WHAT ARE PEOPLE LOOKING FOR IN CHURCH?
Part III - The Need for Care
Why do people join congregations? Like many Lutheran congregations, the majority of Zion's members joined by baptism or transfer. Increasingly new members joining today are people who at one time were members of a church but then drifted away, or simply never had a church home. Whatever their background the question is, what do people look for, what do they need in a church? Surveys reveal four basic needs, one of which is the need for care.
Fundamentally, Christians care because God first 'cared' for us.
We love because He first loved us. Care and love for others like good works 'adorn' the Gospel of Christ especially during times of crisis. During life's 'Wild Ride' times, a church's response will greatly influence relationships within the congregation and with God.
Opportunity for care spans a wide range of emotional-spiritual-physical-medical needs. To be sure it would be unrealistic for us to try to meet all; many times the best way to care is to help people find the resource they need. But at the same time we must not fail to reach out with spiritual and emotional support. In times of crisis people struggle with questions like: Why is this happening? Why does God allow suffering? While we cannot answer every question and need, we must not fail to remind of God's promise to walk with His people through their crisis. Here are some ways congregations care for people at such times:
Laity Training: Clergy provide pastoral care, but what happens when need exceeds the amount a pastor can provide? Fact is care opportunities abound, for those grieving, divorced or separated, terminally ill, homebound, for the member going through job-loss or recently moved, even those with a new baby. To meet such needs training can be provided by church.
Specialized Care: This includes inactive members, hospitalized, homebound, and those in nursing homes. Specialized care requires training theologically, emotionally, socially, and psychologically. Specialized visiting is also an opportunity for inter-generational ministry; children and youth helping can provide a particularly powerful aspect of Christian care.
I was sick and you took care of me . . . Truly I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me. Matthew 25.40
Support and Recovery Groups: Another way to care is through support for people with chronic or ongoing health conditions, chemical dependency, and so on. Recovery care is a dimension of ministry that 'gives legs' to the message of God's great love. Grief support for those dealing with the death of a loved one, divorce support . . . these are a few of the care needs today. Since 2015 Zion has offered sessions of GriefShare. Offering such support and recovery groups can open the church to turning focus and efforts and reaching out beyond our walls. When congregations today provide such care, it speaks volumes about who we are as the people of God.
Greeting Card Care: Another way of expressing care among members and within the community is a card ministry. As members mark significant birthdays, anniversaries, when sickness or hospitalization occur, during hard times as well as accomplishment and success, graduations, confirmations and the like - Zion's Helping Hand volunteers provide invaluable quality of care as they share the love of Jesus for all. Such care ministries have a mission of empathy, witness, encouragement, and comfort in the name of the Lord. By such works the light of the Gospel is shined and spread.
Care is Powerful! Care brings people back to church and deepens their relationships with God. Lack of care drives people away and leaves them searching for God's presence. Sometimes the cry for care is loud. The church must also listen for the voiceless cries of those who need care. We should never forget to hear the cries of the lepers to Jesus, 'Lord have mercy upon us.' Christ, interrupting the business at hand, responded to their cry. We pray, 'Lord make us your instruments of care, your means of nurture, your hands of love your servants who bring good news today and for eternity.'
AUGSBURG CONFESSION V: Concerning the Office of Preaching
To obtain such faith God instituted the office of preaching, giving the gospel and the sacraments. Through these as means, (God) gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when He wills, in those who hear the gospel. It teaches that we have a gracious God, not through our merit but through Christ's merit, when we so believe. Condemned are the Anabaptists and others who teach that we obtain the Holy Spirit without the external word of the gospel through our own preparation, thoughts, and works.
As for the question: 'How did you and I become members of the church?''
So we confess in the Small Catechism,
I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength, believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the truth faith. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.
May the Lord bless us richly with this gift!
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