The Church as a Support Group
With the advent of managed care, a large part of our population receives little or no care, particularly for emotional or relationship conflicts. Comforting Hope seeks to turn this tide by helping churches become support systems unto themselves.
Our world is experiencing a terrible lack of loving openness, resulting in emotional distress, disability and diminished spiritual capacity. Confession and repentance brings openness and love. Fear resists such love, so that confession and repentance are publicly uncommon. "There is no fear in love" (I John 4:18). Christian families should resonate with loving acceptance, constantly encouraging growth in Christ. As an extension of the home, churches should be primary places for healing.
Such "Christ-centered community" was the early New Testament church experience." Believers in Jerusalem shared all things in common because their hearts were bound together (Acts 4:32-35). Their common goal was simply to share the wonderful news of salvation through Christ. The loving outpouring of His Spirit and the fire of trials and difficulties, compassionately discipline all who would share Christ with others. Confession, repentance, forgiveness and walking by faith constantly generate and regenerate salvation and sanctification. Where we do not confess our hearts to be as deceitful and desperately wicked as they are (Jeremiah 17:9), we lack the zeal of repentance and the fellowship of Christ (Revelations 3:19-20). We may believe in Him, but lack the walk with Him and the fellowship of love found only in Him.
Jamie Gavin, PhD, MPH, Licensed Mental Health Counselor, is available to work with churches that desire to become support systems unto themselves. Jamie would like to spend at least a couple weeks at a time mentoring a church. Pastors and church leaders/teachers will need to fully participate. Contact him at gavijamie@ gmail.com
In the past, our volunteers have concentrated on cultivating 12-step support groups in churches. We have been moderately successful. (Sid Nash has a wonderful blog dedicated to 12-step.) 12-step ministries as a part of a church that is a healing support system unto itself can be most helpful. Having 12-step ministries in a church that cultivates facades and whose members keep their concerns to themselves, at worst serves to stigmatize and exclude from the larger fellowship those who attend.
At best, 12-step support groups for parishioners provide a powerful and much needed ministry. But, it has been our experience that they will not flourish without the ongoing presence of pastoral staff. Otherwise the congregation seems to consider that such groups are only for those people" and not for themselves. And "those people" usually do not have enough energy and emotional resources to pursue and maintain ongoing spiritual support groups. Pastoral staff should use reserve and discretion as to what they disclose, but their presence is needed for such groups to flourish.
Forgiveness is not Amnesia
I have heard the songs and sermons that note that God does not remember the last time we sinned. The focus of the message is to encourage us not to punish ourselves or wallow in guilt. This focus is good, but the delivery is misdirected. God does not suffer amnesia, nor do we. God does not encourage amnesia. This is a deeply pathological emotional condition. It is characteristic of Laodicea.
God does not hold our sins against us. It is a worthy thing to admit and confess our sinfulness and Christ's righteousness. We are not held guilty. We are free from sin. We look to Christ and walk by faith in righteousness. We forgive as we have been forgiven. We love as we have received His love. But if we have tried to forget what we have been forgiven, we have little to share with those who still are convicted of their condition and who have not claimed Christ. We who remain shackled by our religion that has been gutted of the continual (daily) sacrifice disconnect with those we most need to minister. Jesus saves all the time. Why are we lacking? Why are our churches drying up?
It is time for the daily to be restored (see Daniel 8:11-13, 26). Those whose bodies littered the wilderness did not enter in to the promised land, because they lacked faith in Him who called them to separate from the world. The commandments lead to the sanctuary. The commandments never could heal. They are God's standard. They were meant to convict. They are holy, just and true. We are not. The sanctuary is where we receive the blood of Christ. As we are forgiven and learn to walk by faith, the commandments are fulfilled in us. What we are humanly incapable of, God has gifted us through his sacrifice in our behalf.
This also is the message of the Most Holy Place, where we enter by the blood of Christ. The cross is where Jesus came to meet with me. That is why I am crucified WITH Christ. I am no longer alone. Fear has no more hold on me because He is with me. God please help me to reside at the cross!
It seems, I want to go anywhere but there. It seems so fearful to me. I want to run away from my deepest pain and sorrow and grief. I don't want to feel them anymore. So my running only causes me to engage in futility as I am more enmeshed in that which I seek to escape. Who can deliver me from the bondage of this death. I thank God through Jesus Christ my Lord. So with the body I serve the law of sin and death, and with the mind the law of love of the Spirit. There is therefore no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus; who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit (Romans 7 & 8). Praise His holy name!
Our generation has learned to deny its emotions and our sinful history in order to claim righteousness by works of denial. Laodiceanism is the result (Revelations 3:14+). We do not confess our hearts. We imagine that they have been changed. Rebirth is not erasure and disposal of the old nature. It is confession and crucifixion of the old nature as we walk in newness of life in Christ. We walk by faith, the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Somehow, I believe this needs to be shouted out loud and the need is immanent.
When Christ finishes cleansing the sanctuary of His church's heart, and His witness is complete through us (John 17:23), He will return. This understanding, if correct, is critical for dispersion amongst all who wish to join with Jesus. If I am lost on a tangent, I am OK with learning that. My faith is built on Christ and not myself. But, if I am correct in this, then I must focus on walking in this relationship and sharing it in as digestible a manner as possible, as quickly as possible. For this, I will need your help.