[This article is an excerpt from my Spring 8-part webinar series on “Mobilizing Church-Based Counseling.” You can RSVP for all 8 free webinars here. You can overview the dates and topics at bradhambrick.com/webinars2022spring.]

G4 is a group counseling ministry built around two 9-step models of sanctification. G4 provides a context for participants to invest a season of their life in overcoming a life-dominating struggle of sin or suffering. With the encouragement and support of their fellow group members, G4 participants work through a guided curriculum focused on their primary life struggle.

The goal of G4 is to see participants graduate back into the discipleship ministries of the church, freer from their struggle, and with a clearer picture of what it means for believers to support one another as the gospel transforms the most difficult parts of our lives.

Why the name “G4”?

“G” is for gospel-centered groups. Too often in recovery ministries our struggle becomes our identity. The longer someone is in group, the more their identity becomes “addict,” “depressed,” or “divorced.” The benefit of finding a place to be known comes with the detriment of your struggle becoming central to your identity.

We place the “G” are the forefront of G4 to serve as a perpetually reminder that our identity is not found in our struggle but in our Savior—Jesus Christ. Yes, we struggle. Yes, it is freeing to have a place to be honest about that. But, no, our struggle does not define us. The gospel tells us who we are and makes us more into the person God created us to be.

“4” is for the four types of groups that can be housed within G4. Not all counseling groups are the same. If you put one type of group at the forefront of your ministry, it inadvertently communicates a limited scope. For instance, if you label your ministry as a recovery ministry, it gives the perception it only deals with addiction. We chose the name G4 to prevent the ministry getting identified with any one niche of struggles.

Here is a basic definition for each of the four types of groups.

    1. Recovery Groups are for destructive, habituated life patterns a participant wants to remove from their life. Recovery groups are for struggles like substance abuse, chemical addiction, or behavioral addictions (i.e., pornography or gambling).
    2. Process Groups are for decreasing the life disruption caused by profoundly difficult experiences or an especially “sticky” emotion. Process groups are for experiences such as trauma or the aftermath of destructive relationships.
    3. Support Groups are for mutual encouragement as participants persevere through difficult life experiences that endure for an indefinite period of time. Support groups are for experiences like divorce, depression, or grief.
    4. Therapeutic Educational Groups provide a better understanding of life challenges which are often misunderstood. Therapeutic educational groups might be about a holistic Christian perspective on mental health or identifying common challenges for blended families.

A G4 ministry does not need to have a group from each type to be called G4. For instance, if a church only had recovery groups and process groups in its offerings, it would not be called G2.

The types of groups are not as distinct as they initially appear. All groups, to some degree, offer therapeutic education. Every type of group involves processing difficult experiences together. It is not important that every group fit neatly into one of the four types. It is important for it to be clear what distinguishes G4 groups from general discipleship groups or classes within your church.

The goal of a benign name like G4 is to destigmatize a ministry that might otherwise be hard to talk about. Participant can say, “I’ve got a G4 meeting tonight” without disclosing more than they intend. A pastor preaching on purity can talk about the G4 groups at church without trying to define sexual addiction. A ministry that depends on word of mouth needs to be easy to talk about.

G4 was also designed to house non-nine-step groups. In the next section, we will briefly overview both of G4’s nine step models and explain the rationale for these two models. But there are many excellent counseling curriculums that churches should be excited to use. The problem is churches haven’t had a context to support and promote these curriculums. We intentionally created G4 to allow you to use more than just G4 curriculum.

Two, Nine-Step Models

G4 believes that the gospel speaks to both sin and suffering; the things we do wrong and the painful experiences for which we are not responsible. But the gospel speaks to sin and suffering differently; it offers forgiveness/freedom for sin and comfort/hope for suffering. We all need both because every person is both a sinner and a sufferer.

Yet some of our struggles fall more into the category of sin or suffering. Anger and addiction are predominantly (not exclusively) responsibility-based struggles. They emanate from what we do. Grief and trauma are suffering-based struggles. They emerge from things that happen to us. G4 is a place where we become ambidextrous in how we apply the gospel while focusing on the type of gospel-care that best fits our most pressing need.

We do not believe there is any magic in the 9 step models of G4. We do believe that these steps capture the major movements of the gospel. G4 groups attempt to walk through the Gospel in slow motion with a concentrated focus on a particular life struggle. To explore what is meant by “walks through the Gospel in slow motion,” let’s begin by overviewing the nine steps for sin-based struggles.

    • STEP 1: ADMIT I have a struggle I cannot overcome without God. We shouldn’t assume that everyone who is frustrated by the adverse consequences of their choices is ready to change. Step one is when G4 seeks to garner a commitment to change and introduces God as central to the work ahead.
    • STEP 2: ACKNOWLEDGE the breadth and impact of my sin. We shouldn’t assume that everyone who wants to change is being honest with themselves about how much change is needed. Step two is when G4 walks the participant through the process of identifying how pervasive their struggle has become.
    • STEP 3: UNDERSTAND the origin, motive, and history of my sin. We are often confused by the question, “Why do I keep doing this if I know it’s disrupting my life?” Step three is when G4 helps participants identify the motives undergirding their sin patterns and introduces a more holistic understanding of what it means to have a fallen human nature.
    • STEP 4: REPENT TO GOD for how my sin replaced and misrepresented Him. Repentance is more than a sense of remorse. Step four is when G4 introduces the idea that substantive change begins with embracing the gospel and submitting our lives to the Lordship of Christ. This step undermines the pride that leads us to perpetuate destructive habits.
    • STEP 5: CONFESS TO THOSE AFFECTED for harm done and seek to make amends. Privacy fuels sin and kills change. Transparency fuels change and kills sin. Step five is when G4 introduces the idea that God created us to live in community and our sin tempts us to withdraw. Change means we become more honest and authentic, not better at hiding.
    • STEP 6: RESTRUCTURE MY LIFE to rely on God’s grace and Word to transform my life. Substantive change doesn’t happen by accident. It happens with intentionality. Step six is when G4 provides a variety of change strategies tailored to each curriculum’s life struggle. This is the “practical” guidance most people want when they start counseling.
    • STEP 7: IMPLEMENT the new structure pervasively with humility and flexibility. A famous boxer once said, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” Life never goes according to our plans. Step seven in G4 invites participants to review and revise how they are implementing the strategies from step six based what is and isn’t being effective.
    • STEP 8: PERSEVERE in the new life and identity to which God has called me. Change is like wet cement; it becomes solid over time. Step eight calls the participant to allow their newfound change to solidify as they begin to make plans to graduate from their G4 group into the discipleship ministries of the church.
    • STEP 9: STEWARD all of my life for God’s glory. The Christian life is about more than the absence of a sin; it is about fulfilling a purpose. Step nine is when participants are invited to ask, “What does God have for me next?” so that their G4 graduation is an opportunity for the group to commission them towards that calling.

You just read through an overview of these nine steps in a few brief paragraphs. Each G4 curriculum, takes one life struggle (i.e., addiction, sexual purity, disordered eating, etc.) and goes in depth on each step for that struggle. The curriculum provides assessments, Bible studies, change strategies, and educational content to help the participant successfully accomplish that step.

Perhaps you’ve had the opportunity to talk with someone for whom the 12 steps of AA were central in their overcoming alcoholism. You probably noticed how naturally they began to use the 12 steps as their grid for navigating life. They couldn’t help but share the 12 steps as they told their story. The goal for the gospel-centered 9 steps of G4 is to provide a model where the natural grid that people use to navigate life is the gospel.

Let’s admit something before we walk through the next set of 9 steps: historically, the church has been better at applying the gospel to sin-based struggles than suffering-based struggles. There is reason for this. We get saved from sin; we don’t get saved from suffering (at least not this side of heaven). But this imbalance has resulted in us being less effective with suffering-based struggles. With that in mind, let’s explore how the gospel applies to suffering.

    • STEP 1: PREPARE yourself physically, emotionally, and spiritually to face your suffering. People reach out for help amid suffering when they are hope-depleted. They are weary and the journey is long. Step one is when G4 helps the participant identify the key choices that will help them persevere through the weeks and months ahead.
    • STEP 2: ACKNOWLEDGE the specific history and realness of my suffering. We often minimize and misname our suffering thinking that will help us overcome it. We tell ourselves, “The abuse wasn’t that bad,” or, “The car wreck wasn’t really traumatic.” Step two is when G4 walks the participant through the process of rightly naming their experiences of suffering.
    • STEP 3: UNDERSTAND the impact of my suffering. Suffering is not just a “then and there” thing. It doesn’t stay in the past. Suffering has an impact on the “here and now.” Step three is when G4 helps the participant articulate and gauge the impact their suffering.
    • STEP 4: LEARN MY SUFFERING STORY which I use to make sense of my experience. Yesterday is the preface to today. Past events shape our present identity. Suffering shapes how we tell our story and understand our life. Step four is when G4 helps the participant understand the destructive scripts they’ve taken from their suffering that continue to disrupt their life.
    • STEP 5: MOURN the wrongness of what happened and receive God’s comfort. Suffering isn’t just hard; it reveals that the world is not as God intended. It is a reason to mourn. Step five when G4 invites participants to mourn hardness of what they learned in steps two and three without the shame they felt from the false messages of step four.
    • STEP 6: LEARN MY GOSPEL STORY by which God gives meaning to my experience. Truth doesn’t make hard times easy. Truth does give meaning to struggles that seemed futile. Step six is when G4 helps participants reinterpret the destructive scripts from step four in ways that show God’s care for them and gives meaning to their hardship.
    • STEP 7: IDENTIFY GOALS that allow me to combat the impact of my suffering. Even when we reduce the sense of meaninglessness suffering brings, suffering is still hard; it makes an impact on other aspects of our lives. Step seven is when G4 helps participants identify ways to reduce the types of impact identified in step three.
    • STEP 8: PERSEVERE in the new life and identity to which God has called me. This step closely mirrors step eight in the responsibility-based curriculum. It is a time for the participant to allow the change they’ve experienced to solidify and prepare to wisely graduate from G4.
    • STEP 9: STEWARD all of my life for God’s glory. This step also mirrors step nine in the responsibility-based curriculum. We always want people to graduate G4 with a sense of anticipation for what God has in store for them in the next season of their life.

After reading through these two 9-step models, you should be able to see more clearly how the gospel speaks to sin and suffering differently. In both, the Bible is our guide and the work of Jesus on the cross to counter the effects of the Genesis 3 Fall, are central. But when someone’s struggle is rooted in their beliefs, values, and choices, their curriculum will be responsibility-based. When their struggle is rooted in things that have happened to them, they will use a suffering-based curriculum.

A question that should be nagging you at this point is, “What about the non-nine-step curriculum you said we could use in G4? How does that work?” Great question. To answer that, you need to understand the two parts of an evening at G4: large group time and G4 groups.

When someone comes to G4 they are greeted and invited into the large group time. This is where participants and leaders from all the groups gather for 10-15 minutes. Although brief, this time is used to review one of the seven core values (more on that next) and one of the nine steps from either the sin or suffering model. This time reinforces the DNA of G4 and reminds us that, as Christians, we are all simultaneously sinners, sufferers, and saints. For those using non-nine-step curriculum, this time provides an understanding of the two sanctification models which allows them to make application of their curriculum in a more gospel-centered way.

[This article is an excerpt from my Spring 8-part webinar series on “Mobilizing Church-Based Counseling.” You can RSVP for all 8 free webinars here. You can overview the dates and topics at bradhambrick.com/webinars2022spring.]