Building People of Substance for Works of Power
Not long after we returned to in-person church, I noticed a mother and daughter sitting in the front row before service. The chairs were still spaced for social distancing (it seemed more asocial to me), so they were in an abbreviated 3-seat grouping. The adolescent daughter was having some sort of teenage crisis. Her head was in her hands, rhythmically shaking from side to side. When her face turned my way, I could see a look somewhere between anger and torment. Mom just sat quietly and put her hand on the girl’s back and began to gently caress. Almost immediately, the outburst began to subside. In just a few minutes the two were talking face to face.
This is not an uncommon occurrence. We all know that the presence of another human, especially one we know and trust, can help us through emotional uproar. From the moment of birth, we respond to touch, to voices, to a familiar presence – it’s how we’re built. Science tells us that there are biochemical reasons for this calming effect. We need connections. You can’t do this online.
One side effect of the Covid-19 lockdowns has been a dramatic increase in feelings of depression and hopelessness. We have seen an uptick in bizarre and senseless violence. Thoughts of suicide have increased, drug overdoses have multiplied, and anxiety seems the norm for many. This shouldn’t be a shock. Isolation from other humans produces anxiety, depression, and hopelessness. Add to that the constant threat of physical illness and economic collapse, and you have a formula for a mental health mess.
Connection to other humans is one of the things that helps us deal with stress. The website Psych Central defines connection as “…when two or more people interact with each other and each person feels valued, seen, and heard. There’s no judgment, and you feel stronger and nourished after engaging with them.” For many committed Christians, our church family is a primary source of this kind of connection. For those who have never had a church experience that provides connection, it holds the potential to help overcome the effects of living in a broken world.
Scripture Reading: “…in case I’m delayed. I want you to know how people who are members of God’s family must live. God’s family is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth. (1 Timothy 3:15 GW)”
When we talk about depression, we mean a persistent mood with varying degrees of sadness, despair, and loneliness. It’s typically accompanied by inactivity, guilt, loss of concentration, social withdrawal, sleep disturbances, and sometimes suicidal tendencies. The local church, the family of God, can be the perfect venue for overcoming these things. When God uses family language to describe church relationships, He’s trying to tell us something. We’re not employees, or members of a club. We are fathers, sons, mothers, daughters, brothers and sisters. This language is designed to communicate caring, continuing relationship based on who we belong to, not what we do.
There are a number of things that can produce depression, but there are 4 that are very common: Grief, isolation, self-pity, and a lack of purpose. God designed the church to be a source of support and relief for all 4:
- Grief: Many have experienced the loss of significant people in the last 2 years yet have been cut off from supportive relationships. All of us have seen cultural and political institutions crumble. We’ve been pushed out of our familiar roles and functions. These things can produce a profound sense of loss. God, the master comforter, empowers us to comfort one another. You can’t do this effectively online.
- Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. (2 Corinthians 1:3-4 NKJV)
- Isolation: Living in a room watching a screen is not healthy. Close human contact in a safe environment is a universal antidote for depression. It works even better when we are part of a group that shares common values and traditions. That is the Church. Paul said that we are “members of one another.” That connection is designed to strengthen us. By definition, this is not possible online.
- Our bodies have many parts, but these parts don’t all do the same thing. In the same way, even though we are many individuals, Christ makes us one body and individuals who are connected to each other. (Romans 12:4-5 GW)
- Self-pity: For me, this is the hardest one to recognize. It often stems from events that are factually true. I have been wronged, or short-changed, or devalued in some way, either by circumstance or by humans. If left alone to meditate on how awful it is to be me, or how incompetent I am, or how the world (or the Church) is simply unfair, I can easily become morose. The best (only?) cure for self-pity is to get involved in serving someone else. It’s a seed-planting thing! Church is the ideal place to start sowing. It ain’t real ‘til it’s personal.
- And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise. (Luke 6:31 NKJV)
- Lack of purpose: A life lived just for the sake of breathing and eating is a depressing thing, indeed. In one Greek study, mortality rates increased by 51% when people retired. Solomon wasn’t kidding when he said people perish without vision (Proverbs 29:18 KJV). Being part of the army of believers entrusted with reaching the world with the Gospel of Christ is as big a purpose as one can have. Church is where we get reminded of our “why.” Don’t let isolation steal your raison de vivre.
- And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrews 10:24-25 NKJV)
Somebody said: “Fellowship means among other things that we are ready to receive of Christ from others. Other believers minister Christ to me, and I am ready to receive.” Watchman Nee
Here’s the Point: Christianity is rooted in relationships, first with God, then with one another. Because of this, the Church is uniquely constructed to meet the needs of hurting people. We’re a family. That means we’re connected and we need each other. It doesn’t mean we always like each other. Our singular command is to “Love one another.” That command is meaningless in isolation. None of this requires technology. Our technology might be used to continue or enhance relationships, but it can’t be used to form them, not really. A text can never replace a hug. It’s not possible.
As leaders, we can find ways to give people the opportunity to connect. We break bread together. We arrange and empower group projects, and we intentionally find ways to encourage the sharing of lives. Transparency is modeled, not demanded. As a Pastor, I found that when I made myself available before and after services, walking the aisles, standing in the foyer, shaking hands and slapping backs, my counseling load decreased. People need to be acknowledged, valued, and touched. That doesn’t have to be done in an office, and it sure can’t be done online.
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