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Engaging the Messy Stuff

What does our life together look like as a church?

Suppose a friend comes to you, and says, “I’m struggling with ________” And then fill in the blank based on your last conversation. Alcohol? Drug addiction? Porn addiction? Bad marriage? Anger? Disappointment? Loneliness? Hatred or conflict? Suicidal thoughts? (Maybe a friend has never shared anything like this with you before, and that fact alone probably makes a statement about your terminally superficial friendships?)

What do church members typically do in reaction to this comment? They back away and send the hurting person to their pastor (or a local counselor). Sad, isn’t it? They pass off the person faster than a quarterback handing off the football to his running back.

What should a church member do? Christians, the normal everyday members of a church, should be willing to engage in the hard things, and not run away from each other. They should teach the Word to one another. They should love one another. They should bear with each other. They should be patient with each other.

That’s often lacking in churches, isn’t it? Take my first point—Christians should teach one another with the Word. When a nasty situation shows up, some Christians don’t speak to each other with the Word, for fear that they’re too immature to handle the Word, or they don’t know their Bibles well enough to speak up. Or they are scared they will mess up the person, so they don’t say much. Others are quick to offer cheap advice or personal opinion, throwing at their friend whatever they think. But God’s Word doesn’t seep into their conversations.

What does the apostle Paul tell us? “I myself am convinced, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, complete in knowledge and competent to instruct one another” (Romans 15:14). Do you hear that? Everyday Christians are competent to instruct one another. With the Spirit and the Word, they don’t have to assume that professional ministry people, pastors, and certified counselors, are the only ones to be involved in messy, ugly, heartless, ruthless, and painful ministry situations.

Church members should be involved in the ugly parts of ministry, and not just the professional ministry folks. [1]Click To Tweet [1]

Here’s my basic premise: Church members should be involved in the ugly parts of ministry, and not just the professional ministry folks. Shocking, isn’t it? Far too many are prone to pass off troubled situations to pastors or counselors, thinking, “Let the professionals handle it.” They disengage. They don’t stay involved. They reason, “Okay, now the pastors (or counselors) got it. The struggling person is in good hands. Now I can go back to my normal life.” Then they pull back. Yet, the apostle Paul never intended for churches to be filled with disengaged church members, acting more like a relationally-superficial social club. The apostle instructs church members—the everyday normal members of your church—to engage each other, even in the messy things in the Christian life. There is no such thing as relationally superficial Christianity. Christ-like love requires us to get involved in messy situations.

My simplest way to prove this biblically is to look at the one another texts in Scripture. Just listen to how the Apostle Paul traces out the relationship of Christians, one to another.

Do you hear that? These verses are speaking to Christians, and notice the general direction—to oblige Christians to love one another, be devoted to each other, to honor, accept, be patient, be kind and compassionate, forgive, and even to instruct. There is an obligation for Christians to be invested in each others’ lives. It is unavoidable if you read Scripture….

Not every member is going to know what to do, or what to say, in difficult situations. In fact, many are going to be overwhelmed, especially if a friend showed up and said, “I’m an alcoholic” or “I’m in a bad marriage, and my wife just left me” or “I’m thinking of killing myself.” Many, in fact, would freak out, and start dialing the pastor’s cell number. But just because folks are scared doesn’t mean we should excuse them from their biblical responsibility to help. Churches are supposed to be communities of love. We’re supposed to help one another through the Christian life. We’re a cooperative of sinners, who know we need a Savior, and who agree to link arms with one another, marching forward to heaven together.

All the more reason why churches should be equipping their members to help with the messy stuff. Maybe you are a pastor, and think, “I don’t know where to start. I like this idea, but I don’t feel like I even know how to handle these messy situations myself…” Organizations like CCEF [2] and ACBC [3]partner with churches to help their members know how to be involved in the worst parts of the Christian life. They equip pastors and church members alike.