Cell – a healing family

Cell – a healing family

Gary Sweeten describes a strategy for healing and wholeness within the context of a loving small group community

Many people are not able to reach their potential and participate fully in life because they are unable to overcome hurdles that prevent their growth. Gary Sweeten shows how healthy cells can help with this, and highlights other resources that are required to help.

We all know the power of groups, and how healthy or dysfunctional groups can influence us. Groups exist for many purposes – eg task groups, therapy groups, support groups, study groups and interest groups. As a Christian therapist, I wanted to discover how groups can help make people whole. I was particularly inspired upon hearing some teaching about the early Church as a powerful, therapeutic community, and have attempted since then to discover what this means.

The Western medical model and Scripture each view human nature differently. Greek philosophy tends to separate human beings into parts and looks at those parts as if they are the whole. This view has invaded the Church’s thinking and influenced its theology. Gnostics, for example, saw the human body as so sinful and dirty, and God’s Spirit as so holy and pure, that Jesus could not have come in human form. They split spiritual reality from physical reality, destroying Biblical truth. John warned us against such thinking (1 John 4: 1-3).

This tendency to divide human beings led to Western humanism, individualism, and the medical model that over-emphasises physical remedies  and excludes emotional , spiritual and relational healing. Also, the medical model looks mainly at relieving symptoms of sickness rather than at growth, prevention and personal wellbeing. However, the Biblical model is more holistic and looks at assets, strengths and growth as well as healing. The focus is the wellbeing of the total person in relationship with God, self, and other people (see ‘A Biblical Model’).

The Sweeten scale of health

I evaluate health and sickness on a simple scale, which ranges from plus 1 to plus 10 on the maturity side (Type A people), and from minus 1 to minus 10 on the dysfunction side (Type B people). See ‘The Sweeten scale of health defined’. This helps us to see how well the healing/growth process is working.

Type A and Type B describe differing levels of need. Type A members have little need for special counsel. Everyone needs support, love and nurture as a part of Christian life and growth, and most people thrive on the basic care within the simple, loving fellowship of a cell.

Highly functional members are strong spiritually, emotionally, mentally and relationally. We want to equip them to provide leadership, to nurture and support others. Functional members are able to cope successfully with life.

Personal growth

These Type A members make up about 80% of a church. Some are babies or children, but their ability to function is well established. We aim to equip them to prevent future problems, encourage their personal growth into Christian maturity, and release them into ministry.

Type B members have an inner pain that interferes with normal functioning and needs special care. Although most are new believers, mature Christians sometimes have emotional struggles as a result of a crisis. Believers sometimes hide an inner hurt, only for it to surface later. Healthy cells prevent this kind of irrational behaviour.

We identify the three levels of Type B people, along with strategies for appropriate care, as:-

  • Situational problems which result in minor symptoms and struggles, and interfere with their lives at work or home. Cell support and life-skills training are required.
  • Chronic problems such as depression, anxiety and marital problems persist, so that the person does not respond to the wise counsel of peers. Professional counselling plus cell and life-skills training are needed.
  • Acute problems such as depression, suicidal ideas, addictions and phychoses mean the person cannot manage life. Professional support or protection plus cell support are needed. Life-skills training may need to wait.

Healthy cells can contribute to members’ wellbeing; unhealthy cells can have the opposite effect. Imagine living in a sick society. Stories abound of people in Nazi Germany feeling crazy because they did not share the prevailing values. If a slightly distressed person enters a mental hospital he or she will get worse, not better.

Tough love

One of our new members had a long history of mental illness and of acting up in public. Several functional ladies were assigned to her. Once they removed her from my class because she threw her papers in the air and screamed. She protested, “I have always acted that way. Why are you making me leave?” They told her that what she did was unacceptable as sane people don’t act that way. “But people treat me like I’m crazy,” she replied. “People treat you like you’re crazy because you act crazy,” she was told.

After years of medicine, therapy and group love, she said that when we treated her as normal she wanted to act normal. But her habits had been formed in institutions and improving was hard. Tough love from healthy support systems can be more important than expert psychotherapy or prayer therapy. Dysfunctional cells make people worse. Healthy, functional cells operating in truth and love make members whole. It’s a Biblical principle.

Dr Gary Sweeten is founder of Sweeten Life Systems which promotes healing and growth by facilitating better relationships with God, self, and others. See www.sweetenlife.com

The Sweeten scale of health defined

  1. +9 to +10 Optimal wholeness of spirit and mind with maturity in Christ. Top person in their career or field, widely respected by all.  Is 2% of the 70% of any group that is considered ‘normal’.
  2. +7 to +8   Few peers in thinking, wisdom and character who are able to speak the truth in love. Some 3% of the normal group.
  3. +5 to +6   Caring and centred in the Lord, with obvious strengths of fruit, peacefulness, talents, gifts and health. Some 5% of the normal group.
  4. +3 to +4   Personal growth is evident and they are a stable person at home, work and church. Some 10% of the normal group.
  5. +1 to +2   Potential for growth, but still makes some emotional decisions. Needs basic training for prevention of this, and personal growth with discipling and support. 25% of the normal 70%.
  6. 0               Neither well nor severely dysfunctional, but can move in either way according to outside factors, stresses and pressures. These people are within the normal 70%.
  7. -1 to -2     Symptoms of unease, with emotional, spiritual and relational difficulties. Part of the normal 70% of any group.
  8. -3 to -4     Signs of ill health, including sadness, anxiety, increased conflicts, bad habits. Includes perhaps 20% of the normal 70% members.
  9. -5 to -6     Sickness that requires some treatment. Friends notice problems and see that one is unable to change by oneself. About 10%.
  10. -7 to -8     Major sicknesses such as irrational thinking, depressions, panic attacks, compulsions, dependencies, and thoughts of violence. About 8%.
  11. -9 to -10   Very sick and unable to function, with bizarre ideas, deadly addictions, eating disorders, compulsions or violence. About 2%.