True stories – WHAT ON EARTH IS THE CHURCH DOING FOR HEAVEN’S SAKE? part 1 by late Selwyn Hughes
True stories –
WHAT ON EARTH
IS THE CHURCH DOING
FOR HEAVEN’S SAKE? part 1 by late Selwyn Hughes
From the book “a Friend in Need – How to help people with their problems”
Lay Helpers ( Counsellors’) are more effective than trained counsellors. How is that possible? This information could also help us reposition how some of us do church today. Find out from this writeup by late Selwyn Hughes
NOTE: If Jesus were to put all the efforts in our churches today on a scale, what value will He place on our work vis-a-vis going and making disciples? Some questions to have behind your mind as you read these true stories – Ambassador Ogbe
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JOHN sat in church eagerly waiting for the Sunday morning sermon to begin. He was particularly expectant that day as, after a distressing week at the office, he was hopeful of receiving from God a word that would meet his personal need. John’s work as a computer operator demanded a good deal of preciseness and exactness, but on the previous Tuesday he had made an error in his work which had cost his company a considerable sum of money.
Naturally his employer had been deeply upset and on Friday he had called John into his office for a reprimand that was given in no uncertain terms. It was not so much the reprimand, but the way it had been given that hurt.
John, a Christian for ten years, found that he was unable to rid himself of bitterness and resentment towards his employer.
He leaned forward as the pastor announced his text. Would the text give some indication of how he could solve his problem? No, nothing in that. He listened attentively as the pastor proceeded to probe the context. No, nothing in that, either. When the pastor was fifteen minutes into his sermon John leaned back in his seat, realizing that there was little hope of receiving instruction from this morning’s sermon on how to handle his feelings of bitterness and resentment.
He glanced around. Other people seemed to be getting something out of the sermon, and he could see by the expressions on their faces that some of their needs were being met. As the sermon drew towards its close John mused to himself, “This is a great sermon, but how I wish someone would help me with my problem.”
ANITA, a few seats away from John, had a problem of a different sort. A nurse at the local hospital, she had been obliged by reason of staff shortages to put in five consecutive weeks of night duty. And now she was feeling frustrated and depressed. Trying hard to suppress her negative feelings and concentrate on the sermon, she found it an impossible task, and settled back in her seat to focus on what was happening to her emotions. ‘Is my depression chemically caused,’ she thought, ‘or is it being triggered by my anger and frustration?’ Anita realized, instinctively, that her problem would largely be resolved if she could talk it over with a sensitive and sympathetic listener. Emotional release often follows the ventilating of a problem with an understanding friend. But who?
Most of the congregation looked upon Anita as a self-sufficient, self-confident person, with few personal problems. If only,’ she thought, … if only they would let me slip out from behind my mask sometimes and accept me as I am a frightened, insecure little girl.”
BRIAN, a fine-looking young man sitting on the back seat of the church, had an equally pressing problem. He had become a Christian a few months before and, although many of his old sinful habits had dropped away, he was still fighting a battle with impure thoughts. Lustful images rose, unbidden, into his mind. Would the pastor have something to say about this in his morning sermon? He had been helped before through something said from the pulpit; would some word come to him today that would help bring to a stop the merry-go-round of erotic images that filled his mind? As nothing being said from the pulpit seemed to meet his need Brian let his thoughts wander.
There’s Mr Kent…he looks a fine Christian. I wonder does he have a problem conquering impure thoughts?
What would happen if I spoke to him about my problem? Would he be embarrassed?… Would he have nothing more to do with me?… Perhaps real Christians don’t have this kind of problem…?
And now let us sing our final hymn. The announcement brought John, Anita and Brian back to the service and they stood to their feet along with the rest of the congregation. Although they were somewhat uplifted by God’s presence in the service, each was deeply conscious that inside him rumbled deep personal needs that had not been met.
Once the benediction was over the congregation dispersed into the aisles to greet each other with the usual Sunday morning clichés. ‘How are you?’ ‘Oh, I’m fine, thanks. How are you?’ ‘I’m fine, too, thank you very much.
Anita hesitated as someone came up to her and said, ‘How are you today, Anita?” She longed, desperately, to share with someone her real feelings: could this be the opportunity she was looking for? Unfortunately it was all too obvious, from the expression and tone of the questioner, that the greeting was no more than a cliché.
Responding on the same level, Anita replied, ‘I’m fine. thank you’ and quickly walked away.
John and Brian dodged their way through the congregation without anyone engaging them in conversation-something they were grateful for, as neither of them wanted to be caught up in idle and meaningless chit-chat.
An hour later, as John, Anita and Brian reflected on the morning service in the seclusion of their own homes, their one conclusion was, ‘It was indeed a wonderful service, but how I wish something had been said that could help me with my problem
Is what I have described in the preceding paragraphs mere caricature, or is it a down-to-earth representation of what goes on in most of today’s churches? I’m afraid that all too often the picture I have drawn is of grim reality. The Christian church seems unable to minister to people at the point of their needs. It is not, as someone put it, ‘scratching where people itch. Both in the pulpit and in the pew the church is failing in its role as a loving, caring society.
Problem in our pulpits
How, we might ask, ‘is the church failing in its pulpit ministry? Pulpit sermons (with notable exceptions, of course) fail to touch the nerve of human need and grapple with the important issues of daily living. The church is strong on exhortation, but weak on explanation. The result is that in thousands of Christian congregations there are people like John, Anita and Brian who say to themselves “This is a great sermon, but how I wish someone would say something that would help me with my problem.’
This point was brought home to me rather dramatically early in my ministry when, after delivering what I thought was a well-prepared and well-thought-out sermon, a man tackled me later in the vestry and said, ‘I though that was a great sermon-now tell me how I can put it into operation in my life. Ever since then I’ve tried to include the ‘how’ in almost every sermon I have preached. Isn’t this where the church is missing the mark? We tend to answer the questions people are not asking, and countless numbers sit in our congregations saying to themselves, ‘I know what I should do, but how do I do it?’
But this is not the only aspect of the church’s failure in its pulpit ministry. Another mistake we make is to assume that all the problems related to Christian living can be answered through pulpit preaching. This is not to degrade pulpit preaching, or to attempt to render it valueless. It is a God-honoured and important way of teaching, instructing and inspiring the people of God, but it has one drawback-it fails to minister to people’s specific needs.
This can best be done when we talk to them individually. ‘Every person,’ says Dr Clyde Narramore, ‘has his own interesting world. And we do not enter people’s worlds by taking a pot-shot at them. We help people most when we talk to them on a one-to-one basis. The church must stop thinking that once something has been said from the pulpit it is enough. If people’s personal problems are to be solved, then pulpit preaching must followed up by giving more individual attention to the issues. People do not grow or change much unless they are given an opportunity to discuss their problems thoroughly. To try to solve all problems through pulpit preaching is like trying to put drops into someone’s eyes from an eye dropper held at a height of fifty feet!
Games Christians play
We said earlier that both in the pulpit and in the pew, the church is failing in its role as a loving, caring society. How is it failing in the pew? Even the most casual observer of church life today can see that in the area of inter-personal relationships things are not as they ought to be. It is perhaps the greatest scandal of the universe that a church modelled on a God who cared enough for us to give his own Son to die on a cross, should be so bereft of tender, loving care.
Take an average Christian congregation. People meet together in church on Sundays but rarely make any serious attempt to communicate with each other on a meaningful level. Colin Urquhart, when interviewed once on television, described such people as ‘billiard-ball Christians’.
He went on to explain that in many churches, the only contact people have with each other is through well-worn clichés that have no real depth or meaning; they bounce these off each other like billiard balls going click, click, click. Then they settle back in their pockets for another week until they are brought out the next Sunday to begin the game all over again. This is contact without communication.
There is no sensitivity to each other’s needs, no alertness to hidden problems, and no desire to relate on a meaningful level.
Lawrence Crabb, a Christian psychologist, says, ‘We warmly shake hands with people every Sunday who are about to come apart at the sears, and very often we don’t know it until they really do.’ Clearly this is far from the model of the church described in the Bible.
According to the New Testament, every believer is expected to have a practical and sacrificial concern for the needs of his or her fellow human beings. The apostle James asks us, ‘Now what use is it, my brothers, for a man to say he “has faith” if his actions do not correspond with it?’ (James 2:14, PHILLIPS). A similar thought is expressed by the apostle Paul in Philippians 2:4: ‘Don’t just think about your own affairs, but be interested in others, too, and in what they are doing’ (TLB). Again, in 1 Thessalonians 5:11, Paul tells us to ‘encourage each other and
build each other up’ (TLB), and in Galatians 6:2 he bids us to ‘Share each other’s troubles and problems, and so obey our Lord’s command’ (TLB).
Everyone a people-helper
Helping people with their problems is the responsibility of every Christian ‘believer, no matter at what stage of spiritual development he or she may be. Baron Von Heugel, a Roman Catholic layman, gave this penetrating definition of a Christian: A Christian is one who cares.
Every local church must accept the responsibility for helping people with their problems. The Bible fairly bulges with the truth that once we have opened up our lives to Jesus Christ and are invaded by his love, then our next tasik is to alow that love to flow cut to others in ways that demonstrate a practical, sacrificial concerns. We are to rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15 asv). We are to build one another up, admonish one another, encourage the faint hearted, help the weak, and be patient with everyone we meet (see 1 Thessalonians 5:14). clearly then, we Christians must be sensitive to each others’ needs and, wherever necessary, reach out to help.
As a young man I sat one Sunday in my local church with a deep spiritual problem I could not resolve. I looked to the pulpit for help but none came. As I was leaving the service, feeling somewhat sad and dejected, a young man tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Can I have a word with you for a moment? Never, as long as I live, will I forget the impact he made on me as he said, I couldn’t help noticing that something is bothering you. I am not a counsellor, and I have no great experience in helping people with their problems. But I can promise you one
thing-I am a good listener, and I care! Those last two words were just what I needed. Within minutes I had shared with him the problem that was concerning me and, although he was unable to fully unravel it and resolve it, yet I left that service feeling as if I were walking on air. All because someone cared!
It is surprising what help one person can be to another when there is a genuine demonstration of tender, loving care. Some years ago psychologist, Robert Carkhuff, did a detailed study on the effectiveness of what is known as lay helpers. His conclusions were quite startling. When lay helpers, with or without training, were compared with
professionally-trained counsellors, it was discovered that ‘the patients of lay counsellors did as well as, or better than, the patients of professional counsellors’ A number of reasons were suggested for this discovery.
In contrast to a professionally trained person, a lay helper
(a) is closer to the one being helped, knows him as a friend, and thus better able to understand his problem, and to pick up non-verbal clues, or to demonstrate a sincere sympathy:
(b) is more often available;
(c) knows more about the helpers family, work situation, life-style, beliefs, or neighbourhood and can, therefore, take a more active part in guiding decision. or helping the person change;
(d) is able to communicate in language which the person can easily understand; and
(e) is more down-to-earth, relaxed, informal, and inclined to introduce a tension-relieving humour.
Very often a trained counsellor or professional counsellor is attempting to work in accordance with some complex counselling theory. A lay helper couldn’t care less about this. Since he is primarily concerned about another human being who is hurting, all his efforts are directed towards that end. He often ends up doing a better job than his highly-trained professional counterpart.
Specific God-given ability.
Now at this stage someone might be saying to himself, ‘Isn’t the ability to help someone in trouble a special spiritual gift? And isn’t it true that only some people are given this special ability? Yes, some people are specifically gifted by God for the purpose of helping people with their problems, as outlined in Romans 12:6-8 and if our gift be the stimulating of the faith of others let us set ourselves to it’ (PHILLIPS). The gift of ‘stimulating the faith of others’ is, in my opinion, the God-given ability
to uncover and resolve the deep, hidden problems which hinder Christians in their spiritual growth. I witnessed this…
To be continued in part 2 – stand by
Ambassador Monday Ogbe
Gods eagle ministries