My wife comes from an Evangelical Friends background, a splinter group of the Quakers. Her experience was always with the more doctrinally solid and conservative part and less with the group known for social action and a more liberal theology.
But curiosity is a powerful lure, and early in our marriage we attended an “inner light” Quaker service just to see what it was like.
For about an hour, people sat quietly, communing with God, listening. From time to time the silence would be broken by someone who felt led of God to share a spiritual insight. Also, people would stand and request prayer for various issues or needs, some of which were quite personal and sad. The group would then pray for them.
Say what you will about this more liberal sect of Quakerism, but I was struck by the simple truth that time was given for people to share real needs.
I know far too many Evangelical Christians whose churches are not aware of their suffering. Creating a safe place for sharing those needs and getting them addressed in prayer and with practical action would seem like a lifeblood activity of any local church. Why then is it so rare?
People with needs are often afraid to confess those needs before the church for the following reasons:
Pride, as their invincibility and bootstrapping will be shaken
Fear, as someone will certainly question their faith
Disappointment, because they anticipate that nothing will be done because nothing ever is
Resignation, because they asked once before and were rebuffed
I once told an Internet friend who had been out of work for a long time and suffering greatly that he should stand up in the middle of his church service one day and just say, “I need a job. Can any of you help?” I suggested to another that he call a well-known parachurch ministry in his area that is always talking about how men must be the breadwinner in order to be good Christians and ask them, “What jobs do you have available for me to do so I can be the man you insist I must be? I can report to work tomorrow.”
The sad thing about both those cases is that neither the church nor the parachurch ministry would encourage that kind of confession. But if not the Church, then who?
Every church should have a time on Sunday morning to allow people to share their needs. I don’t care if it takes an hour to run through all those needs, the whole church needs to hear them. Because no one knows who sitting in those pews might have the immensely practical solution that confessor needs. And church leaders need to stop thinking that they alone can handle all these problems and start turning them back to the laity.
Even more, the church needs to take a Sunday now and then to have those people who confessed a need update the church on how that need did or didn’t get met. That allows the whole church to see what God is doing. And isn’t that exactly what a lot of us need to hear? Doesn’t it seem that sometimes the only places God is working are in some distant land? That’s not at all true, but the way we bury both needs and the rejoicing in met needs, we in the seats just don’t hear enough of either to think much of this Christianity thing we do. How sad!
None of this is rocket science. It takes no great leap or huge bankroll to make happen. Every church in America could start this Sunday. We just have to do it.
9 thoughts on “A Church That Makes a Practical Difference”
We always take time for this in Sunday school class. Doesn’t everyone?
Better question, Dee: How many churches still have adult Sunday School? Answer: not many.
Even then, an adult Sunday School class is still not the whole church. And some things, such as a helping someone find work or paying for expensive surgery, is best handled in as large a group as possible.
As to the quilting patterns, a set of several styles for identifying commenters who lack a Gravatar comes with WordPress, the blogging software I use. The quilt-like set is my favorite.
Seriously? I guess I am way out of the loop because every new church we attend (having moved about every three years for the past 26 years) has adult Sunday school. It is inconceivable to me that some churches do not.
Dan, as a quilter, I love that the default profile pic here is a quilt square. It is a perfect symbol of how we are all unique and we all join together to form the church as a whole. I noticed it long ago; just never commented about it. Was this a deliberate choice on your part?
Thanks for this post, Dan. I’ve been listening lately to the audio book of “Pagan Christianity,” the authors of which would be very much in favor of what you write here. They go a bit farther, actually, saying that the very practice of the ordination of pastors is a detriment to discipleship and growth. They say the same thing about the traditional Christian worship service, which has pagan roots and unwittingly serves to create an un-Biblical split between “clergy” and “laity,” in which the “laity” basically just receive worship, rather than participate in it in any meaningful way.
I would have to kind of agree with the statement about the ordination of pastors being a detriment…. in our community the most ‘growth’ in the body happened during a period when there wasn’t an ‘official’ pastor around, and it all came to an abrupt halt the day a new pastor signed on…
This sister hollers, “Amen!”
Dan…thanks for this post. I couldn’t agree with you more. I think this has always been a failing with many churches and stands in the way of building true community. I think how different church could be with this one simple thing. Just the simple freedom to even speak about these issues within the context of the church would be liberating for many suffering from shame or pride. I do have a Sunday school class that I attend and honestly that is the only thing keeping me hanging in with my church. The reasons we cannot have complete honesty in expressing our needs within the whole of the church are exactly what you pointed out. I would futher suggest they are completely interrelated. I would add it is both encouraging and faith building when we can see that diverse needs are being met by God acting through people sitting next to us in the pews Sunday after Sunday…much to think about here…
Seems to me it is actually a disconnect in the way we ‘do’ church. The truth is that we don’t usually know very many people we can be totally honest with, never mind a whole congregation of them. And then honesty actually starts to invade others space, which they don’t like.
I think this is also associated with the language we use about blessing. Frequently we associate blessing with stuff, health, vigour, vim, jobs, children etc. And I think this has an unconscious effect – we’re blessed, we must be – look at all our stuff. And I think at the back of our mind is the concept that if we don’t have stuff or health, are depressed or sitting in the crap, then we’re not blessed so must have done something really awful to displease God.
And in a space occupied by happy, blessed, well-paid, employed, happily married people, it is extremely difficult to be honest.