing will flow. When the whole body comes together, with its varied gifts, talents, skills, and experiences, His healing will flow from the group to the members and from the members to the group in an integrated whole that will set the Spirit free. St. Paul's comparison of the body and church says how the healing community was designed to work.
From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. Ephesians 4:16 (NIV)
When my body works, as it should, I pay no attention to its parts. My individual body members are merged with other members to the extent that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. However, when one of my members is not working properly, it can cause my entire body to become unbalanced. When the cell group is working together in a healthy manner, the individuals within it are pulled toward health. Even the painful members of the body are forgotten when we are caught up in an intense emotional activity. As one athlete said, "It does not hurt when I win." When a group of Christians is communicating deeply, worshiping the Lord with freedom and reaching out to those who need Christ, the hurts and pains of any one individual is less disabling to the whole group. However, when the group is not functioning well, even a minor problem seems important. This is why cell members get most of their healing and growth needs met within a group that is flowing in the Spirit.
A key to being a healing community is the way the whole team ministers to each other. The broken person receives healing from all the members of the cell, not just the leaders or the specialized counselors. Each person, no matter how distressed, can share a hymn, a song a word or a scripture.
What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church. 1 Co 14:26
Every broken member needs to be a part of the healing flow. The broken member who receives God's touch through the group is expected to become a healing agent. Every current helper is a formerly broken, immature member of the cell.
Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things-- and the things that are not-- to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God-- that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: "Let him who boasts boast in the Lord." 1 Cor 1:26-31
When a new member first enters the cell, she may be so focused upon her own needs that it is impossible to consider being a vessel of healing. However, that will not last very long because God often chooses hurting cell members as helpers in order to show it is He, not we, who is the healer. This fact is evidence of another difference between a Christian community and the medical model. Valerie may minister to me one meeting, and the next I minister to her. We are not filling some kind of a rigid role based upon credentials, education and position, but are allowing the Spirit of God to flow through us to others. Pastors need the prayer, advice and wisdom of members, and members need the teaching and leadership of pastors.
Cell members can experience the healing flow of Jesus in three different kinds of encounters within the cell. As we open ourselves to Him in Welcome, Worship, Word, Work and Witness, we encounter the Holy Spirit and enjoy His presence. Truth encounters: The scripture convicts, heals and delivers. The word of God touches hearts and reveals the hidden things of the Spirit. The truth from research on medical and psychological issues can bring healing. The unveiled reality of God's revelation in a Rhema shows us what to do and how to do it. As we worship in Spirit and truth, shalom proceeds. Both the times of the Word and Worship are restorative to the soul and body.
Take the... the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Ephesians 6:17
Love encounters: The emotional trauma that comes from painful family relationships can not be repaired without establishing safe places for human contact. Every child is born fearing rejection and abandonment. Dysfunctional families leave scars of abandonment within the souls of every family member. Thankfully, the fruit of the Spirit, when experienced in the cell group as it flows in the Spirit brings substantial healing and restoration to the wounded soul.
So few of us have ever experienced real love and warm acceptance, that when it occurs, the effects are startling, even overwhelming. All of the W's of cell life can contribute to the love encounter. The Welcome is critical because it sets the stage for acceptance and safety. Worship models and powerfully communicates the gracious acceptance and love of God. The Word brings healing when released in a caring, interactive manner. Work time allows us to minister together, interact with care and pray for each other with sensitivity and acceptance.
And now, these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. 1 Cor 13:13
Power encounters: Most of us think of the gifts and power of God when we discuss the healing ministry or a healing community. We are seeing a wonderful revival of the power gifts in churches around the world, and testimonies of God's miraculous works are abounding. Many churches are reaching out to the poor and needy, including drug addicts, alcoholics and those with sexual compulsions. Most, if not all, who are in recovery, have had a personal, power encounter with God. Only the power of God can set people free from demons, diseases and other forms of bondage, so each cell must learn how to pray with power and faith.
See Sweeten Life Systems for materials on how to develop your church into a healing community.