The Pain Stops HereBy Rich DuBose
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Does your church relieve pain, or cause it? Most people would never think of intentionally causing others pain, yet, sometimes they say and do things that actually make this a reality. Church leaders who are not sensitive to people, and whose members are not intentional about showing compassion and care toward those who attend their services, may ultimately do more harm than good!
First and foremost, the business of the church is people. We exist to reflect God's character to our surrounding communities and spheres of influence. Like hospitals, churches are in the healing business, and although a church's first motive should not be to just make people happy, I have never seen a hospital that went out of its way to make people miserable. Churches are meant to be places of healing and recovery—staging areas for the Kingdom that instill hope and renewal.
About a year ago I told my 1,000+ Facebook friends (Adventist and otherwise) that I was writing an article titled, “How to Keep People Away From Your Church,” and I asked this question. “What have you found that works?” I received an unexpected flood of responses. The summaries below reflect some of their sentiments:
- Place greeters in your foyer who make snide remarks about people’s dress or appearance (i.e. we don’t wear that here).
- Choose greeters who are not afraid to "call sin by its right name.” I once heard of a greeter who chastised a visitor because he came to church still eating his breakfast from McDonalds. The greeter made it clear that eating meat was “unhealthy.” The visitor had never been to that church before and probably never went back.
- If you want to divide people, get political. Bring your politics to church and openly denigrate those who do not prescribe to your political preferences. If your goal is to have a church where everyone belongs to the same party, skunk out those who are in the "wrong camp."
- Criticize the other churches in your community who are not as “advanced” in their understanding of truth as yours.
- Emphasize the idea that unless people “belong” to your church they are not going to heaven.
- Post a sign near your fellowship hall that reads, “No Cheese Dishes Allowed.” Make veganism a requirement.
- Emphasize uniformity of thought and discourage people from asking too many questions.
- With a wild-eyed expression on your face, sneak conspiracy theories to members and visitors in the form of CDs, DVDs, books, or by word-of-mouth.
- Hold your service in an ostentatious building that’s only open a couple of hours a week, so if someone has a need they have to wait till Sabbath. Make them uncomfortable by expecting everyone to wear special clothes, then have them sit for over an hour in a pew without talking to anyone while they wait to hear what they’re supposed to do next.
- Neglect opportunities to pray with those who are hurting.
- Ignore people you don’t know or like. Invite someone to lunch in front of someone not invited. Or better yet, invite them to your house, but ignore them as you talk with your other friends.
One of my Facebook friends responded, “There was a time, when it took every ounce of emotional capital I had within me to make it to church. When I heard from the pulpit that, essentially, 'if I was only there to warm a seat and listen to music I might as well not be there'... as if to say, 'if you are here for healing, then why are you here?' I wanted to scream, but I could hardly breathe…”
What should the defining qualities of a Seventh-day Adventist Church be? Without getting into the nuances of Adventist theology and doctrinal belief (which I'll save for another time), let me focus on the “elephant in the room” that we often try to ignore. Pain! Every Adventist church should be in the business of relieving pain.
Years ago, Floyd Bresee, former Ministerial Secretary of the General Conference, delivered a sermon about the church that made a lasting impression on me. He told about his wife, Ellen, having an accident and needing to go to the Emergency Room. When they arrived at the entrance, Ellen was greatly relieved because she knew it was the place that would ease her pain. It was as if there was a sign across the door that read, “The Pain Stops Here.” Likewise, Adventist churches should be places of healing! They should be triage centers for spiritual healing and recovery. When people walk through our doors they should be able to sense that this is the place that alleviates pain. Unfortunately, some churches do just the opposite.
Jesus once spoke about religious people who made God’s work more difficult:
“The religion scholars and Pharisees are competent teachers in God’s Law. You won’t go wrong in following their teachings on Moses. But be careful about following them. They talk a good line, but they don’t live it. They don’t take it into their hearts and live it out in their behavior. It’s all spit-and-polish veneer. Instead of giving you God’s Law as food and drink by which you can banquet on God, they package it in bundles of rules, loading you down like pack animals. They seem to take pleasure in watching you stagger under these loads, and wouldn’t think of lifting a finger to help. Their lives are perpetual fashion shows, embroidered prayer shawls one day and flowery prayers the next. They love to sit at the head table at church dinners, basking in the most prominent positions, preening in the radiance of public flattery, receiving honorary degrees, and getting called ‘Doctor’ and ‘Reverend’” (Matthew 23:1-7, Message).
These indicting words are still true in some circles. Fortunately, this is not true of all “religious people.” There are many sincere leaders and church members who are committed to reflecting the love and grace of Jesus to everyone they meet. And this is what it takes to create a community that's focused on healing.
We have been told, “If we would humble ourselves before God, and be kind and courteous and tenderhearted and pitiful, there would be one hundred conversions to the truth where now there is only one” (Ellen White, Testimonies to the Church, Vol. 9, p. 189).
I recently attended a seminar where the speaker said, "A lot of people don't believe in a good God because they haven't seen good people." Ouch! That hurts.
Adventism is more than just having "right theology. It's about being the "visible goodness" of God within our families, churches, and the world at large.
If you want your church to become a “caring” refuge in a careless, fractured world, reverse some of the negative actions listed above and let the healing begin.