Suffering In Community

Have you ever had a time where from the outside you might have looked entirely out of your element but you felt like you were right where you were supposed to be? I once had the opportunity to speak to a group of retirees about the importance of suffering with others. At the age of 29, I was sharing a message with a group of adults predominantly in their 70s, 80s and a few in their 90s. Some of them had been married longer than I had been alive x 2! So process that for a second. What does someone in their late 20s have to share with a room full of senior citizens, full of life experiences, about how to suffer? Everything.

Let me give you the same quick recap I gave them of my ‘credentials’:

At 26, I had to walk through the experience of losing my father suddenly. He died of a heart attack at the age of 60. I will never forget receiving that phone call, and driving home just sobbing but praying out to God. I prayed, “Lord, guide me. I don’t know why but allow me to lead my home in the coming days in a God-honoring way.” I stood a week later eulogizing my dad. This was the first time in my life that I honestly experienced what it meant to hurt, to feel pain and to suffer.

In 2013, my wife and I found out we were expecting twin daughters. At 17 weeks we found out our daughters appeared to have what is called Twin to Twin Transfusion Syndrome. Essentially, one child is receiving more nutrients than the other and this has a potential doubly negative effect on one getting too little and one getting too much. By 18 weeks, it was evident they had TTTS and we were scheduled with 1 of only 4 surgeons in the country that performed the procedure to potentially fix this syndrome, which itself was extremely dangerous and risky. By 19 weeks, we found out that we had lost our daughters. We didn’t even make it to the procedure. There was nothing we could do.

I spent the next 6 months (and beyond) walking alongside of my wife as we struggled through this to understand why and go on after a tragic loss. I continually prayed to God for understanding and for healing. I prayed the same prayer after my dad died to honor God through this and to guide us. Even when I didn’t want to pray that prayer. I walked alongside my wife, held her, cried with her. My goal was and continued to be to honor and love her as a Godly husband should.

In 2 short years, I walked through a great deal of suffering, and I have been able to reflect on what it means to suffer and how we are meant to suffer. 

We live in a very individualistic society today, and we often pride ourselves on ‘going it alone.’ And unfortunately, this mentality has seeped into how we walk in times of suffering. We often feel like we can’t burden others with our pain or on the other side of the coin want to either appear strong or show others that we are fine by ourselves. But this isn’t true most of the time, and this isn’t healthy. Because I believe we are meant to suffer and walk in times of pain surrounded by others and in community. 

From what I’ve witnessed in others and in myself, we tend to quantify and compare suffering and loss. Oftentimes we don’t want to be a burden on others, and I think this is wrong. Pain is pain. Suffering is suffering. I don’t care if it is an illness, the loss of a parent or child, the loss of a job, or whatever it might be, all pain and suffering matters and is significant. So don’t let you or anyone else quantity it as something less than it is: it is pain, it is suffering. It’s real, it hurts. And you need people around you. We need to go through suffering with other people instead of in isolation. We were created for relationships, we were created to be with other people, and I believe that even in our most painful, hurt-filled and vulnerable moments we need to be surrounded and supported by others.

We must lean into others and allow them the opportunity to serve us and walk alongside of us. I couldn’t imagine going through those two years without my wife and without the small group from our church. Having people we could call when we just needed a night to play board games to simply take our minds off things or having people bring us meals for an entire month so we could just come home after work and be together was incredible. People did this for us because they loved and cared about us, and wanted to show God’s love to us.

So let me end with this: Be the one who leans into those who are suffering and serves them. Don’t wait for people to come to you, go to people as this will make all the difference. Show people you care. In an increasingly disconnected world outside of social media, pour into people when they need it the most. Trust me, they’ll need it and remember it, even if they don’t realize it at that moment.

Churches Partnering Together by Chris Bruno and Matt Dirks

Chris Bruno and Matt Dirks, Churches Partnering Together. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014. 176pp. $15.99

Great kingdom work is being done all across communities, cities and the world, but how often are churches looking to one another to partner together to better reach these people and areas? Many churches either think they can go it alone in the work or many churches believe they don’t have the time or resources to pursue a ministry need they see. Through a biblical lens, Chris Bruno and Matt Dirks have written Churches Partnering Together to look at this very question and show how it is important for churches to partner together to better reach our communities and reach the nations. Whether a church is large or small, churches must be pursuing kingdom partnerships with other churches to create unity and achieve ministry goals.

Many churches haven’t pursued partnerships with other churches in their own cities or across the country and world. This may be due to a belief that they aren’t big enough to help or they may believe that they can’t partner with a church that doesn’t align with them in all ways doctrinally. Bruno and Dirks start from the beginning to set up that this is an incorrect way to look at biblical church partnerships and do so with a case study of Paul’s ministry to the Jews and Gentiles. “You might be surprised to find out what Paul actually spent the most time, energy, and relational captial pursuing during his first decade of ministry: he worked to build a partnership of Gentile churches to support the struggling Jewish Christians in Jerusalem” (Loc 168). Bruno and Dirks spend the time in Churches Partnering Together walking through how Paul established and pursued biblical partnerships with first-century churches to support this shared mission.

Bruno and Dirks establish what a kingdom partnership is and how they define it. They say, “A kingdom partnership is a gospel-driven relationship between interdependent local churches that pray, work, and share resources together strategically to glorify God through kingdom-advancing goals they could not accomplish alone” (Loc 209). Through this, Bruno and Dirks believe that no church should compromise its gospel integrity for a partnership. But also a church shouldn’t not consider partnering with another church simply because of a doctrinal difference. Lutheran, Methodist and Presbyterian churches can partner together just as Evangelical, Southern Baptist and Assembly of God churches can partner together. If there is a shared mission and vision of how to bring effective gospel ministry better to a city, then if there isn’t any gospel compromising measures there are no reasons that churches with different doctrines shouldn’t partner together. They should.

Here is how Bruno and Dirks show Paul’s ministry strategy toward kingdom partnership time and time again. “While the Jerusalem apostles focused on reaching Jews, Paul and Barnabas would go across the Roman empire, planting churches among the Gentiles. (…) Once Paul had evangelized a city, established a Christian community, strengthened the saints in the church, and raised up leaders to guide the church, he called the church toward partnership in God’s greater kingdom” (Loc 319-327) Paul saw partnership as a way for churches to come together and show Christian unity as directed in John 17.

This is something all churches should be considering today in their own cities. No church will reach all people in one city, but many churches either believe they can be all things to all people or they simply have never thought about it and more than likely are not very evangelistic. Paul displayed kingdom partnership and unity from church to church that he planted. This must be a priority in our churches today as well. “When churches work side by side with one another, they are reminded of their union with one another in Christ” (Loc 354).

Bruno and Dirks do a good job of reminding the reader that kingdom partnerships must be focused and built on the gospel alone. Many churches and partnerships today have been formed around something that is not purely the gospel. Not to say that many churches are not doing good work in their community, but they are more focused on helping people by giving them food, clothing, new ideas on how to be better parents and many other things but not giving them the gospel. Bruno and Dirks say, “We’re always trying to add something to God’s grace. Soon, the issues that drive our churches (such as strengthening families, pursuing social justice, or even studying the Bible) can start to take on gospel-level importance in our minds” (Loc 468-477). The gospel must be the foundation and building point of any partnership and must influence and guide what the partnership will look like and do. The gospel should not just be an add-on at the end, it must be the center piece.

For any pastor or any church that is wanting to understand kingdom partnerships and how a church could begin to start partnerships in their city with other churches or around the nation and world, Churches Partnering Together is a fantastic resource to consider reading. Bruno and Dirks dive deeper in the latter chapters with more of a “how-to” guide in beginning and establishing church partnerships towards gospel mission. This book fired me up to think uniquely how churches in my city could show unity as well as pursue greater gospel penetration in the hearts and lives of the people in my town. Kingdom partnership is so much bigger than simply clothing or feeding or classes on bettering a marriage. While the efforts of many churches are noble, church partnerships have the potential to change lives and change entire cities for Christ. Check out Churches Partnering Together if you want to have a passion and desire to change your city with other churches.

This is an honest review written in exchange of a review copy of Churches Partnering Together from Crossway publications.