Catez at Allthings2all asked recently about examples of loving Christian community.
I have known many people who have said, “I don’t know how people make it without a church family” after being abundantly ministered to. Let me hasten to say that I know all churches are not perfect. In fact, I know no church is perfect. How could any be when they are all made up of sinful human beings? I want to say more about that later, but first I want to focus on the positive.
Let me just share ways that I have seen people being ministered to by their local churches over the 32 years I have been a Christian. In many of these examples, I was on the receiving end, but others I have just seen or heard of. When I was a teen-ager, someone picked me up for church until I got my driver’s license. Someone paid my way to a Christian school for two years. People “took me in” and made me feel part of the family of God. One family in particular exercised hospitality, invited me often into their home, and just by their love and example greatly influenced me and demonstrated what Christian family was all about. Some invited me to come along and paid my expenses when they took a group to visit a Christian college. One family continued to pick up my sisters for church after I went away to college. Some anonymously contributed to my college education and showed love and interest in me whenever I came back home. The ladies gave me a bridal shower before I married. My pastor married us without charging us anything for his services or the use of the church (he also sang a solo and a duet with another lady at my wedding. :) ) His wife assisted me and helped me with the rehearsal dinner. His daughter had helped me get ready for college, making a list for me of what to take, answering questions, showing me how to register when we got there, introducing me to her friends, etc. Though my family members were never members of the church, and though I moved away from that area when I got married at 22, in the 27 years since, I have been able to call on that pastor in any crisis my family has gone through, and he has visited, prayed for, and witnessed to them. Even after he retired, I called on him when my mother passed away, and he graciously and gladly preached her funeral.
In the years since then my husband and I have been a part of three different churches, changing churches only when a job change necessitated a move to another city. We’ve had pastors, pastors’ wives, and older believers who we felt we could call on at any time to ask questions or counsel of. We’ve had people who prayed, visited, brought meals, watched children, cleaned homes, and other things when people have been sick or just had a baby. Two instances of that especially touched my heart. When I came home from the hospital after encountering TM, along with all of these other ministrations, one lady came over with a puzzle and just spent time with my children putting it together. They had been run through the mill being carted to different people’s houses and back and forth to the hospital, and this dear friend, in her sweet quiet way, came over and just spent some unhurried quiet time with them at our home. Then, I was unable to walk without aid for a long time, and I couldn’t get up and down the stairs without help, so I was confined to one floor (we lived in a split-level) unless my husband was home to help me. He got the equipment to put hand rails along the stairways and called a friend at church who was a …well, I don’t remember if he was a contractor or had a home improvement business or what exactly. But he worked on homes, anyway, and my husband called to ask if he had a stud-finder that he could borrow. This man wasn’t home when my husband called, but his wife took the message. That evening as were eating dinner, this man brought his crew to our home and put up handrails along both stairways and also in the bathroom. Something that practical was such a blessing. Jim could have done it, but it would have taken longer and been a lot more trouble: this man and his crew were able to do it all in no time.
Recently at our current church, an older man passed away. His disabled daughter was in a nursing home, unable to attend the funeral. One lady from church went to stay with her during the funeral; several people called her from their cell phones during different parts of the funeral to see how she was doing; someone called from their cell phone during the message at the funeral and let her listen to it over the phone, and somehow it came through clearly enough that she could hear the whole thing.
Other types of ministries I’ve seen are sending care packages to college students and servicemen from our church; an older lady who went to visit all the new moms from church in the hospital when they had their babies; collecting and sending gifts to missionaries; the teens doing yard work at an elderly neighbor’s home; a group painting a widow’s house; bridal showers and baby showers.
Another personal example just came to mind: a couple of years ago I ended up needing to go to the ER in the middle of the night when my husband was out of town. I called on a friends from church who lived nearby: the wife was a nurse, and I asked her some questions to ascertain what to do, but it was something I had dealt with before, and we agreed I needed to go to the hospital but didn’t need to call an ambulance. I asked if she could take me, and she readily said yes. My younger children were asleep; my oldest was of age that he could stay with them. This lady’s husband, if I remember correctly, offered to come and stay with the boys, but I felt that wasn’t necessary. I did ask him, however, if he could be “on call” for them to call him if they needed anything, and he agreed. This lady took me to the ER, and then came back to stay with me. We ended up getting home in the wee hours of the morning, and she had to work the next day. But from this and many other instances where I have seen them graciously and willingly help others, I feel that I could call on them in any time of need. When my mother passed away and we had to make a quick trip to TX, my oldest son was facing college finals and just didn’t feel that he should come with us. This couple again agreed to be “on call” for him while we were gone and had him over for dinner one of the evenings we were away. Another friend, upon hearing that my my had died, brought us over a couple of batches of muffins to help with breakfast the next couple of mornings as we packed and then left, and she brought a meal over the night we got home.
I could go on and on with these many practical areas of ministry. Some of them have been through an organized church committee (most meal situations come through that vein — many churches have found it helpful to make up some kind of committee of folks willing to do this that they can call on during times of need so that these efforts can be more organized and the recipient doesn’t end up with 3 meals on one night or something); other instances have been the result of an individual or a couple’s thoughtfulness, sensitivity to God’s leading, and willingness to pitch in and have their gifts, talents, and time be used of the Lord.
But besides the practical, there is a wealth of spiritual benefits. I don’t know how many times the church family has prayed someone through a crisis. I can’t tell you what it means to know that I can share a prayer request with the church or with individuals there at any time, people who will not only pray that one time, but will continue to pray and show an interest. This was a testimony to my mom when she was experiencing a health crisis — problems from diabetes that looked like it was going to lead to some kind of amputation of her foot. I sent out an emergency e-mail to just about every Christian I knew, both friends from church here, previous churches, college days, online friends, etc. Many of them wrote back that they were praying; some even wrote out a prayer for her. I printed all of those out and sent them to her. It meant so much to her that people who didn’t even know her were praying for her. She credited God’s answering their prayers with the fact that she only lost three toes and not her whole lower leg. This was one of the factors in her heart softening towards the Lord.
There are people who have taken an interest in us and in our children, who have invested time to teach, preach, watch the nursery, head up children’s ministries, ladies ministries, men’s prayer breakfasts. Although I have benefited greatly from hearing sermons on the radio or a CD at times, especially when I’ve been home sick or home with sick children, there is something special about the whole church being taught and instructed along the same lines each week that you just don’t get at home alone with the radio.
Then there is the blessing of seeing examples of living the Christian life, of marriage, of parenthood in others at church. As a single college student, then a young wife, then a young mother, then having preschoolers, elementary-aged children, then teens and college students — all along the way I have been able to observe godly people in my own stage of life as well as the next stages. I’ve had people I could ask questions of whose lives and “track record” I had witnessed with my own eyes.
Again — I could go on and on. God set up the Christian community called the church for all of these reasons and more. It’s a place where people can practice the Bible “one anothers”. It’s a place where older men and women are instructed to teach the younger. The church has been compared to a building, a body, a family. It’s a community that God gave gifts to and that God wants us to exercise our spiritual gifts in. Sure, many of these things take place in the larger community of believers as a whole, but these epistles were originally written to individual local churches.
It’s also, as I said at the beginning, a place of fallen human beings. So there will be failures. There will be people who slip through the cracks and get missed by some of these ministrations. There will be people who fail to do their part. There will be people who not only fail their brothers and sisters in Christ but who actually hurt them. What then? Is that a reason to forsake the church? Is that a reason to be bitter?
You know, I don’t ever see a justification in Scripture for bitterness. People will fail us; God never will. If other people don’t see our need, He does. We can appeal to Him to either meet the need or send someone who will. And what then about those fallen humans? Well, we remember that we are fallen and that we fail, too. We do unto others as we would have others do unto us when we fail — we exercise compassion and grace. We forgive as we have been forgiven, knowing that we have been forgiven so much more than what anyone else has done to us. Sometimes we confront the Christian brethren who have wronged us. Sometimes God wants us to take it, to suffer wrongdoing as graciously as Christ did, with the love that covers “a multitude of sins“.
So what do you do if your church is not an actively loving community that ministers to its members?
Well, first of all, pray. God may want you to go somewhere else, or He may want to turn your church around.
Then be patient. Likely it will take time: everything won’t change overnight.
Then, as God directs, speak up. The first deacons were ordained when one part of the church felt like ministry to them was neglected and they told someone.
And then, be willing to be the first to step out, the first to minister to others. Maybe it will catch on. If you have seen a need that God has burdened your heart about, maybe He is directing you to do something about it. Don’t panic, He will give the direction and grace and everything else as it is needed. Many ministries have been started because one person saw a need. Don’t be the one to sit back and say, “Somebody should…..” without being willing to be that somebody.
“Christ …loved the church, and gave Himself for it” (Eph. 5:25) to redeem it from sins and to manifest Himself through it to its members and to the world at large.