4 Ways to Care for the Hurting Starting This Sunday
In conjunction with the publication of Being There: How to Love Those Who are Hurting, my publisher Crossway took a survey of 15,000 people with regards to their care for the hurting. It was incredible to see that over 25% of those surveyed are currently caring for the physical, spiritual, and/or emotional needs of friends or family for the long-term. And that’s not including those who are caring for the hurting on a short-term basis—perhaps caring for someone who has recently lost a loved one or going through a short-term physical illness.
WHAT ABOUT THE CHURCH?
However, the biggest discouragement in the survey was the response to the question: When you were caring for this person, how supported did you feel by your local church? Only 23% said they felt very supported, while 45% indicated they were somewhat supported, and a whopping 32% said they were not supported.
One respondent talked about being burnt out from caring for her young husband who was dying of cancer, while at the same time raising two small children. She said some people in her church actually judged her for having a hard time. One pastor told her she was being ungrateful for all the help she was receiving, though she wasn’t actually receiving any from the church. She says these pastors and church members “greatly exacerbated my suffering.” After her young husband died she said that though she lived down the street from the pastor and others in the church, no one stopped by. “The only ones who cared for us were strangers and atheists.”
What a tragic story.
Churches should take the lead in compassionately caring not only for those who are hurting, but also for those who are caring for the hurting. Why? Because when one part of the body hurts, the rest of the body steps up to fill in the gaps.
Below I’ve offered four ways churches can care for the hurting.
1. Come ready to serve on Sundays.
Attend your church’s gatherings with eyes open for the hurting. Hebrews 10:24–25 says, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”
We should go into the worship gathering with a mentality that’s ready to serve and help. In our conversations, we should ask intentional questions and greet new people. At Redeemer Church of Dubai, where I serve as pastor, we like to joke that each member is on the unofficial “connections team.” This means we all have our antenna up looking for someone new, as well as anyone who might have an obvious need. As you enter the church building on Sunday, don’t be thinking only about yourself or even your personal relationship with Christ; be looking out for the entire body.
2. Just do something.
If you’re a church member and you see a need, here’s what you should do: something. Don’t wait for church leaders to initiate a program or ministry because meeting needs is everybody’s job.
I love hearing about church members who initiate care for the hurting. A couple of years ago, we had a member who was quite sick in the hospital, which left her husband and their four children both worried and struggling amidst his busy work schedule. It was a distressing, yet encouraging two weeks. Distressing for obvious reasons, but encouraging because the wife told me how countless church members in their neighborhood went above and beyond in caring for their family. Families brought meals; they watched the children.
But what encouraged me most is none of this was brought to the attention of our elders, as if members needed to ask permission to be the church to a family in need. Everything was entirely taken care of by the members themselves.
3. Pray for the hurting.
As a pastor, one of my favorite moments is looking around our meeting room after our worship gathering and seeing people praying with each other.
This Sunday, if you’re with someone and you hear of a personal need, stop what you’re doing and pray with them. Whether you’re in the coffee shop, on the phone, or taking a walk—stop what you’re doing and pray. There’s nothing more encouraging than hearing someone pray for you in your time of need. And if you’re praying for them during your own devotional time, why not email them or call them and let them know the contents of your prayer? What if the whole church was doing this for one another? It would be revolutionary.
4. Use your church’s membership directory.
Don’t let this tool go to waste. My friend Garrett Kell calls the church’s membership directory the second most important book in the church, after the Bible of course.
I think he’s absolutely right. Regularly going through your directory, especially a picture directory, will help you memorize the people in the church. You’ll know people’s names and faces, which will make it easier to initiative conversations.
A membership directory also works as a useful prayer guide. We encourage the members at Redeemer to keep the directory close to their Bibles so they can use part of their devotional time each day to pray for one another. Our directory is around 30 pages long so praying through it every month only requires one page a day
A membership directory will also remind you of the rest of the church body and the trials they’re facing. Perhaps a quick phone call of encouragement every once in a while is in order for someone you remember is lonely. Maybe a meal could be delivered to those first-time parents.
In a time of desperate need, I pray none of our fellow church members would be able to say, “The only ones who cared for us were strangers and atheists.” God expects more from his churches than a meager 23% success rate.
Think of how perfectly and exhaustively God has cared for you in Christ. Then ask yourself the question: shouldn’t our churches should be models of how to care for the hurting?