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How Healing Takes Place in the Small Group

by Joel Comiskey

Spring 2004

CNN recently aired a TV documentary on voodoo’s popularity in the United States . The program revealed that voodoo gatherings and literature are increasingly popular in North America . It mainly highlighted the search of a white cancer-ridden female who started attending a voodoo séance to experience healing, after overcoming many personal inhibitions to attend. CNN not only explained her experience but also gave testimonies of supernatural healing through voodoo that has helped generate excitement throughout North America . Voodoo, however, is only one of the many sects that promote healing to the American masses. New Age philosophy, eastern religions, and various forms of witchcraft offer similar healing remedies.

Jesus, the God-man, needs to be rediscovered among the pre-Christian power seekers today. He came to this earth with a clear message of God’s healing power and the good news of salvation. The all-powerful ruler of the universe wants to extend His healing hand today.

Physical Healing

While on earth, Jesus was always willing to heal. Mattthew 8:1-3 talks about Christ’s response to the leper who said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” Jesus healed the man saying, “I am willing.” Just a few verses later when approached by a centurion to heal his servant, Jesus said, “I will go and heal him” (Matthew 8:7). God’s healing power is available for all of His children--not just for a chosen few. I believe that God wants to make our lives better both physically and spiritually.

My grandmother, Martha Nelson, was the first one in my immediate family to receive Jesus-at the age of seventy-four years old. After being converted from Christian Science to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, she began attending Kathryn Kuhlman conferences in Los Angeles that gave her a first-hand appreciation for the supernatural power of God working through miracles and healing. Her faith in a miraculous God had a major impact on my immediate family, especially on my own life.

When God’s power is demonstrated through healing, God receives the glory, people are emboldened to tell the good news to their friends, and Christ’s Kingdom is extended.

On December 09, 2002 , John suffered a stroke which left his face deformed and the right side of his mouth completely twisted. When the members of his cell found out, they immediately visited him in the hospital and prayed fervently that God would heal him. As they prayed, John’s mouth returned to normal right in front of them. God’s power encouraged John to dedicate himself to the Lord’s service. Many were encouraged to follow Jesus because of Christ’s manifest healing power toward John.

The small group members responded to John’s needs and took it upon themselves to pray for healing, following the advice of James 5:16, “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” Prayer for the sick, according to James, is a one-another ministry. Rather than relying on the prayers of an anointed miracle worker, Christians are instructed to pray for one another. The context of the book of James, moreover, is a first century house church meeting--not a massive miracle service in a large auditorium.

The healing process starts in the group when the leader asks members to freely share their afflictions and physical needs. Afterwards, the leader might ask all group members to stretch out their hands toward the afflicted person while the leader prays a healing prayer. Another option is to ask those nearby the person to lay their hands on him or her while the leader prays for God’s miraculous touch.

Some leaders might ask all group members to gather around the sick person while two or three pray for physical healing. It’s best to conclude each prayer for healing in Jesus Name, since Jesus says in John 14:13-14, “And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.”

The phrase variety is the spice of life applies well to small group ministry. Small group leaders are wise to vary their prayer methods. One week the leader might personally lay hands on the sick while everyone extends their hands. Another week the leader might ask various members to pray over the sick person.

Inner Healing

It doesn’t take long before noticing that people are outwardly suffering the symptoms of inner wounds. Proverbs 15:13 says, “A happy heart makes the face cheerful, but heartache crushes the spirit.” The crushed spirit that characterizes so many in the U.S. is the result of childhood abuse, divorced parents, unforgiveness, resentment, destructive habits of a parent, rejection, depression, guilt, and various types of fear.

Vern, a pastor in San Diego , CA who had been implementing small group ministry for several years said to me, “Joel, I didn’t know I had so many dysfunctional people in my church until we started small group ministry. It’s like I lifted up a wet log in a dark forest, only to see bugs scurrying everywhere.” Those same needy people sat in Pastor Vern’s church every Sunday with coats and ties, and outwardly everything seemed proper and in order. But as they began to interact with one another in the small group environment, the needs, hurts, and disappointments surfaced. The situation will surely get worse. It’s estimated that six out of ten children born in the 1990s will live in single-parent households by the time they’re eighteen years old. [1]

Feelings of rejection among American youth is now a normal way of life. Many find it extremely hard to forgive themselves for their parent’s mistakes or their own past decisions. Past problems paralyze present activities and stymie future growth. The results include:

  • Compulsive behavior
  • Self chastisement
  • Living with doubt
  • Feelings of unworthiness
  • Denial of what God wants to give them.

Even though North America is experiencing a cultural meltdown, Christ is still head of the church and Lord over all (Matthew 28:18-20). God has a loving plan for North Americans and wants to heal the lonely, depressed, and disenfranchised people scattered throughout the U.S. Jesus not only wants to forgive people of their sin, he also wants to heal them of their pain and emotional sickness. He offers peace in a world full of hurt and despair.

An effective cell leader takes advantages of difficult moments to remind the cell members that God is vitally concerned about every aspect of their lives and wants to provide inner healing.

The night that Michael came to my own small group, everything appeared normal. After the lesson on forgiveness from 1 Peter 4:8, however, his need for inner healing surfaced. He shared his deep resentment toward a pastor who he felt had raped his daughter. Michael had been clinging to bitterness toward this pastor, which left him joyless and enslaved. That night the Word of God reached deep into his soul, and Michael realized he needed to be set free from his bitterness, both for his own sake and to please Jesus Christ. During the prayer time, Michael confessed his bitterness and the group members prayed for him to experience inner healing. God freed Michael that night from bitterness and resentment, and he left the meeting filled with joy and peace.

The small, intimate atmosphere of the home is ideal to heal hurts caused by sin, the world, and Satan. The leader should remind the cell members of verses like Isaiah 63:9, “In all their distress he too was distressed, and the angel of his presence saved them. In his love and mercy he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old” (Isaiah 63:9). King David’s reminder of God’s love is another healing verse to use in the context of the small group: “My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be” (Psalm 139: 15,16).

The small group leader can see the need for inner healing by noticing erratic behavior among the members such as: paralyzing fear and shyness, lack of trust, confusion, depression, or compulsive behavior. At the appropriate time in the lesson, the leader might ask members to share difficult moments when they experienced pain and rejection in their own lives. The leader should encourage group members to share honestly and to pray for one another to experience restoration, healing, and a sense of community.

The good news is that Christ is the healer. Scripture says that “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.” (Isaiah 53:3). He is the only One who is able to understand all of the circumstances of life. He wants people to place their trust in Him as their healer. The small group is an excellent time for people to share times of pain and grief and then to receive the inner healing necessary to live a victorious Christian life.

Participatory healing

People need to warm up in the small group before transformation can take place. Wise leaders encourage group members to share honestly and to pray for one another to experience restoration and healing.

Group transparency, however, will never happen unless the leader shares some of his or her deep struggles. If the leader always wants to give the best impression, the other cell members will do likewise. Some leaders imagine they’re promoting transparency, but their testimonies don’t resonate with the members. “Pray for me, I’m really struggling. Normally, I spend 2 ½ hours in daily prayer and Bible reading, but recently I’ve only spent 1 ½ hours . . .” How will people react? “Yea, right, like she really needs our prayers. . .” Most likely the majority in the group struggle to spend .15 minutes in daily devotions.

Effective small group leaders get the members involved, so they see themselves as God’s healing agents. Each member of Christ’s body can minister healing to others. No one should sit on the sidelines.

When Monica arrived early to our cell group she began to pour out her heart, “I’m so thankful that I’m no longer living with Andy. I feel clean inside, but it’s still so hard; at times, I feel like I need him.” Frank and Kathy arrived in the middle of our conversation and began to minister to Monica from their own experiences. My wife also spoke words of encouragement to her and eventually all of us began to pray for Monica. My wife and Kathy understood Monica’s needs more deeply than I, and their prayers hit the emotional nerve center of what Monica was going through. Monica left that night a renewed person. She dedicated herself to live a pure, holy life--without her live-in boyfriend. Her healing came from the ministry of the body of Christ.

Miracles often occur when every member became a minister. The members of the church began to see themselves as instruments of healing. Larry Crabb, famous author and psychologist, said in his book Connecting:

Ordinary people have the power to change other people’s lives. . . the power is found in connection, that profound meeting when the truest part of one soul meets the emptiest recesses in another. . . When that happens, the giver is left more full than before and the receiver less terrified, eventually eager, to experience even deeper, more mutual connection. [2]

The power of small group ministry is allowing each member to minister, to connect to each other. It’s a time when confession, inner healing, transparent sharing, and renewal happens.

Sensitive healing

Sensitive small group leaders ask the Holy Spirit to manifest needs, knowing that the best agenda is the one that meets the needs of those present. When the leader has this in mind, he or she is willing to do what it takes to make that happen.

I attended a cell meeting in which the leader asked the members to pick their favorite songs during the worship time. After each song the cell leader asked the person to explain why he or she picked that particular song. One lady, Theresa, picked a song about renewal, and later sobbed, “I had an angry confrontation with my husband today. I discovered he’s seeing another women,” she blurted out. “I feel so dirty. Please pray for me.” The responsive, Spirit-led cell leader listened to Theresa without overloading her with Scripture and advice. Theresa felt God’s love as the cell leader motioned for her to sit in a chair while the other members prayed for her. Theresa felt cleansed and healed as she left that prayer time. She came to the meeting bruised and beaten down, but she left filled and encouraged.

The standard for success in small group ministry is whether or not Christ’s body went away edified—whether or not healing took place in people’s lives--not whether a particular order or plan was followed.

Sensitivity is essential in small group ministry. Those who excel in small group ministry are those who are sensitive to needs. It’s best to go into the cell group prayed up and open to whatever God has for the group. God will guide; He will lead. He’ll show the leader what’s essential.

Silence promotes healing

When someone is facing a crisis, it’s not the moment to say, “You just need to trust in the Lord. Don’t you know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose?” This advice, while 100 percent correct, will do more harm than good, to a hurting, grieving person. Before advice, the person first must know that God’s people will help bear their burden. He or she is longing for a listening ear—not a quick Biblical response.

There needs to be a moment of silent understanding, after the burden is shared. As the members empathize with the person, godly counsel will ensue: “Joan, I can relate to your fears and doubts brought on by your friend’s cancer. When my brother faced brain cancer, I felt those same fears. I wrestled for days, wondering why God would allow it. But then God showed me . . .” The scales of past wounds will peel away and the new creature in Christ will appear as the cell group ministers through empathetic listening. It’s best for the cell leader to advice the group to listen, rather than quickly responding with pat answers. The cell leader must demonstrate, however, what she wants others to do by her actions. People won’t necessarily follow words, but they will follow actions. Preparing a healing community may take some time, but it’s worth the wait. Healing through listening is God’s powerful tool to heal a lost and hurting world.

Encouragement brings healing

Listening opens the door for encouragement. Small group leaders bring healing by tuning their ears for the slightest reason to give praise. If there’s even a hint of excellence, a great small group leader will spot it and acknowledge it. The enemy seeks to accuse through lies that discourage. He might whisper to a group member, “No one respects you. You don’t know the Bible well enough. You wouldn’t dare make that comment.” The small group leader is God’s agent to offer a word of encouragement that will bless the person abundantly.

I remember hearing one small group leader offer a slight criticism to every response. “You almost have it,” James said. Another person responded to the answer and James retorted, “No, that’s not it, but you’re getting closer.” The dance to find the right answer continued. “This is like a high school quiz,” I thought to myself. As James reached the last few questions, the participation ground to a screeching halt. No one wanted to risk embarrassment. The fear of failure permeated the room.

The best small group leaders view themselves as God’s healing agents and encourage all participation, knowing that encouragement is one of the primary ways to minister God’s healing touch. They practice the words of Proverbs, “Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones” ( 16:24).

Follow-up healing

Even after healing takes place among group members, Satan works overtime to discourage, condemn and entangle people back into a web of lies and condemnation. Transparency without transformation is superficial. Some people, in fact, know how to unload deep emotion without any desire or intention to change. In such cases, the healing never seeps down to change core values but only resides in the emotional realm. Great small group leaders, therefore, must revisit areas of confession to make sure transformation has taken place.

When Vicki began attending a small group from the Verdugo Free Methodist Church in Los Angeles , CA in February 2002, her marriage was falling apart and her drug problem masked hidden fears. Yet in the loving small group atmosphere, Vicki experienced healing and freedom from drugs. Her marriage was restored and her husband, Tom, received Jesus Christ. Vicki grew in Christ as she shared struggles, received encouragement, and applied God’s Word to her own situation.

As the months passed, Susan, the group leader, noticed that Vicki was once again taking large doses of medication, reverting back to her old lifestyle. Susan had to confront that fact, “When people are scared they tend to turn to old coping mechanisms. But no matter what old coping mechanisms you turned to, you can’t turn away from my love for you.” Vicky started to cry saying, “No matter how many times I’ve failed, you’ve never rejected me.” Vicky testified that if it had not been for Susan and the group, she would have killed herself the year before.

Susan understood that healing was a process that needed constant follow-up. Great small group leaders realize that when a person or couple reveals a struggle, he or she is reaching out for help. “Pray for me.” “Help me.” Victory is when the change becomes part of the person’s life-style. The cell group should hold the person accountable to improve that behavior—not in a legislative, legalistic way, but through constant encouragement.

Not all healing will take place in the group environment. Sensitive leaders use the time before and after the cell to inquire about transformation. “Jim, you shared about your pornographic addiction and your need to break free from that habit. How are you doing in that area?” Even though Jim was touched through prayer, he needs follow-up and constant encouragement to remain free.

Humility guides healing

The church is a hospital—not a performing arts center. Jesus came, in fact, to heal the hurting and needy. He ate with the sinners and hung out with the disenfranchised. He was rejected by the religious rules because he prioritized people’s needs over adherence to man-made laws.

After healing a blind man on the Sabbath, the Pharisees were convinced that he wasn’t the Messiah because he had broken the Sabbath law. Jesus retorted, “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind” (John9:39 ). The only ones Jesus couldn’t heal were those who failed to grasp their need for healing. Just like a doctor, he came to heal the sick, not the healthy.

Like Christ, the small group leader should gravitate to those with needs in the group, offering Christ’s healing power to the hurting. The leader must boldly proclaim Christ’s desire to heal today--physically, spiritually, and emotionally.

Leaders need Christ-like humility and child-like faith as they minister God’s healing power. Members will catch on and begin praying for one another, seeing themselves as Christ’s agents of healing. The full gospel will be proclaimed and all heaven will rejoice at the extension of Christ’s bride, the church.

ENDNOTES

  1. George Barna as quoted in Julie Gorman, Community that is Christian (Wheaton, ILL: Victor Books, 1993), p. 81.
  2. Larry Crabb, Connecting (Nashville, TN: Word Publishing, 1997), p. 31.