American Christians like to hide our need. We like to act as though we have things together.
But when we do this, we undermine the very gospel that we want to proclaim.
As a result of several cross-country moves, and several visits to different parts of the country while preparing for Spain, we have had the privilege of worshiping and serving with many Christians in many different churches. It’s been a blessing and an encouragement. It’s also been an interesting overview of some trends in the American church. (Granted, we haven’t been to the Deep South, so if you’re reading this in Mississippi, it might not apply to your church.) Some of these trends are very encouraging. Some are frankly discouraging.
One unsettling trend is the choice by churches to act as though they have it all together. That they don’t have needs as a corporate body. That they don’t have trouble finding volunteers for nursery, for instance, or that they don’t occasionally wonder how God is going to provide for their financial needs.
This is a seductive error. It’s seductive because we want to demonstrate–appropriately–that we trust God for provision. It’s seductive because many people are coming to church looking for help, so it doesn’t seem fitting for a ministry to be asking for help. But it’s still an error.
If a ministry presents itself as “without need,” it could subtly communicate that God’s people are people who “have it all together.” You can imagine the problems that this would create. Pretty rapidly, the message will have its effect, and the aroma of the body will change. No longer will it be a group of thirsting men and women running to Jesus for living water, but it will be a group of happy, competent, well-meaning individuals who forgot that they were dead just a few years back.
In such an environment, how quickly will those individuals with needs decide that they should stop asking for help? How soon will they wonder if their ongoing need means that they are unsuited for church? How soon will the body slowly filter out the individuals unable to hide their need?
And given our well-established inclination to approach church as consumers, how quickly might such a place fill up with those who are simply looking for a church that meets their needs, but who have little interest in serving the body?
It also creates a problem in the proclamation of the gospel. The gospel tells us that we are a people in need. We need forgiveness of our sins. We need righteousness. We need a Savior. We need the convicting and healing work of the Word. We need help during trials and temptation. We need one another. How can we proclaim this and at the same time refuse to admit that we remain in constant need as a corporate body for the Lord to preserve, provide for, and protect us?
Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain…
This is tricky to address, and I’m not sure I know exactly how a church would address it. In preparing for ministry in Spain, Anna and I try to clearly communicate our need for prayer, for emotional encouragement, for spiritually edifying friendship, for partners in the work.
But it’s a bit of a pride-killing process. It can absolutely wreck your self-sufficiency when you are in the midst of a difficult season of ministry, and a woman with nothing to her name and failing health calls you to pray over you and to tell you that she felt like you needed some encouragement. Wait a second! We were supposed to be meeting her needs! Now she’s meeting our needs?
And the following week, you call this woman and she’s in tears over a friend’s death. She needs your prayers and encouragement.
And the following week, she calls to tell you that God is always good even if things are difficult.
And so on and so forth. It’s beautiful.
So what can we do in our churches? Perhaps we can share our needs with one another, and also look to meet each other’s needs. Perhaps pastors can share the needs of the ministry, and ask the church to pray together for God’s provision.
Perhaps we can find a way to rejoice in our absolute dependence on the Father.