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Should Your Church Offer Redemption Groups? A Roundtable
Addiction. Abuse. Eating disorders. Depression.
Sadly, the church has not always ministered well to people stuck in these difficult seasons of life. By God’s good grace, the church is mobilizing and programs like RGs are starting to pop up in churches across the country.
What is an RG?
A RG is an intense small group that digs deep into difficult and seldom-discussed areas of life, such as abuse, addiction, and trials of all sorts, with curriculum based off of based off of Mike Wilkerson’s book, Redemption.
This following is a round table discussion with pastors and counselors across the country that have begun to implement the RG (RG) model in the recovery and counseling ministries of their respective churches. Should your church adopt RGs? Listen in on the conversation and decide for yourself.
- Robert Cheong, pastor of care and counseling, Sojourn Church, Louisville, Kentucky
- Joel Greiner, care and counseling pastor, The Journey, St. Louis, Missouri
- Jake Ledet, discipleship pastor, CityView Church, Fort Worth, Texas
- Abe Meyerburg, pastor and counselor, Soma Communities, Tacoma, Washington
- Matthew Smith, formation pastor, Core Community Church, Omaha, Nebraska
- Rick White, lead pastor, CityView Church, Fort Worth, Texas
What kind of pastoral counseling and or recovery ministry have you done in the past? How has the Redemption curriculum informed your ministry?
Greiner: Our counseling center offers professional and lay counseling to our church and community. Our counseling is rooted in gospel transformation as the mean of change for individuals and marriages. In the past, we’ve offered several types of therapy groups (eating disorders, pornography, depression and grief, identity, etc.) but with varied results. Many participants reveled in their stories of suffering and addiction but not in Christ and his ability to change their hearts.
The Redemption curriculum has shifted our paradigm to become more Christ-centered; it has influenced our counseling philosophy and our organization. We have become more honest, humble, repentant, and Spirit-led.
Meyerburg: I have been doing pastoral counseling for about 10 years, [and] I was an RG participant in the fall of 2009, and led an RG Immersion in the spring of 2010. I implemented RGs at Soma Communities in the fall of 2010. We have done two rounds of RG (fall 2010 and spring 2011). RG has really helped give me a more gospel-centered approach to counseling.
White: RGs are our first real step into recovery-type ministry of any kind. It has been a tremendous help in everyday pastoral counseling and has actually affected all of our ministries on a cultural level.
Smith: Until we introduced RGs, the main container for recovery ministry was our general small groups, with the occasional “specialized study” into one particular addiction or another.
Ledet: We were fortunate to start with RGs. When I went to the first RG Immersion in Seattle, CityView was roughly three years old. The only counseling we offered was meeting with one of the pastors. For more counseling, we would refer to a local Biblical Counseling Center. RGs have been the most substantial way we have offered gospel-centered care to our people. It was not non-existent before RGs, but I feel as though we are much better equipped to care for the people in our congregation now.
How did you get your leadership team to rally around the Redemption model?
Cheong: Once the leaders experience God’s redeeming work for themselves and others in gospel community, they are hooked! Additionally, God has used the testimonies from participants and leaders in powerful and effective ways to stir interest and commitment.
Greiner: Honestly, taking the risk to participate in an RG Immersion was the key for us. Through the Immersion experience, our leaders have seen more of their sin but more of Jesus than they ever would have imagined. Because of the change in their own hearts and experiencing deep repentance, our leaders have rallied around the reality that they need redemption as much as the people they are serving.
Meyerburg: I was tasked with developing a system for raising the gospel fluency in our whole church. After hearing about RG and experiencing it, I was convinced it would be a key piece of the puzzle. The elders trusted my decision.
White: Our elder team went through an RG together. It was a defining experience, and we sold out to the model and material.
Smith: We took the vast majority of our team to an Immersion in Seattle so we could experience it. If you can get your team to an Immersion, it’s by far the most effective way to gain buy-in.
Ledet: First our lead pastor, Rick White, went through the material with the other pastors. Secondly CityView sent me and another pastor to an Immersion in Seattle. From then all of the leaders were on board and excited about starting RGs at CityView. Now RGs are a requirement in our pastoral candidate process. Having our leadership go through RGs has helped remove the stigma that is usually associated with care/counseling programs.
How have you specifically woven the RG model into the life of the church?
Cheong: RG is used for equipping and caring. The primary way we use RG is for Campus Shepherding Training. RG is Step 2 in our three-step approach to identifying and equipping ministry leaders. Step 1 is a nine-week “Gospel Basics” [class] which provides foundational knowledge and skills needed for gospel ministry. We equate Step 1 as teaching people how to swim in the shallow end of the pool where they are getting use to the “water” and learning the “basic strokes” of gospel community and ministry. We pray Step 1 will give RG participants a more fruitful gospel experience, not only for their own lives but also in their ability to minister the gospel to one another.
The secondary way we use RGs is to care for our people, those who have submitted a Care Request [card]. Since we only run RGs three times per year, due to the logistical and leadership load, RGs augment the care and counseling offered in community.
Greiner: We’ve had the privilege of leading a good number of our church staff and elders through Immersions.
Meyerburg: Our missional community leaders can refer people for RG. In fact, a person must be in a MC in order to participate in RG. We want RG to serve the mission of the MC, not replace it (make disciples in community). We have all of our RG participants share what they are learning with the MC and accountability group (DNA). Our RG leaders meet with participants and their DNA partners after RG is over to ensure accountability going forward.
White: Truthfully, we haven’t had to. The Holy Spirit’s work on men and women’s hearts through RGs has been so powerful that it has practically forced its way into every area of church life. Our people speak about their sin differently . . . about the gospel more confidently . . . whether it is in casual conversation or an organized Bible study or group.
Smith: We started by putting all of our leaders through RGs. Then we made sure both the language of the reality of redemption was being talked about and practiced in every area of our church. We had to be careful not to over-emphasize RGs. We use Mike Wilkerson’s phrase, “Everyone needs redemption—not everyone needs an RG.” Ultimately RGs properly done, lead you to a view of God the Father, Son, and Spirit that is overwhelmingly compelling, no matter what your story
Ledet: During the teachings I will often mention that we don’t want to come to an RG and “do business with God” and move on. We want RGs to help deepen the community we are already in. RGs are a great picture of good gospel conversation so we encourage participants to be agents of that when they return to their life groups and discipleship groups. We also use discipleship groups as an off ramp from RGs. We encourage people to get into a discipleship group with someone who was in their RG or has already gone through one.
Has there been a cultural shift in the life of the church that was catalyzed by RG?
Cheong: RG has helped the church better understand God’s design for “one another” through gospel community. As a result, more and more of the church is realizing that counseling is essentially the ministry of the Word and is God’s call for every member of his body. One of my greatest praises during the last RG was that I heard the term “counseling” only once during the entire Immersion.
In light of the prodigal son story, most recovery ministry focuses on rehabilitating people with younger brother (prodigal son) sins. What does RG have to say about elder brother sin? We are all in messed up and in desperate need for the gospel. This is part of the gospel message, not necessarily an RG issue.
Smith: The main shift as been in the way we understand the role of the Holy Spirit in both counseling and life together in general. Our culture has also developed a much greater openness to sharing the realities of our lives with each other, both past and present. This openness has lead to a greater love for God, one another, and the city we live in.
Ledet: I realized their had been a cultural shift when someone from a ladies’ Bible study said, “The women are asking more heart-level questions.”
RGs have deepened our understanding of our depravity, God’s immeasurable grace through Christ, and his willingness to meet us in our suffering.
The cultural shift has occurred from the Holy Spirit taking these truths and pressing them deeper into our hearts.
In light of the prodigal son story, most recovery ministry focuses on rehabilitating people with younger brother (prodigal son) sins. What does RG have to say about elder brother sin?
Cheong: We are all in messed up and in desperate need for the gospel. This is part of the gospel message, not necessarily an RG issue.
Greiner: That we are both leveled at the foot of the cross. As an elder brother, I’ve spent a good part of my Christian life envying the “drugs-to-Jesus” testimonies and having little experience of my great need for forgiveness and grace for my judgmental heart. The beauty of RGs is that they expose sin in real-time through relationships.
Meyerburg: RGs do a great job of exposing all of us as rebels against a holy God, whether our rebellion is religious (“I will make myself righteous”) or irreligious (“I will define my own righteousness”).
Smith: RGs have a unique way of not only bringing healing to the victim, but revealing dark sins of the “righteous.” As you watch those with stories of obvious suffering and blatant sin cling to the gracious mercy of Jesus, you can’t help but wonder why you have never clung to him in the same manner. It is almost always because we have failed to understand the depth of our own sin. RGs graciously force you to be honest about the depth of your depravity and then cling to Jesus, or be honest about the fact you are lying to yourself.
Ledet: Living in the Bible Belt, we deal with elder brothers much more than younger ones. RGs provide enough space and time with the power of the Holy Spirit to see through people’s “right answers.” It is a beautiful work of the Holy Spirit to see someone come to realize they do not believe the theology they are verbalizing, people admitting their mouths speak of God but their hearts are far from him. RGs help people see that theology that doesn’t lead to affections for Christ is actually bad theology.
How have RGs challenged you personally as a leader?
Cheong: RGs have helped me to grow in my ability to lovingly confront people and have deepened my convictions of my need for gospel community.
Greiner: God has used RGs to expose both my functional deism and my self-reliance in the counseling room. I am much more likely to listen to the Holy Spirit and to hear from him as I listen and pray for the person across from me. I have also been challenged to be more honest about my sin and need for repentance with my leaders, and am encouraged to “smoke what I’m selling.”
Meyerburg: It has challenged me to always take a closer look at my heart. It has grown my love for Jesus and his work on the cross. It has helped me learn to do a better job of listening for the heart when people speak (“the mouth speaks what the heart is full of”).
White: I seem to be able to be both bold and challenging toward people’s tendencies to build golden calves . . . while also maintaining compassion and mercy toward the slavery that many of our people find themselves in.
Smith: My own faith in God’s ability to redeem all stories (including my own) has grown exponentially as I have seen him do just that.
I have also been deeply challenged to reconsider my very small view of the Holy Spirit.
The Spirit filled a very nice space on my Trinitarian chart, but rarely did I invite the Spirit off the chart and into life. Now the Spirit has changed the way I practice faith, prayer, counseling, marriage, parenting—everything really.
Ledet: God blew my heart up when I went through the RG Immersion two years ago. He revealed sin I was blind to, sin I was minimizing, and helped me start walking in forgiveness. I came back humbled, broken, and repentant.
I can’t overstate what God did in my life through that experience—and it wasn’t like summer camp because it hasn’t gone away.
Sure, I am not constantly sobbing like I did the week of my Immersion, but my heart has softened to the sweet conviction of the Spirit. My relationship with my wife has become one of openness and confession as we push each other to Christ.
RGs have helped me see the joy in leading from repentance and joining in with the Spirit to put to death the deeds of my flesh. There is never a time I couldn’t go through an RG as a participant, and if I ever start to think otherwise, I am not fit to lead one anymore. As Paul Tripp poignantly states, I am in need of change, helping people in need of change.