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Church offers support group insights as boost to emotional, spiritual health

BROKEN ARROW, Okla. (BP)–Support groups are no longer just for people with chemical addictions or terminal diseases.

Groups for everything from dealing with divorce to raising teenagers are finding a place in churches across the country. Seven years ago, Bob Greene, pastor of Arrow Heights Baptist Church in Broken Arrow, Okla., decided to take the words of Isaiah 61:1 to heart: “Bring good news to the suffering and afflicted, comfort the brokenhearted, announce liberty to captives and open the eyes of the blind.”

Greene realized that even after giving their lives to Christ, members of his church still needed help “receiving and achieving the abundant life that Jesus said He came to give them.”

He started asking himself: “Is there something wrong with our form of evangelism?” “Are our members experiencing a ‘shallow’ repentance?” “Why are divorce rates as high among Christians as non-Christians?” “Why are so many Christians discouraged, defeated, demoralized and dejected?”

Greene realized Arrow Heights should provide a ministry that addressed all areas of a person’s life, so in 1995 he asked Gaye Call, a staff member, to coordinate the church’s support ministries. On staff since 1984, Call had helped begin a divorce recovery support group and felt led to provide encouragement for those going through difficult times.

“During those years, I got involved with as many lay-ministry/counseling classes as I could find,” Call said. “These helped me prepare for the ministry I felt God calling me to, so I worked to further my own personal journey in becoming a whole, healthy, mature person. I learned to base my identity on who I was in Christ, not in the ability to please others or in how well I accomplished tasks.”

The support groups at Arrow Heights flourished, and other churches began asking for help implementing similar programs within their congregations.

Greene suggested to Call that Arrow Heights hold a statewide conference to help train facilitators and show churches the resources available for support groups. The conference, held March 25 at Arrow Heights, was based on Romans 12:2: “restoring of their soul as their minds are being renewed, thus resulting in a transformed life.”

LIFE (Lay Institute for Equipping) Support materials were among the resources Greene and Call taught during the day-long seminar. LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention publishes the LIFE Support materials, which are designed for small groups and conducted by lay members with an interest in a support group ministry.

Participants learned how to implement LIFE Support ministries in their congregations by determining the right resources for their churches and communities and by outlining a vision for forming the support groups.

“Our purpose of the Romans 12:2 conference was to inspire and inform other churches about ministering to hurting people in their church and in their community through a support group ministry,” Call said. “We think we accomplished that. We have a peace in our spirits that we did what God called us to do.”

Support groups are not therapy groups, Greene emphasized.

“They do, however, create a safe environment in which people can share real hurts and pains and receive support and encouragement from the Scriptures and each other,” he said. “The groups all use excellent tools, or resources, that help to bring areas of darkness into the light so that Jesus can heal them.”

Greene said he feels Arrow Heights is participating in God’s will by introducing LIFE Support materials to other churches.

“We encourage and pray that many other churches all over the nation will be inspired and become informed on how to minister to hurting people in their communities through Christian ministry,” Greene said.

Others who attended the conference said they were eager to implement what they had learned.

“Our group was so encouraged by the enthusiasm shown by the people who shared from their pilgrimage,” said Scott Hamilton of Ridgeway Baptist Church in Sapulpa, Okla. “The testimonies of ordinary people finding freedom from a variety of bondages was wonderful. This is a ministry that is truly relevant, for this is where so many people really are. We will prayerfully implement this ministry at our church.”

Brett Selby, church consultant for Texas and Oklahoma with LifeWay’s regional operations area, said he was pleased the LifeWay’s LIFE Support Series was helpful in starting and sustaining the groups at Arrow Heights.

“Arrow Heights observed that many of the people they were reaching were falling away in their walk with Christ,” Selby said. “They concluded that the dysfunctional backgrounds of these new believers was hindering them from moving forward in their discipleship and keeping them from truly becoming Kingdom-focused disciples.

“We’re glad LifeWay was able to help them discover a way to battle that problem.”
For more information on LIFE Support visit www.lifeway.com. To learn more about the program at Arrow Heights, visit their support ministries Web site at www.lifesupportministry.com. LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention is one of the world’s largest publishers of religious materials, producing 180 monthly and quarterly products and more than 210 new undated products annually. (BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: GAINS VIA SMALL GROUP and GAYE CALL.

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  • Brandy Campbell