What is it like to be someone else in your church?
I’m convinced that some people never wonder. These are the people who sometimes make awkward statements to others. These are the people who sometimes sound smug as they talk about people who have various problems. They seem to have no appreciation for how tough life has become for some people.
My friend sat in an assembly one Sunday morning. The minister began his sermon by referring to his “extraordinarily difficult week.” Then he explained that he had a fender-bender in a car last week. He went on to talk about trials and tribulations that people face.
Meanwhile, my friend listened, amazed that he would talk about a fender-bender using language like “trial and tribulation.” After all, for the last several months, my friend had spent his days sitting beside his wife’s hospital bed while she was dying of cancer. That morning, he left her bedside to be a part of this assembly. My friend decided this preacher really had no idea what it was like to sit beside the bed of a loved one and watch her die.
John Killinger, in one of his books, suggested that ministers need to realize that people in churches find themselves in a variety of circumstances on any given Sunday morning. He suggested an exercise in which a minister reflects on some of these situations. (Actually, this exercise would probably be useful for anyone.)
What would it be like to:
- Have just experienced divorce?
- Have an adult child in jail?
- Be living on government assistance?
- Be a new parent for the first time?
- Have just learned you have cancer?
- Know you are having major surgery tomorrow?
- Be told by your wife, “I’m moving out. I’ve found someone else I love.”
- Be told by your employer, “We won’t be needing you anymore.”
- Live alone for many years?
- Live in an abusive home?
- Be single?
- Want children and yet be unable to have children?
- Face a move to a new community in a state where you’ve never been?
- Experience severe depression?
- Realize you are in serious trouble financially?
- Grieve over your mother’s death?
- Feel old and useless?
- Care for aged parents while you try to be attentive to your children and grandchildren?
What thoughts, feelings, experiences, names, situations, places, etc. come to mind? There are times when I ask myself as I prepare to teach or preach, “How would a person in one of these situations hear this message?”
Far too often, we see life only from our point of view.
Perhaps there are some people whom I will never totally be able to identify with. However, I can try. I can at least ask the questions. I can consider what it might be like to be another.
What can church leaders do that might help them better understand the experiences of the people they interact with?