The evangelical church is going through an identity crisis. It doesn’t know how to adapt to the fast-changing secular culture and at the same time remain faithful to its biblical mandate and moral authority.
Even the emerging churches are trying to define themselves theologically, missionally and culturally.
But the church does have a key role—a clear mandate to be a healing community in the midst of a broken world.
There are currently several problems for the church being the healing community it needs to be. Key issues include
- Feelings of isolation and insecurity:Why do pastors have a besieged mentality? Why do so many churches hate their pastors? Why do pastors have difficulty making friends? Is this related to the “pedestal syndrome?”
- Feelings of futility and helplessness:Church leaders don’t know how to handle the problems of pluralism, secularism, and wounded members.
- Feelings of uncertainty and anxiety:Evangelical churches and seminaries have lost their direction in their attempt to be relevant and successful in a time of change and uncertainty.
The net result: Many pastors feel overwhelmed, discouraged, trapped and burned out. The ministry is no longer exciting. Sermon preparation becomes painful. The attrition rate among clergy is alarmingly high.
A Clear and Compelling Vision
We need to ask God to grant us a clear and compelling vision—to move us forward with a clear sense of direction and confidence. Without vision, especially in a pluralistic, postmodern world, pastors perish.
First, the vision has to be clear. There should be no ambiguity, no ifs and buts, and no disconnect between our beliefs and actions.
Secondly, the vision has to be compelling. If the vision comes from God, it will stir our souls, transform our lives and move us forward, regardless of the circumstances.
Thirdly, it must be sustaining. It must enable pastors to survive repeated blows of insults and disappointments. A vision from God will also be compelling to the congregation because it resonates with them and speaks to their deepest spiritual and psychological needs.
Fourthly, it recaptures our first love for God, restores our passion for the ministry and reinforces our calling. That is how we overcome feelings of futility and anxiety.
Somewhere along the way, we may have lost our vision and lost our first love. But it is never too late to return to the fundamentals.
The Church as God Intended
When a local church is what it ought to be, and functions as God has intended, it is the best place on earth. It is the centre to minister the grace and love of God.
This is part of a larger vision for the church. That vision at my church is summed up in the mission statement “Growing disciples through community.” It is a simple statement that tells people who we are, what we do and how we do it. It represents a drastically different way of disciple making, and avoids the excesses of one-on-one shepherding.
We believe that a faith community serves five essential functions: healing, learning, serving, worshipping and praying (see Acts 2).
From this new vision, healing is not restricted to healing services or one-on-one counselling sessions. It is an ongoing process — whenever we extend love and “embrace” to others, we participate in the healing process, because love is the best medicine.
The full benefit of God’s grace can only be experienced in the community of saints as we minister to each other, and care for each other.
What is the Nature of Community?
Community is a fragile eco-system, because when there is a malfunctioning even in the weakest system, the entire system is adversely affected.
It is a delicate gift of grace, because no one really knows when and how a group of strangers come together and merge as a community. Something magical must have taken place.
Community, be it family, church, or school, is held together precariously by some invisible and intangible force, in spite of the conflicts. This something must be guarded jealously and carefully, because a careless hurting word can destroy it. One major task of the pastor is to foster and maintain the gift of community spirit.
Community is a way of life, because Christ calls us to share, serve, heal, work and worship together.
The Theology of a Healing Community
First, we acknowledge that the Trinitarian God is a community. God works through community, through the social institutions ordained by Him, namely, the church, family, and nation. Most of the spiritual blessings are mediated through the church rather than directly from God.
The ministry of healing is at the centre of divine atonement and Christ’s sacrificial death. The two sides of the cross are: Christ is wounded for us so that we may be healed; we are wounded for Christ so that others may be healed through us. Our hearts need to be broken by what breaks God’s heart. The ministry of healing is at the centre of the Gospels and the early churches. The Bible is full of references to healing. The Gospel is good news because it gives us hope that we can be made whole again.
The Theology of Holistic Healing
The Gospel is about healing for the whole person—spiritual, mental, emotional, social and physical. The healing is even extended to the nations (see Revelation 22:2) and the cosmos (see Romans 9:19-21).
Churches require healing because of human weaknesses. A church can become terminally ill and eventually die, if it does not seek divine healing.
“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me” (Revelation 3:20).
This verse has been mostly used in personal evangelism, but it is actually extended to churches, which are very successful in terms of attendance, buildings, and cash flow, but very poor spiritually.
Another thing to notice is that healing can be painful—it may involve surgery and destruction before there can be renewal and healing.
The Full Extent of Healing
Scripture speaks to the full scope of healing:
“He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted. The spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor” (Isaiah 61:1).
“He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour” (Luke 4:18).
“He called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness” (Matthew 10:1).
The Psychology of a Healing Community
We are created in God’s image; that’s why we are created for God and community. We are relational beings.
Henri Nouwen wrote, “We are always in search of a community that can offer us a sense of belonging.” When this need is not met, all kinds of psychological problems arise, such as alienation, anger, depression, and violence.
Our yearning for wholeness, happiness and significance cannot be met without being part of a community. The crumbling of social institutions creates a greater psychological need for the church to be a healing community.
Real healing occurs at the spiritual level. It means that all problems, whether physical or psychological, are related to spiritual issues. That’s why the church should regain its role as a major partner in the medical and mental health field.
Building a Healing Community: Margaret Rinck
Margaret Rinck’s 1992 article was reprinted as a Christianity Today classic in August 2000. Rinck reported that her church’s Teleios Ministry equips believers to offer help to the hurting through empathetic listening skills, combined with biblical teaching on relationships.
Her theology of failure emphasizes that human failures and problems are inevitable for Christians. This theology provides a basis for creating a safe and non-judgmental environment.
“To help people recover from sin and failure’s wounds, we need to create a ‘healing community,’ a place where it is acceptable to be broken, have problems, admit failure, and where help is expressed in concrete practical ways,” she wrote.
Building a Healing Community: A Broader Vision
It is a broader vision, because (a) it goes beyond adopting some skills from psychology, and (b) it advocates the development of the full redemptive potential of the church for healing.
The entire church needs to be a safe, trusting, and caring environment. Carl Rogers says that the counsellor creates a therapeutic relationship through unconditional acceptance (safe), positive regards (caring) and genuineness (trusting). All church members, especially leaders, need to be trained in Rogerian skills.
The ministry of grace is practiced through embrace, which involves intentional vulnerability, forgiveness and unconditional love.
Members need to explore new ways of coming together and joining together in ministry (e.g. through the Internet, community development initiatives, etc.)
The Role of the Pastor in Implementing the Vision
This vision of the church as a healing community casts a new light on the pastor, and introduces a fundamental shift in how we do ministry. There are four important roles for the pastor:
- Be an example, a model of a wounded healer made whole. You set the tone for the church by way of your personal example of being open, trusting, and caring. Pastor, heal thyself!
- Be a promoter of the new vision. You need to raise the awareness and consciousness of your congregation regarding the healing nature of the faith community through your preaching, planning and interactions with others.
- Be a developer of leaders. Train, delegate, and empower lay leaders. Give them opportunities to grow.
- Be a servant leader. Don’t stay on the pedestal. Don’t maintain a façade of being strong, self-reliant and independent.
A healing community is an ideal that is difficult to achieve. Success and failure largely depend on the pastor.
Only pastors are in a position to cultivate and maintain a “healing climate” through worship services, teaching, small groups, servant leadership, one-on-one counselling, and more importantly, through providing a safe, trusting and caring environment.
Only then can the church as a healing community minister the grace and truth of Jesus and in so doing move people from brokenness to wholeness. Such a church and will enrich our lives and contribute to a better world. The stakes are high. God has created us for community-building and grace-sharing with all hurting people.
Wong, P. T. P. (2008). Renewing the church as a healing community. Tyndale Connection, 14(2), 10-11.
Wong, P. T. P. (2009). Renewing the church as a healing community. Christianity.ca. Retrieved from https://www.christianity.ca/sslpage.aspx?pid=13462