The way we do church & suffering

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My sixteen-month-old gave me a 3 a.m. opportunity to think last night. I had gone to bed early after a tiring day. Sunday afternoons are normally a relaxing time for me, but for some reason I had an itch to work yesterday that culminated in going for a run. I have no idea why I wanted to run. It’s been a while since I’ve ran, and you know what comes with unaccustomed exercise. Pain! I was so looking forward to sleep and decided to go to bed an hour earlier than normal. Rebekah, however, didn’t cooperate.  Out of her normal routine,  she was awake and rather noisy from 2 to 3 am. Eventually the house grew quiet, but my brain didn’t.

So I laid awake thinking about church, which is normally what I think about if I’m up at 3 am, and the pain in my body, still lingering from my late afternoon run. The two thoughts collided to form one question. ‘Does the way we do church teach people how to suffer well?’

There’s a reason I’m interested in suffering. It’s not because of what I’ve faced in the past; rather, my interest stems from what I believe I must endure in the future. Scripture is full of calls to endure. Take Matthew 24:12 – 13 for example:

And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.

And see the mind blowing promise attached to endurance in Revelation 3:21

The one who conquers [literally overcomes obstacles] , I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne.

Every Christian has good reason to want to endure. To endure simply means to maintain a belief or course of action in the face of opposition (BDAG, 1039). In other words, God calls us to maintain our faith and obedience to him in the midst of suffering.

Now back to my question. Does the way we do church teach people how to suffer well? Maybe we try to make everything too easy or overemphasize comfort. More than anything I’m concerned that we are raising up a generation of church goers that have come to expect church to be a smooth, polished ride where individual suffering is kept hidden. Here’s the danger. For many, if not most Christians, church lies at the center of their Christian experience. And if church doesn’t prepare them to suffer, I fear people will come to expect no part of the Christian experience to include suffering.

Forget about true suffering for a moment. There are many in our generation of church goers that have a shopping mentality when it comes to church. People aren’t willing to sit through a service that has a bad sound mix, seats that are too hard, temperatures that aren’t just right, music that isn’t up to their liking, or a pastor who preaches too long without enough charisma. My concern is what happens when real suffering is present. Do we stop living like a part of the church, somehow turn the ‘Christianity switch’ off, when conditions aren’t perfect?

I have some ideas on doing church in a way that can teach us how to suffer well. But before I share them, I want to hear from you. What do you think? Is church done in a way that teaches you how to suffer well? And do you have any ideas on how it could be done better? (take a moment and write your thoughts in the comment box below)

4 Responses to "The way we do church & suffering"
  1. Great subject. It’s not very popular that’s for sure. I used to have a blog on it
    http://www.scripturezealot.com/sufferingchristians/
    but merged it with my main blog.

    You may know about pastor Matt Chandler who has brain cancer. He’s done a short series on suffering every year. Turns out he’s an example of why there needs to be some sort of preparation. I would like to know what he goes through in that sermon series.

    One thing I would do is use Job for both showing people how not to treat people who are suffering and to also talk about God’s sovereignty and that bad things happen to good people and God is still good, will be glorified and God will use it for good.

    As far as coping, that’s the tough part.

    I would encourage people to read one good book whether it be on suffering, like The Problem With Suffering, dealing with suffering on a theological level like Suffering and the Sovereignty of God, or how to deal with people who are suffering/grieving or whatever. Giving trite advice makes things worse and every sufferer has to deal with this. If it’s chronic suffering it’s on a chronic basis!
    Jeff

  2. That should be The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis, not The Problem of Suffering. I’ve read a lot of them and still feel unprepared. BTW I have a Suffering category on my bog that I added when the blogs merged.
    Jeff

  3. There was a wonderful lady at our church, Mrs. Mary, who past away and the experience I had with her family changed my view on suffering within the church. My original view was that it was okay to share your concerns/issues with the church body in request of prayer or maybe some minimal service but never as a way of invitation for others to participate. Personally I only like to share “sufferings” with my spouse or mom and dad. So sharing a prayer request was a big enough step for me. But like I said Mrs. Mary’s family changed that side of me. Mrs. Mary was on her bed breathing her last few breaths of life on earth and my husband and I along with her children and grandchildren (most members of my church) watched on in silence. I saw those members cry, praise God, hold on to each other, hug and kiss each other, talk to God out loud…it was the most intimate time I had ever experienced in the mist of suffering. I can honestly say that I felt closer to those members after that experience.

    So I think that is what we need to do as a church. We need to experience our real life sufferings together. We need to see each others pain, tears, confusion, frustration, and disappointments…and we need to join in. I think a key way of doing this is that you have to get to know people. You have to know their life story. I remember hearing a testimony at church, and I went up to the guy afterward and said, “I never realized you went through so much hardship.” Who knows how getting to know someone will impact your availability to love on someone in suffering or their availability to love on you when you suffer. I think that involving the body of Christ to suffer with you is a part of suffering well.

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