Laying in bed in the early morning hours I was listening for the sound of the occasional vehicle driving past my house, paying attention to its speed and what it could indicate about the current road conditions. As the world outside my home became increasingly visible in the morning light, what I saw was consistent with what I had been hearing, the winter weather forecast for our area had not come as predicted, and the roads seemed relatively safe for traveling. Of course, I live almost directly southeast of the church. I realize conditions may be very different to the north and west. Even so, I didn’t question the wisdom behind the decision to cancel services this morning.
When it comes to deciding whether or not to cancel services on account of the weather, the wise decision is to err on the side of caution. And I’m not just saying this because it means the upcoming week I don’t have to write a sermon. I actually enjoy writing sermons. But even so, to say I’m disappointed I don’t get to write one this coming week would be a slight exaggeration. I’m saying this because life experience has taught me that sometimes the wise thing to do is to make decisions in anticipation of what could likely happen, as an act of preparation, before it’s too late to make them.
Some time ago I was listening to a sermon by Bob Disher, the lead pastor at St. Mark’s Church. He was encouraging his people to participate in the small group ministry at their church. This is one of the ways people at this large church can develop close relationships with others. One of the reasons he gave for why they should do this is that eventually, almost everybody experiences some hardship or personal crisis. His argument went something like this: Since meaningful relationships don’t develop overnight, if someone doesn’t take the necessary steps of forming close bonds with other believers in anticipation of some hardship or personal crisis occurring, the support system they need in that moment won’t be there, and it will be too late to do anything about it.
I can only imagine that Bob was speaking from personal experience. As a pastor, I can’t tell you the number of times I see people in a moment of crisis, in desperate need of the love and concern that only exists within the body of Christ, but they have not taken any steps to participate in it. When the sun was shining, so to speak, it didn’t seem necessary. They didn’t make it a priority. But now the winter weather has arrived and they are suddenly in need of the warmth and shelter that can only be found in Christian community, which for them, seems non-existent.
I know this probably sounds harsh. I think most churches, including our own, do everything they can to help others in need, regardless of whether or not they attend or even know their name. But the first question I ask someone who calls our church asking for help with a utility bill, or money for groceries, is whether or not they have a church family. It’s not because it’s a requirement for us to provide assistance. It’s because whatever help we can offer is only a band-aid. They need to be a part of the body of Christ to find a long-term solution. I know many pastors who had had the experience of being asked to counsel a family they don't know in a moment of grief, or conduct a funeral for a perfect stranger. Most pastors will do these things if they are able, but they know it’s only a temporary solution to a long-term problem. What that family or individual really needs is to become a part of Christ's body.
If you are reading this, you are probably already a committed member of the body of Christ. Who else would read a post this long? But if you are not, I pray that when the sun comes up you will make following Jesus and relationships with your fellow believers a priority. This way, the next time winter weather comes, you’ll be ready.