“I’m here to help, I’m not going anywhere.”
Such a simple phrase, yet incredibly powerful in its ability to comfort those who have just been hurt in an accident. As a first responder, this was a phrase my dad was trained to use in the middle of chaos. And it was the best tool he was given to help in dire situations.
My hometown is small. It is my dad’s hometown as well. The most recent survey found 1,086 people living in Wanamingo, MN. Out of necessity, many of our city’s functions were facilitated by volunteers, including the Fire Department. In 1992, fire fighters were given the option to receiving first responder training in order to get people to the scene of an accident or emergency who were able to sustain life until the ambulance arrived.
My dad enlisted, and as I am incredibly proud of him for doing so. He volunteered to be the first on the scene when people were hurting. When death was certain or close. And he wasn’t going to help nameless people he’d never met before. He was going to help friends, people he had grown up with. People he played baseball with, or even people he didn’t get along with. There was more than just a general response to human suffering, but involved some sort of relational connection with each person he was called to help. He was serving the community he grew up in, in the hardest of situations imaginable.
“I’m here to help, I’m not going anywhere.”
Missional Community leaders are in a similar position. Leaders seek to create safe environments where the Good News of the gospel crashes up against people’s lives. There is the desire for relational depth between people, believers and future disciples alike.
All of us are walking through the valley of the shadow of death. We are battling the remnants of our old nature within, and the difficulties of a broken world. Our sin leads to suffering, and oftentimes our suffering results in sinful conquests of old comforts.
Our leaders at River City Church function in many situations as first responders. As elders, we hope that people in Missional Community are open about their hearts and their lives, and find a place where they can see tangible expressions of God’s love and compassion. Difficult situations arise out of the blue. People that have been struggling in silence finally find a place to share. Life in community means that we all experience the joys and struggles of others in our lives.
Therefore, it is crucial that we learn how to respond well as a church to the sin and suffering present in our lives.
We hope that the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ will be clearly communicated and believed. Therefore, we must be wise in how we communicate this gospel we have understood and internalized. Our theology must inform our practice, in the most ground-level and specific ways.
In order to respond appropriately to life situations that arise, the following protocol is designed to help us know what to do when we arrive at the scene. A protocol is simply a system for responding to various situations, a way in which we can be prepared for the unexpected. The good news is that we know a God who is sovereign over all, who loves deeper than we can, who cares more than we do. But it’s this same God who equips his children to be used in his great purposes in the world.
So, how do we respond when we get that phone call, or when someone asks to talk? When someone loses their job unexpectedly? When a friend has had enough of their secret sin? As first responders, what are our Missional Community leaders to do?
Invite to Share
To begin, we want to assure people that it is safe to share their situation. Lord willing, having been their leader, they will have some degree of trust already built. But, we want to make it clear with our words and our actions that they have 100% of our attention. It may entail going to another room in your house, or stepping outside. You’re building an environment that acknowledge there’s shame and guilt and struggle taking place, and that you care.
As people begin to share what’s going on, practice your active listening skills. This means eye contact. Verbal and non-verbal responses. Clarifying questions. It means not talking. James 1:19 challenges my tendency to talk a lot when I am unsure of what to do in a situation. Be quick to hear, slow to speak. Be quiet, listen, let them get out everything they need to get out. At the beginning of the interaction, always default to not saying something rather than saying something.
You are simply trying to assess the situation. What is presenting itself as the primary aggravation? Sin resulting in suffering? Suffering resulting in sin?
This part of the interaction might end with them saying something like, “So that’s what’s going on. That’s the situation.” Then you know you have permission to take it a level deeper.
As you get a sense of the situation, and it appears as though they’ve shared all they are ready to share at that point, it’s not yet time to talk! You might know the situation, but that’s not the most important thing to grasp in the moment.
You want to know their heart. You may have asked the who, what, when, and where questions. But you also need to ask the why. What is going on beneath the surface? Why does the sin they struggle with seem so appealing? How are they responding to the suffering that has been thrust upon them? What are they thinking? What are they feeling? How has this affected others around them? What do they seem to believe about God? How are they seeing themselves?
Why do you think this struggle is bothering you so much? How do you think God is looking at you right now, and why? How does this impact how you view yourself? What makes it difficult to trust that God will help you through this? How has this impacted your relationships?
What seems to make this situation so difficult? What emotions seem to be rising up the most lately? How have you sought comfort and rest in the midst of this trial? How has this impacted your view of God?
As you start getting answers to these questions, you are now in a position to actually share something. Not knowing the situation and the heart can lead to an improper diagnosis, resulting in poor direction and help for them going forward. Only once you feel as though you have a handle on these things you may transition.
It would start with something as simple as, “I’m really sorry you’re going through this right now, but I’m thankful that you’ve shared and I am honored to help. It sounds very difficult, so let’s start working through this together. Is that ok?”
Connect to Grace
At that point, as they have been heard, as you’ve listened and investigated, you are in a position to connect them to the goodness and grace of God.
If suffering is presenting itself as the primary aggravator, you are looking to help them sustain, persevere, endure. You are seeking to ground them in the goodness of God, giving hope that overcomes the worst of situations. It looks something like this*:
- Life is hard.
- God is good!
- It’s normal to hurt.
- It’s possible to hope.
We acknowledge their suffering, affirming that life is indeed difficult. We do not say something like, “I know you lost your job, but at least your wife still works.” Or, “I’m sorry you just had a miscarriage, but at least you wont’ have to get up in the middle of the night.” These are insensitive, but may come from a heart that truly cares. It’s a matter of not knowing what to say in a difficult moment, and trying to give perspective. It’s the difference between wise counsel and ineffective interactions.
As we acknowledge their suffering, we remind them that God is still good, even in the darkest of places. In Christ, we know that our suffering is not without purpose. We know that it is part of how God is shaping and forming us, and displays the depth of his faithfulness in his enduring presence. We remind them that God indeed loves them, and is close, and is for them even when it doesn’t appear that way.
We let them know it’s normal to hurt. We encourage to see the situation for what it is. We encourage them to share with God all that makes it so difficult to endure. We encourage them to cry out for his help, to seek him in the time of trouble. We make it ok for them to be honest about their heart. They do not need to put on a front. They don’t need to repeat some evangelical jargon about how God will somehow get them through. They need to be honest, they should not hide behind some veil of strength they just don’t have.
And we call them to hope. Not in their situation getting better. Not in the next season of life when things settle down. We call them to hope in who God is and what he’s done in Christ, in the here and now. Seek him as a refuge, as their great Comforter. He consoles weary hearts, helping them to sustain and to hope.
If sin presents itself, your hope is to look at the wonder of our forgiveness in Christ and God’s will to supernaturally transform us from one degree of glory.
We must get a sense of why they are bringing this to light. Has their sin resulted in some difficult consequences, that they hope go away quickly? Or, has the Holy Spirit been showing them the depth of sin’s ugliness and brought about a legitimate desire to repent? That will be hard to assess, but the sinfulness of sin must be understood so that forgiveness can be seen as glorious and amazing.
Because it is glorious and amazing! Forgiveness, full and complete, based on the finished work of Jesus Christ the Lord. It does not matter what they bring to light, in Christ there is forgiveness. We get to remind people that it is possible through faith in Christ, that in his mercy and grace you can find forgiveness. Though sin is terrible, because of what Jesus has done reconciliation has been accomplished.
From there, knowing the depth of our forgiveness, we can talk about the desire to mature. Do they want to not only stop this, but do they want to start that? Do they want to put off the old self, and put on the new? “So if I’m hearing you correctly, you have been convicted about this sin, and want to honor God instead. Is that fair to say?”
We hope that it truly is their desire, given them by the Spirit and showing us that there’s something already going on inside.
At that point, we can talk about the amazing ways in which God sanctifies us as his children. His will is our sanctification. He wills and works in us for his good pleasure. He transforms us from one degree of glory to another. And he will finish the work he started.
We balance this with the truth that we participate in our sanctification. We flee youthful passion and pursue righteousness. We put off and put on. We work out our salvation with fear and trembling.
Lastly, we help people face the consequences of their sin by faith. Personal sin might have lead to a lost job, a broken relationship, emotional or even physical pain. In that, they need to be encouraged to face reality in light of God’s forgiving grace and to accept the consequences for what they are. Overall, the process of helping people with presenting sin issues looks like this*:
- Address the sinfulness of sin.
- Share the wonder of forgiveness.
- Assess desire to mature.
- Describe the process of maturity.
- Face consequences by faith.
After we wrestle through these things, pray. Pray for them, ask them to pray if they seem up to it. Tell them what you’ll do next. Will you check in with them during the week? Will you talk on Sunday morning? Will you talk next week at MC? Or, do you think it would be best to refer to a pastor? Whatever you do, tell them what you’ll do and when they’ll do it, asking for their permission.
This is messy business. We are complicated beings, facing complicated problems, in a complicated/fallen/broken/sinful world. But by God’s grace, we can be wise in how we enter into the sin and suffering of people in our body. We know that sin brings about suffering, and suffering oftentimes brings about sin.
But the gospel shows us that God’s grace not only saves us from our sin, but transforms us as we await the return of our Lord Jesus. It strengthens us to find hope in the midst of suffering. God’s grace truly is amazing.
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to life self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. — Titus 2:11-14
May we be a people growing in our understanding of the gospel, believing it by faith, wisely sharing it with others.
“I’m here to help, I’m not going anywhere.”
*Derived from Robert H. Kellemen's Soul Physicians and Spiritual Friends.