Perspective Groups

Abstract

This article will discuss a suggestion which is not a new idea but a discovery of an old idea. I am calling these groups Perspective Groups but they have gone by various names throughout Church history (fellowship, Banden, Bands, etc.). The importance as I see it is not the discovery of these groups as many know of them but the idea that they may work as preemptive care in the church which could lead to decreasing the need for deeper counseling.

Article

In C.S. Lewis’s classic book The Screwtape Letters, Screwtape writes to Wormwood and directs him in ways to stop the client from listening to and following God. Most of the tactics involve diversion, thought blocking or thought allowing with one line, in particular, standing out where Screwtape says “there is nothing like suspense and anxiety for barricading a human’s mind.”[1] The issue it would seem is perceptive because if a person’s focus is on self-worries they cannot be on God at the same time. In speaking with Pastor Scott Crawford, he echoed this by saying that about ninety percent of what takes place during his counseling sessions is perceptive change. I am greatly indebted to Scott for providing me with some ideas that acted as springboard for this article. Both from a specific conversation about counseling and from his constant reiteration of what it means to be a New Testament church.

Perspective is a question that must be addressed during counseling in general but especially in Christian counseling. This is true of both pastoral and lay counseling. Scott added that the method he employs is based on perspective and specifically looks at where is God in this situation, where are they, how is God moving, and what would it look like to give God this situation. All of these questions together help to change the way the person seeking counsel looks at the situation.

It has been suggested that one of the greatest unmet needs in the church is more regular counsel. This is not to say that everyone is constantly going through a dark night of the soul but that often people need someone else to talk to because their perspectives are off. Perspectives can be off for a variety of reasons yet a primary reason is that man lives in a sinful and fallen world that taints the way life is viewed. What generally happens is that the focus is adjusted a little day by day and without godly counsel, one can go along and not realize that they are off. It is in that need that I see an opportunity for incorporating or adding lay counseling.

Most churches have some form of a pastoral care team but they are mostly dedicated to hospital visits and prayer needs. These are great needs but regular counsel could be a preventive measure in the church much like taking a supplement is to one’s health. By regular counsel I mean either believers gathering together for a time of encouragement and worship with the focus being on realigning their sights on Christ by discussing their current life situations or possibly by individuals being raised up to do this on a one on one basis, the former will be presented here. While this sound like a small group it is different because as with anything else intent determines the road you travel and the sights you see.

Looking back at the bands in the early Methodist movement and even its precursor the Banden groups of the Moravian church, there is a common theme of constant lay fellowship and confession. While these confessions were primarily focused on confessing sins to one another they do provide an interesting case study in what happens when lay people bear their souls to one another. What can be seen in sum is numerical growth occurred the church as a whole but more importantly to this topic in the rise of Christ-like living by the members of those early movements.

For the Banden of the Moravians the growth and transformation of the members is partly attributed to the “degree of intimacy and openness that they facilitated.”[2] These members who were lay people of the Anglican church “held a mirror up to one another’s lives” which allowed them to counsel one another regularly.[3] As mentioned, while these groups spent a good deal of time confessing sins to another what was more important is that they were able “to avoid self-deception and to search their own hearts more fully.”[4] In essence, they confessed not only their sins but their hearts and because of this, they were true and deep spiritual friends to one another.

It is in the context of continually realigning focus on Christ that real preventative care can take place. If believers are coming together regularly to share their burdens and others are coming alongside them with biblical help, then readjusting perspectives is that that much easier. Anyone who has visited a chiropractor can attest that the first couple of visits are difficult and not entirely rewarding but it is after multiple visits or routine care that one feels the benefits of such service. An individual is no longer needing major realignment to the spine but small adjustments to keep it aligned. The individuals of a perspective group all become active ministers of reconciliation and as Todd Hardin says in discussing the role of lay councilors they are able to “serve as Spirit-filled administrators of God’s grace” which benefits those receiving counsel and those giving it.[5] This, of course, assumes that all attending such a group are mature Christ following individuals which while possible is unlikely. What is more likely is that there will be some who are trained to be spiritual friends who can then facilitate the preventative care groups.

James Emerson who looked at medical models and compared them to ministry suggests that lay counselors are like first responders or support aids. First responders and aids are not trained to handle complex medical diagnosis or setup long term care plans. Instead, these first responders, depending on the field, act as either intermediaries or companions in a time of need. These ministers should not think the full burden of complete care rests on their shoulders but instead when needed “referral is made to the professional.”[6] The training that is required is less certificate drive than medical fields and more “diligent study, deep reflection, and personalized application of Scripture.”[7] Training plans are different because it requires an understanding of the relationship believers have with their God.

Returning to the early Methodist movement, John Wesley and his friends at Oxford used “probing spiritual conversations” which was one specific mark of the early movement.[8] Moreover, “for Wesley, the bands were essential” because they were how the individual was able to pursue holiness which is another way of saying to be more like Christ.[9] This becoming more like Christ is the goal of all Christians and should be a goal in lay counseling. History, as well as the Bible, seem to suggest that this becoming more like Christ takes place in the fellowship of believers supporting one another and devoting themselves to God (Acts 2:42; Col 3:16; Jn 13:34).

There are of course many challenges to spiritual care and as Rick Marrs points out spiritual friends “face many new challenges from this secularizing culture.”[10] Because the church fights against the elemental forces of this world (Col 2:20) there will always be push back against Christians who might want to join such a preventive care group and this makes the commitment that much harder. This again shows the importance of training for leaders so they know how to comfort those who might receive a rebuke from the world for willingly sharing their soul regularly (1 Jn 4:4-5).

Part of the training that is needed is to help leaders understand that they should not over spiritualize or minimize situations. There are times and situations when perspective change is not what is required but medical intervention. If a simple physical situation is looked at as an example sometimes a child falls and hurts their arm. There is no damage but they need comfort that all is well. Other times a child might fall and break their arm. This still requires comfort but it also requires trained medical intervention. The human mind is not all that different as sometimes all that is required is comfort and other times what is required is comfort and medical intervention so Christians should be “open to… treatments for mental disorders.”[11]

In proposing a structure for these preventative care groups, a study of traditional small groups suggests “8-15 people, typically of the same stage of life.”[12] However, there are a few reasons why using the methods of a traditional small group might not work. As previously mentioned intent determines the road traveled and the intent here is not fellowship and instruction but preventative care through perspective change. If participants are going to receive perspective change then limiting the group to individuals of the same stage of life could be prohibitive. What is not needed is a group of people who share the same struggles but people who share the same struggles and people who have overcome such struggles. That being said the number of eight to fifteen seems to be reasonable as any more than fifteen can lead to having “individuals benefit from a collective good” but not add value to the group.[13] Frequency is another item that must be examined but this should be left up to the group to decide if they meet weekly, bi-weekly or even monthly. Meeting too regularly may inhibit the bearing of one’s soul but too infrequently may cause others to stray. Wisdom and discernment for the group’s well-being and spiritual growth are needed here.

It should not be assumed that these groups would have widespread attendance throughout the church. After all, not all members of a church attend a normal small group and the previously mentioned study of small groups found that megachurches have, roughly, a sixty percent attendance in small groups.[14] If not all members participate in a standard small group then it should not be expected all members would participate in a perceptive group. That being said, what is expected is that there are those who would attend and more importantly that would benefit from such a group.

Closing

In closing and returning to Lewis’s book, Screwtape writes to Wormwood and says that the best method of keeping one away from God is to “turn their gaze away from Him [and] towards themselves.”[15] Life is busy and pain is real there should be no question about this, however, to take the time to reflect and readjust the perceptive towards Christ is of utmost importance. By taking the time to change focus and realign our sights on God we are able to prevent many problems and avoid unnecessary treatment later on. Will perspective groups accomplish this task? I am inclined by history and the Bible to think they will but only if the intent is for the individuals to see Christ in their life more clearly.

 

[1] C.S. Lewis, “The Screwtape Letters: and Screwtape proposes a toast” (New York: HarperOne, 2013), 44 accessed March 23, 2017, Axis 360.

[2] Kevin M. Watson, “Forerunners of the Early Methodist Band Meeting” Methodist Review 2, (January 2010): 12, accessed March 15, 2017, EBSCOhost.

[3] Ibid., 13

[4] Ibid.

[5] Todd Hardin, “Becoming a More “Biblical” Counselor: A Guide for Lay Counseling Students.” Puritan Reformed Journal 7, no. 1 (January 2005): 197, accessed March 21, 2017, Religion and Philosophy Collection, EBSCOhost.

[6] James G. Emerson, “Lay pastoral counseling: thoughts and response.” The Journal Of Pastoral Care 40, no. 4 (December 1986): 305, accessed March 21, 2017, ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost.

[7] Hardin, 196

[8] Watson, 20

[9] Ibid., 31

[10] Rick R. Marrs, “Christian counseling: the past generation and the state of the field,” Concordia Journal 40, no. 1 (January 2014): 35, accessed March 23, 2017, ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials EBSCOhost.

[11] Ibid., 33

[12]Kevin D. Dougherty, and Andrew L. Whitehead, “A Place to Belong: Small Group Involvement

in Religious Congregations,” Sociology Of Religion 72, no. 1 (March 2011): 99, accessed March 23, 2017, Sociological Collection EBSCOhost.

[13] Dougherty and Whitehead, 93.

[14] An exception would be Yoido Full Gospel Church in Seoul, South Korea which is claims to be a cell group church with nearly all 800,000 members participating in small group. Ibid, 96.

[15] Lewis, 39

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