Monday, July 31, 2006

A Cautionary Tale for Christians

In The Color Purple, I'm told, one character tells a friend, "When you walked in the room, I knew there was a God."

We human beings are meant to be carriers of hope and of the presence of God to others. From the moment we come to believe in Jesus Christ, our call is to live for Christ, serve in Christ's Name, and share Christ so that others, like us, can know that there is a God, a God Who cares about people.

This story from today's Washington Post tells about a woman doused by gasoline and set on fire, allegedly by her boyfriend. Fredia Edwards was known for singing that brought the whole congregation at New Abundant Life Missionary Baptist Church into the presence of God. But then, one day not long ago, Edwards stopped showing up for worship. It mystified many in the church.

The people of New Abundant Life seem to be caring Christians. I don't know what efforts were made by the people or the pastors of the congregation to get in touch with Edwards, to express concern for her well being, to offer help or listening ears, or simply to say, "We miss you." Chances are, they did a lot!

But one thing I've learned from twenty-two years as a pastor and from studies done by church sociologists: Abrupt changes in worship patterns, whether sudden disapperances or sudden frequencies, usually indicate something major is going on in people's lives.
  • They may be indicating that they feel they no longer need God.
  • Or, they can be saying that they're angry with God or can't find Him in a particular church fellowship.
  • They may be conveying a desperate new need of God.
Whatever the case may be, a simple "how are you" telephone call or a short note conveying concern can be just the opening needed for people to know that there really is a God and that He cares for them.

Five quick points:
  • Church members, as well as pastors, need to take such outreach as one of their responsibilitie as Christians. The pastor isn't always the best person to reach those in crisis. The New Testament teaches that all believers in Jesus are part of the priesthood of all believers. You may be the person God wants to use to reach a hurting person.
  • It's best that men reach out to men and women reach out to women. The sexual dynamic can cause problems and misinterpretations on the parts of both those who reach out and those who receive notes and calls of concern.
  • You don't have to be omnicompetent. If in the course of a phone call you learn, for example, that the issue dogging the person you've contacted is beyond the scope of your competence, ask if it would okay to refer them to your pastor. Pastors will either be willing to talk with the person themselves or refer them to professionals they trust for counseling.
  • Never write a note or make a call without first praying that God's Spirit will fill and guide you.
  • Respect the grown-up status of adults. If people don't want to talk or refuse your offers of help, don't force the issue. The simple expression of concern may be a line of communication opened for later use. But take a cue from Jesus and never force yourself on anyone. Respect people's right to say, "No." If after you reach out to someone, their life blows up in some way, promise not to kick yourself. The willingness to help others doesn't entail your taking responsibility for their decisions.
Believers in Christ can do a world of good in so many ways. That includes reaching out in the love of Christ to those within their congregational families.

[Thank you to John Schroeder from Blogotional for linking to this post.]


Anonymous said...

Great insight and excellent advice. Thanks Mark.

Anonymous said...
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Mark Daniels said...

Thank you, Linda, very much.

Blessings in Christ,

jan@theviewfromher said...

You raise a great point, Mark. I don't know how many times I've had a casual conversation with someone at church, who said something to the effect, "I had surgery and haven't been to church for 6 weeks, and not one person has called to see where I am." I know life is incredibly busy for everyone, but we certainly do have a responsibility as the body of Christ to follow-up on the missing or invisible people in our church families.

Mark Daniels said...

A great antidote for our frequent obliviousness to others is to view a film usually shown to educators, produced, interestingly enough, by the Mormons: "Cipher in the Snow."

It tells the story of a little boy who died just outside a school bus and recounts how none of his classmates, teachers, or others who were around him every day were even aware of his existence.

May that never be true in the Body of Christ!