For some people, 2009 was a genuinely difficult year. I’m thinking of 10 individuals whom I will not name but will describe. All are, or have been, friends in local congregations. You certainly could make up your own list.
One is a recent college graduate who has sent out more than 100 resumes to date with no viable job prospects.
One is an unemployed ministerial staff member whose position was eliminated due to economic pressure.
One is an architect, one a building materials supplier, one a real estate developer. All have either declared bankruptcy or are thinking about it. One of them is in the midst of a failing marriage. One of them committed suicide.
One is the parent of an older adolescent whose child has begun to act out in significant, negative and life-altering ways.
Two are the parents of a preschooler who died last year. Every day is a painful journey through deep grief.
Two are retired and in their 80s. Their entire retirement portfolio was invested in the stock of a prominent bank that is now worth less than 10 percent of its value 24 months ago.
These 10 people symbolize those who sit in our pews every week. They are, or have been, active in their churches, and are people who claim Christ as Lord. As clergy and laity, it behooves us to consider carefully how our local congregation helps people cope with the most challenging days of their life. To that end, remember:
- Worship and theology matter.
When it feels like the world is closing in on us, we desperately need to be reminded that God is larger and more powerful than any and everything we face. Our people come to church each week craving a connection to a God who can absorb our anxiety, calm our fears, inspire us to hope. Let’s make sure we plan worship that inspires congregants to raise their horizons, and teaching that proclaims the gospel of the God of possibilities.
- Relationships matter.
Small groups, be they classes or informal networks, are part of the glue that helps hold people together. When we allow our small groups to be shallow and petty, we rob people of the opportunity to be authentic, vulnerable, connected to one another. Everyone who comes to our church needs to be connected to a small group of individuals who take Christian community seriously.
- Mission matters.
Getting connected to God’s larger purpose and activities in the world enables us to see beyond the boundaries of the moment. Dealing with the needs of others, and being part of a ministry or mission that meets real needs in Christ’s name, is a helpful antidote to the self-centeredness that surrounds us. Healthy churches point us beyond ourselves.
These are hard days, to be sure. They are also the best day to be the church that most of us will ever know. Such an opportunity calls for our most thoughtful and attentive efforts to be God’s people in this time and in this place.
Bill Wilson is president of the Center for Congregational Health in Winston-Salem, N.C.
Bill Wilson is president of the Center for Healthy Churches (CHC) housed at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee.