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.