Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Ten Sinful Statements to a Suffering Friend #5.

I recently heard about some members of a small group that gathered to build fellowship, study the Bible and care for each other. After meeting for a few weeks one member asked for prayer and support for her during a time of great stress. Unfortunately, they failed the test of love.

Here is what happened. Early in the gathering one member said, "I am so happy to be able to be with our group tonight because I have a real need. My mother just experienced a stroke and is in the hospital. I feel overwhelmed with grief and fear. What can I do?"

The people listened silently to her tearful statement. After a time of awkwardness, the group leader said, "Does anyone else have a need to share?" Nobody spoke up so they went ahead with their Bible study on the topic of love.

Although silence can be golden in this case it was unloving, cowardly, callous and sinful. The silence that greeted the lady was a mute expression of fear mixed with ignorance and selfishness. The poorly trained leader and the entire group were sorely lacking in the simple requirements of showing compassion. The group certainly "Missed The Mark" by refusing to ask her to share more or how they might pray. As a result, sin reigned in the group that night. A member who shared a real need was ignored and they refused to even pray. The people failed miserably to offer her their love.

Group Care and Cure

I went to Singapore in 1994 to train Cell Group Leaders how to offer care and counsel to the members of a rapidly growing church. The Pastors had completely reformed their congregation to meet in Cell Groups as the best way to foster numerical, spiritual, emotional and ministry growth.  They consistently repeated a phrase which had become a mantra: "Small Groups are Powerful!"

I had extensive experience with small groups and was a strong believer in them as a good way to "Equip God's people to do His works".  However, I knew that not all groups are good for the people or the church. My rejoinder was to extend that statement by adding: "Small Groups are Powerfully Good or Powerfully Bad!" The group mentioned above was powerfully bad. It crushed the spirit of a vulnerable young woman in pain by treating her in a cold, uncaring and unresponsive manner. When a group of people come together for fun,fellowship, spiritual growth or completing a task, the impact will usually be multiplied. If the group is healthy and sensitive the overall impact can be wonderfully expanded. However, when the group is dysfunctional the pain will be also multiplied.

In this case, the harm was multiplied from the errors of the individuals, the  group and especially the facilitator. The harm was NEGLECT not Shock, Trauma or Abuse.

A young friend of our family told me of a similar story that happened to her some years ago. She was invited to attended a celebrated Bible study with other young women as an opportunity to check the church out for possible membership. She got lost on the way and showed up late to the perfectly decorated home with a group of ten perfectly coiffed young women sitting around a perfectly arrayed table discussing a perfectly designed book of Bible lessons. It all looked perfect.

When our friend entered the room rather flustered, no one welcomed her or stopped the discussion or acted as if she were in the right place. The intellectual lesson seemed too important to care for the persons and illustrate the emotional lesson. Our friend never, ever went back or attended the group or  church again.

As my dad might have said, "You could hang meat in that place it was so cold". Sinfully cool and distant non-verbals are as harmful as a harsh verbal statement. When Jesus was in town a lot of the little kids automatically came to Him.  They clung to Jesus and wanted him to touch them. Those little children saw Jesus was genuinely loving. They can see right through fakes and callous people or an uptight religionist right away.

Ar you verbally and non-verbally welcoming to others or do you push hurting people away? 

Gary Sweeten

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