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As I sit groggy and propped up in bed after a minor foot surgery – first surgery in all these years – I marvel at how the body rallies to protect itself. My good foot unconsciously holds the blankets up so they don’t press down on the bad one. My body wholeheartedly goes into relax mode so I don’t have to walk much. Sleep silently facilitates the healing process, a miracle in itself. No wonder Paul uses the body as an object lesson for who we are as a Christian entity – every part protecting and caring for every other part. Not just a few prominent parts doing stuff, but each part in turn exercising its love. We have different gifts but we all have the same interest in building up the body. That does not seem to be our church mindset, however.
Why do we ‘go to church’? One of the reasons is for social support as well as for spiritual guidance. Culturally we are trending away from previous generational value for church attendance. Still, we are fundamentally social creatures, and the framework is there in the church to hang our hope for inclusion. As a leader it would be a challenging prospect to guide a group whose needs are spiritual, emotional, and physical – a group whose common identity is the revelation of Christ. In fact, such an endeavor is opposed by hell itself according to Jesus. It has never been an easy task, and one that should be entered into cautiously if we are to take scriptural admonitions seriously. From the very infancy of the church there have been those who saw opportunity for financial gain, taking advantage of good-hearted believers. And that is still happening, of course. But that is not what I am thinking about here.. For all the missteps and mistakes of His church, Jesus in immeasurably patient. Yet I think He may be all too often standing outside knocking (like that picture), perhaps looking to replace programs with His presence. The question “What would Jesus do?” is replaced with “What methods are effective?”. Leadership is crucial, but participation is vital. Every one of God’s children has a part to play, but somehow we have come to the place where it seems correct to pay a few people to do our work of “considering how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds”. This mindset cripples our hearts and robs us of opportunity for interaction. God has His ways for His people, yet the struggle has been constant ever since Adam for us to choose faith over logic, over our definition of success, over fear of cultural rejection. Remember Israel’s demand “We want a king like all the other nations.” God’s style of leadership was too radical then and it seems that is still true now.
So here we are today, trying “not to neglect the gathering of yourselves together…” but finding it difficult to get beyond superficial social interaction with believers sitting right next to us – magnificent immortals walking with us on the road to an eternal kingdom. If we are temperamentally aggressive we can seek out a small group to attach to, or do extra Bible studies to get to know people, but the passive person slips through the cracks. If you have a baby or have serious health needs the women snap into action showering you with food and care. It is wonderful!! Because the needs are physical we can identify and take care of them fairly easily. Women usually do the delivering of the goodies, which affords them opportunity to connect. But unless your need is obvious, you are hidden behind your handshake-smile even though your soul may be slipping into sorrow, confusion, or even unbelief.
We must expect and provide for spiritual conversation – interaction born from the realization that we are not playing games here. Does the church secretary set that up? Or the soul-food ministry? It could happen organically! The sermons are usually great, and I often sit there afterwards longing to share the moment in prayer, inviting a second and a Third person into that commitment or revelation. But the meetings are not set up that way. Yes, once a month the elders are up front to pray with you, but it might be embarrassing to trot up there, and usually it seems like you don’t have anything serious enough to make the trip. God’s house is supposed to be a house of prayer, but to the casual observer it is more sermon and program, its success dependent more with the talent of the people up front than the fervor of those in the seats.
So fuss, fuss, fuss? Any fool can spot a problem. There is a fairly simple solution – one that would take only a minimal tweak organizationally, but tremendous trust in the integrity of the body. What if the church was encouraged to talk or pray with one another right after the service as they feel led? Or to get to know someone new? Or to invite someone out for coffee? Or to dinner in your home? Better yet, to have the leadership model it? I lost my husband a year ago. People have been so very kind. I receive a booklet on grieving in the mail every so often. But how lovely it would be for one of the shepherds who are responsible for my soul (in addition to my amazing women friends) would pull me aside and share Scripture with me, pray for me right then and there. Connection! It’s why we come to church – to connect with God AND His people. Every joint supplies! Facilitate them!
We are headed for church services done at the loneliest time of the year, the time when suicides spike, people feel isolated, and yet feel compelled to go to church. Don’t let the person next to you this year leave unattended, unnoticed, ignored. Go with a verse or a loving thought or a thoughtful question on your heart and carefully look for opportunity to bless someone. You could be an encourager!