Almost 5 years ago now, my attention was arrested by a phrase on a promotional piece. It said, “The harvest is plentiful – It’s also broken.” After more than 40 years of leading a church, I knew that to be profoundly true. Prior to our days in the Vineyard, we were leading a church that experienced significant renewal and some rapid growth. But I soon realized that we were attracting some very wounded, broken people. I secretly feared that if we couldn’t bring healing into their lives, they could soon outnumber us and we would be in the full-time business of trying to manage dysfunctional relationships, and nothing else. If you’ve ever read THE EMOTIONALLY HEALTHY CHURCH by Peter Scazzero, you know exactly what I mean.
I cried out to the Lord to equip us to heal broken people so that they could become healthy, functional followers of Jesus, and the next generation of leaders. How he answered those prayers is a long and fascinating story of divine appointments which is too lengthy to recount here, but within a couple of years, we had found training for three people including myself who consequently saw a remarkable amount of success in bringing broken people to wholeness by the power of the Lord. We became good at it because we had a lot of practice, backed up with a lot of intercession. But the demand always exceeded our ability to provide as the word of healing and freedom spread.
We cried to the Lord for help. “Pray the Lord of the harvest that He will send laborers into the harvest.” We began to put what we had learned into a course for training others, a course that eventually saw nearly 500 graduates over a 20 year period. Some came only for the information, and discovered they needed healing themselves, which increased our load! A few others came alongside of us and began to do what we were doing. But still, the demand always exceeded our time and energy to provide that intensive one-on-one counselling experience. It was heartbreaking to turn so many away.
Over the years, I have had colleagues in ministry who tried to discourage me from counselling because it’s hard work, and it’s time-consuming. “Why do you do this, anyway?” they would ask. “Why don’t you just refer, like everyone else does?” My reply was two-fold: “Jesus commanded me to make disciples. I don’t know how to make disciples without also healing them, do you? Furthermore, Jesus also commanded us to heal the sick.” My other reply was a confession: “I’m sort of addicted to this ministry, because this is where I get to see the Kingdom of God come in power! I feel like I get to see God raise the dead almost every day. It keeps me going, and I get more than I give.”
Nevertheless, through all these years, I’ve been saying to the Lord, “There has to be a way to disciple and heal a lot more people at one time, do it faster, and get increasingly better results. If we’re preparing for a great harvest, we’re not ready for a massive influx of people. We need something better than what we’ve got. I don’t have any vision for how it can be done, but raise up some dread champion who does!”
And when I saw that motto, “The harvest is plentiful – but it’s also broken” I gasped and thought, I wonder if God has answered my prayer. I went to the website, FreedomSession.com and watched the brief video. The author, Ken Dyck, talked about the same dilemma we had faced, namely, significant church growth with an inundation of broken people, and not enough people to disciple and heal them. I was feeling cautiously optimistic. My one concern was that we had already developed an approach to discipleship/healing (The older I get, the more difficulty I have in separating the two); I wondered if we would find compatibility or it would be a very difficult transition. To my great joy, I discovered that the Lord had taken the Dycks along a nearly identical path in training them to disciple and heal the broken as He had us! Hand in glove!
We jumped in with both feet. We took a dozen or more people to Ken’s Facilitator Training “Boot Camp,” I cast the vision for this ministry all summer, and in the fall we began Freedom Session with over 40 people. We gather once a week in a classroom, pen in hand, and watch a teaching DVD by the authors for about 50 minutes. Then we all grab a coffee or tea and head for our gender-specific small groups (men with men, women with women). Under the guidance of our trained facilitator, we open our workbooks to share the homework we’ve done. The sharing usually goes deep and fast, and lasting relationships are forged in this environment. The course follows a 12 step format (Jesus is unequivocally the “High Power”), it runs from mid-September to the end of May, and Graduation Sunday yields an abundant harvest of testimonies of lives forever changed. It is so powerful, I can’t hold back the tears.
Just a few closing observations:
- Freedom Session is one of the most powerful small group ministries we have ever had, and it has had a leavening effect on all of our other small groups. We now hear words like “The Sisterhood”, or “The Band of Brothers”.
- Freedom Session has virtually eliminated the need for us to provide one-on-one counselling – and the need for a lot of trained counsellors. The process is brilliant, and it works – usually better than counselling. Why? As Dr. Larry Crabb has come to see: “We were wounded in community, and we need to be healed in community.” We regard Freedom Session as ideal to prepare people for marriage and family, or to heal those in a broken one.
- The graduates of Freedom Session experience a kind of discipleship that we’ve never consistently provided in the past, and they frequently step into positions of leadership with poise and confidence. Yes, leadership training – an unforeseen benefit! The nice surprises just keep coming.
For more information, write the author.
Don Rousu - Prairie Region