Community outreach is more than just vacation bible school and Christmas programs. Read through these illness scenarios to see how your church can improve their community outreach and pastoral support for people in the church.
By Lisa Copen
Community outreach seems to be a common goal of many churches, but it often gets stuck on Christmas programs or vacation bible school. But community outreach, as well as support within our church body, is vital to the lives of so many people.
Have you seen the T.V. show, “What Would You Do? With John Quinones“? In it, they have actors set up a situation and then wait to see if anyone gets involved. Do people stand up for the “underdog”? Will adults buy teens beer? Will people stop a drunk parent from driving? Results are very interesting.
Below are some scenarios to help church leaders think, “What would our church do?” We always hope that we will do the right thing. We believe our church will make the best choices for all involved. But sometimes the lines get buried. Phone calls don’t get returned because no one has an answer for the hurting person.
Too often I hear from people who have called their church with stories like the ones below and the receptionist offers the quick response of, “Well, we don’t really have any programs for that, but our services are at 8 and 10:30.” And just because someone is a pastor, a chaplain, or a deacon, doesn’t mean that they always are able to express things exactly how they would like. Our church leadership and all members of pastoral care can benefit greatly from discussing these situations and asking, “What would we do?”
So. . .what would your church do? The last thing you want you want is for someone to hang up the phone when calling your church and think like Job did, “I have heard many things like these; miserable comforters are you all!” (Job 16:2)
When the apostle Paul wrote the Corinthians he said,
“For when we came into Macedonia, this body of ours had no rest, but we were harassed at every turn—conflicts on the outside, fears within. But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, and not only by his coming but also by the comfort you had given him. He told us about your longing for me, your deep sorrow, your ardent concern for me, so that my joy was greater than ever. (2 Corinthians 7:5-7)
He speaks of conflicts and fears, but also comfort, longing, and concern. When we know someone is concerned for us, it can produce comfort and even joy.
Below are 7 scenarios that you can print out and use in your church to see how people in leadership would respond to consider what real church and community outreach means. Read the situations and discuss them. Have people ask questions or step into the shoes of the person who the scenario is about and probe deeper. By going over some of this together with other people in church leadership, when similar situations actually arise you will be given the gift of having discussed this in advance and having an idea of how to answer.
Nancy has attended your church’s denomination in Virginia for 10 years, but stopped going two years ago when her degenerative disc disease caused her to be unable to sit for more than 15 minutes. She moved to this community last month and has called the church to see if there are any ways she can get involved. She would like to make some new women friends and fellowship. She moved here because her son and his family live nearby, but her son works and travels a lot. Nancy’s daughter-in-law doesn’t seem to understand the pain she in on a daily basis, or the fact that she can’t drive to her home and babysit for her for hours.
Nancy is feeling saddened, but also hopeful that she can connect with someone at the church. What do you tell her?
Last week you ran into Jeff. He was looking at a cycling magazine in a waiting room and you commented on your similar interests. He confided that he doesn’t cycle any longer since he was diagnosed with severe chronic fatigue syndrome last year. And then he opened up to you that he is a bit lost. He can barely work, his wife is growing frustrated and distant, and he is unable to coach his nine-year-old son’s baseball team any longer. He wonders if the pain doesn’t stop. . . if maybe his family would be “better off without him.” He jokingly said “There are ways I can make it look like a bicycle accident so my family is taken care of.”
You asked him about his faith and he said he used to believe in God when he was a child, but if there is a God–he’s not interested in Him because no God of love would allow such suffering. How do you respond?
Scenario #3 – Sarah, 26, married
Sarah and her spouse have attended your church for five years. She has dealt with infertility issues, but has still volunteered at Vacation Bible School and Sunday School. Now she has recently been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and can barely get out of bed in the morning, plus she has discovered that she is two months pregnant. Last week, she saw her neighbor, who currently has cancer and also goes to your church, have people stop over with meals, flowers, etc. She’s happy her neighbor has the help, but she also feels alone and overwhelmed.
When she confided in a woman at Bible study about the stress she was feeling she was told, “God will just take care of it!” But Sarah is scared that her medications may cause birth defects. Her husband is scared too, and blocking her out. He is working extra hours, wondering how he will provide for her and the baby and the additional care they both may need. This is more responsibility than he thinks he can handle.
Sarah is starting to wonder why God has allowed her to feel so physically awful during what should be a joyful time. And what does she even pray for? How do you respond to Sarah?
Joe’s wife called the church. She is 49 and Joe has just been diagnosed with stage 3 cancer. He also has diabetes and she has congestive heart disease. Joe refuses to talk to anyone about it, including her. But he is doubting whether to even seek treatment. She is scared for his life and if he may actually take his life. She is scared for her life as well. And all the stress is not good for her heart.
They attend your church about once a month, but it is even harder to get there now. She needs prayer. She wonders where God is in all of this. She needs help with some basics, like getting Christmas lights down (it’s April!). And she wonders if there any man he may be able to talk to Joe? What do you tell her?
Laura has heard that your church has a great teen program and although she goes to another church, she is feeling invisible there. She is a single mom and her daughter, Jessica, is 19 years old and survived a brain tumor last year. Jessica lived with Laura’s mother, (her grandmother) who served as her daily caregiver, so that Laura could keep her job and her health insurance to best care for her daughter.
Now Jessica lives with her mom and in your community, and is homeschooled. But she needs friends who will understand that she had some delays with cognitive abilities and is self-conscious of some of the things that are challenging for her. What do you suggest? How do you prepare and introduce the youth group to Jessica?
Ellen is new in town, but she has always been part of your denomination. She is a grandmother to Shane, who is 13, and severely autistic. Shane’s dad (Ellen’s son) and Shane live with Ellen, but Shane’s dad travels a lot for work and Ellen’s former support system for fellowship and respite help is gone with their relocation.
Ellen hates asking for help, but she’s eager to just go to a women’s Bible study or talk to other caregivers. She is quickly growing exhausted caring for Shane and is becoming resentful — to Shane, to his dad (her son) — and to God. It’s no one’s fault. Shane lost his mother to cancer when he was two years old so Ellen stepped in to help raise him. But she’s been diabetic for 10 years now and the doctor visits are never ending between her and Shane. Trying to control Shane at her own doctor’s appointments is a disaster and yet there aren’t any babysitters she trusts, since Shane has some special needs.
Where is God and why has he allowed so many burdens to hit their family? How would you encourage this woman and offer her practical help through your church?
Rebecca lives in your community and you have seen her a few times at church, but it has been six months or so since her last visit. She lives with her boyfriend and you have never met him. Last week you drove a friend to the emergency room, and Rebecca was there in the waiting room, quite beaten up.
You went over to her and sat down to try to offer some comfort. At first she said she had been mugged, but as you began to pray for her, she told you to stop. Through tears, she confessed that her boyfriend Mark had beaten her up pretty badly. She has had fibromyalgia for two years. Some days are okay, but other days she can barely get out of bed. Mark told her she was a hypochondriac and making it up for attention.
He insisted if she really was that ill, then she should just quit her job and just rely on him. But she can’t quit her job! She has been the one providing for him for years! Plus, she would lose her health insurance. She is scared to leave him though and worried if he would make it without her. It is obvious to you that her boyfriend has a great deal of emotional control over her. It is also impacting her health and illness. And now with a black eye and a broken nose, she may lose her job anyway. What do you suggest?
Overwhelming, isn’t it? It is even more exhausting to live these lives –not just read about them. With chronic conditions hitting nearly 1 in 2 people in the USA, it oftentimes hits one family multiple times as in some of the scenarios above.
What can your church leadership learn from these examples?
It can be hard to just listen but remember that “He who answers before listening–that is his folly and his shame.” (Proverbs 18:13) By giving “pat” answers of “I’m sure God will work it all out” we are saying, “I don’t have time for this or really know what to do so I will reassure them that God is in control. But is that shutting our ears? Even if we don’t have the answers, listening can be one of our greatest gifts. And if we don’t? Well, that can be one of our biggest downfalls, for scripture tells us, “If a man shuts his ears to the cry of the poor, he too will cry out and not be answered.” (Proverbs 21:13)
Why should we take the time to prepare in advance?
Because Colossians 4:6 says, “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” With time spent in the Word, and discussing it together, we may know in advance more fully how to answer. “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” (1 Peter 3:15)
I look forward to your comments below about how this worked as a discussion tool–or–how these stories even touched your lives. They may be “fiction” on this page, but they are based on real emails I receive every day. Many people are depending on community outreach to get through one more day.