Do you know what the people sitting around you in the church worship service are going through? There are parents praying for their son, who is growing more distant from them and God. There is a husband struggling with pornography. There is a wife who is always trying to get even with her husband who seems to control her. There is the family who are proud of their daughter and sister who just graduated with honours. A single, elderly lady wonders if anyone is going to notice her. A young couple who have just found love and are planning for marriage. A single dad is struggling to cope with his daughter, who has ADHD. There is an elderly couple celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary; a teenager who is thinking about their friends and the good time they will have together in the afternoon and evening—wondering if their clothes are appropriate. There is a boy wondering if he will ever be able to tell anybody that he has been abused, while another young adult wonders why she is at church at all—most of her friends are gone and nobody seems to care. There is a manager wondering if he will have a job on Monday because of restructuring; a young adult grieving the loss of their mentor and grandfather who died in another country; a young couple expecting their first child after many years of IVF; a middle-aged cleaner who is being bullied by many of the other staff . . .
Enough. We get the picture. We don’t need another disaster like bushfires or coronavirus or cyclones or the stock market crashing—we are already overloaded emotionally.
What do we do with all the pain, joy, insecurity, heartache, injustice and love that we as humans experience? How would we treat people if we actually knew what was going on deep down inside them?
Does God have a word for us?
My weekly sermons as a local church pastor tried to take people’s issues into account—but that is a daunting task. No sermon, no matter how well researched and delivered, and no worship service, no matter how well prepared and crafted to reach people and honour God, can connect with all that is going on in each person’s life. The Holy Spirit knows the inner challenges of each person and the Holy Spirit can speak truth and healing into each life. As human instruments we must depend on His eternal abilities. But sometimes what people need is a “sermon and worship” in action—the church ministering to each other in the giftedness and power of the Spirit can be its strength.
The Adventist Centre of Research and Statistics at the General Conference reveals that 40 per cent of all those baptised leave the Church. Statistics for the South Pacific Division (SPD) are actually worse. Research through Natural Church Development in the Seventh-day Adventist Church worldwide shows that, of the eight characteristics of a healthy church, loving relationships is typically our lowest scoring.
The Seventh-day Adventist Church has a nurture and fellowship challenge. [pullquote]
The early Jerusalem Church had quality fellowship and it attracted people (Acts 2:42-47). Humans want to be in a group where they are accepted and valued and can contribute. There is no better place than the church for this. Jesus, the Head of the church, was first its Saviour and became like a human to understand and rescue us (Hebrews 4:15). He experienced human reality in the flesh.
However, I also wonder whether we need a reality check. As Adventists we know we have the last-day message for this world and might be tempted to think we have it all figured out. When we don’t, we pretend. Our teenagers and young adults are telling us by their leaving that our pretence does not work. They want reality. They want to know that all of us in the Church are struggling deeply with something, but we have found a gracious Saviour who comforts, heals, strengthens and encourages. When we have found that kind of Saviour, we will live it out in reality and the Church and the world will be a better place—full of real disciples of Jesus.