Thoughts and Prayers Are Not Enough | Influence Magazine


Note: The following column will appear in the March/April 2018 issue of Influence magazine. I wrote it prior to yesterday’s deadly shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Its purpose is to encourage local congregations to respond holistically to people’s needs when tragedy strikes their community.

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The deadliest mass shooting in the United States took place the night of October 1, 2017, when a gunman opened fire on concertgoers at the Route 91 Harvest music festival in Las Vegas, Nevada, leaving 58 dead and 851 injured. In the aftermath of that shooting, people across America took to social media to offer “thoughts and prayers” for the victims. Their sentiment was heartfelt, but was it enough?

According to the Bible, the answer is no.

James 2:15–16 says, “Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?”

No good at all.

Similarly, 1 John 3:17 says, “If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?”

It can’t be. So, John exhorts us, “Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth” (verse 18).

Words are insufficient responses to a tragedy, crisis or need unless we pair them with deeds.

By the same token, however, deeds also are insufficient responses to a tragedy if we fail to pair them with words and prayers.

Why? Because we have minds as well as bodies. We need to know that our lives have meaning, that our pain has a purpose. According to the apostle Paul, being at “peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” enables us to make sense of our suffering. We can “glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Romans 5:1,3–4).

Consequently, an authentic Christian response to tragedy combines deeds and words, action and prayer, help and hope. It’s a both/and effort, not an either/or choice.

Let me close by suggesting three concrete needs victims have that your church should provide if — God forbid! — tragedy strikes your community.

First, victims need shelter, a safe place where their immediate physical and material needs are met. Providing shelter is a Matthew 25:34–36 ministry to the hungry, thirsty, homeless, naked, sick and imprisoned.

Second, victims need shoulders to cry on, a community that affirms their emotional response to loss. Responding with empathy is a Romans 12:15 ministry: “Rejoice with those who rejoice,” Paul teaches us; “mourn with those who mourn” (emphasis added).

Third, victims need shepherds. Helping people find meaning in their suffering is a Psalm 23:2 ministry. It leads them to the “green pastures” and “quiet waters” of faith in God.

When tragedy hits, people’s immediate needs are for shelter and shoulders. Over the long term, though, as they mentally and emotionally process their experience, they increasingly need shepherds. Your church will do a great service to the community if it’s prepared to respond to people’s needs holistically in times of tragedy.

 

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Monday’s Influence Online Articles


Today, over at InfluenceMagazine.com:

  • “Between 2001 and 2008,” Jerry Ireland writes, “missions budgets for evangelism and discipleship declined by almost 11 percent, while funds for relief and development work increased by nearly 9 percent.” My guess is that this trend continued in the second decade of the twenty-first century. Both Jerry and I believe that Pentecostal mission must include evangelism and compassion. However, discipleship has a missional priority. Jerry writes, “The most compassionate thing your church can do is support missionaries discipling local people to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world (Matthew 5:13-16).”
  • In today’s #InfluencePodcast, Daniel Im and I talk about how new book, No Silver Bullets: 5 Small Shifts That Will Transform Your Ministry. Daniel argues that churches need to make five micro-shifts in ministry: (1) from destination to direction, (2) from output to input, (3) from sage to guide, (4) from form to function, and (5) from maturity to missionary. My review of the book will be up at InfluenceMagazine.com and here on Wednesday.
  • Chris Railey highlights the importance of church planting in the August-September issue of Influence magazine: “Church planters want to change the world, and the truth is, they are the Church’s best hope. The Assemblies of God is seeing incredible growth in the number of new churches. In fact, 2016 was the best church-planting year in our 103-year history, with 406 new churches opened. Church planters connect us to our pioneering roots; they represent the missional and Spirit-led work of expanding the kingdom of God that has always defined our movement.”

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Friday’s Influence Online Articles


Today, over at InfluenceMagazine.com:

  • Chris Railey gives sound advice to church leaders who are hiring new staff. “When hiring personnel, consider more than just their obvious talents, ” he writes. “Look at some of the intangibles that a person won’t acquire through training alone.”
  • Kristi Northup makes a Pentecostal case for diversity. “I am all for fair legislation and pursuing justice through the legal system, but racial and ethnic divisions are as deeply rooted as original sin can get. The issue is massive. It is everywhere, on every continent and in every nation. Only a Holy Spirit visitation can heal us of this deep wound.”
  • We note a Barna study about Americans’ practice of prayer. “Nearly 8 in 10 American adults (79 percent) surveyed said they had prayed at least once in the past three months, Barna said. Of those who pray, a vast majority are most likely to do so alone (94 percent) and silently (82 percent).”

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Thursday’s Influence Online Articles


Today, over at InfluenceMagazine.com:

  • In today’s #InfluencePodcast, Mark Forrester and I talk about how the church can leverage social media for the sake of the gospel. For me personally, the most thought-provoking part of the podcast was when Mark talked about how to know what to post on social media. Just ask two questions about your audience: (1) Will they care? And (2) will they share? (These questions evidently come from Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg.) Good stuff! Take a listen!
  • Josiah Kennealy talks about how church leaders can help students avoid financial disaster. Based on research published in his book, Debtless, Josiah writes: “over 39 percent of current college students have no idea how much they owe in student loans. Based on our research, current students have taken on an average of $26,659 in debt — and haven’t graduated yet! Nearly 40 percent of students surveyed said no one informed them about alternatives to student loans.” Yowza!
  • Claude Black reviews a new biography of J. H. King, who served as general superintendent of the Pentecostal Holiness Church from 1917 to 1946. I’m Assemblies of God, not PHC, but I love reading Pentecostal history and biography because it reminds me how much the present generation stands not he shoulders of giants from the previous generation.

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Wednesday’s Influence Online Articles


Today, over at InfluenceMagazine.com:

  • Douglas M. Graham offers insight about becoming an authentic leader. “It is one thing to have people follow you because of your title,” he writes. “It’s something entirely different when people follow you because of who you are as a person. Leaders who earn the respect of others often do so through a life that is compelling, inspirational and transformative.”
  • Charlie Self reviews Tom Nelson’s new book, The Economics of Neighborly Love (IVP Books). He writes: “Compassion and capacity are rooted in the Great Commission. To reach the world and make healthy disciples, we must offer all of life — including economics and work — as worship to our Lord.”
  • We note a Nielsen report that “[h]alf of all U.S. households now include at least one podcast fan.” There’s an opportunity here for churches to reach podcast listeners. Speaking of podcasts, have you subscribed to the Influence Podcast yet?

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Tuesday’s Influence Online Articles


Today, over at InfluenceMagazine.com:

  • Dr. George O. Wood — aka, “Dad” — and I have a wide-ranging conversation on the Influence Podcast about leaving a legacy of influence in ministry. Dad is retiring as general superintendent of the Assemblies of God (USA), and has a lot of wisdom to share about this topic, based on over 50 years of gospel ministry.
  • Dr. Joy Qualls reminds pastors that when a person comes to church, the entirety of what they experience is sending a message. “Too often, when we think about message delivery, we focus only on the pastor’s sermon,” she writes. “I want to challenge that limited notion and encourage the view that the act of moving people toward a response begins the moment they pull into your parking lot…” Joy outlines four questions to help pastors figure out what message their church is actually communicating to attendees.
  • Carter McDaniel reviews Clay Scroggins’ new book, How to Lead When You’re Not in Charge (Zondervan), which released today. Carter summarizes the book’ message this way: “Great leaders lead when they are needed, regardless of their position or level of authority. And great leaders know how to lead when they are in charge because they have been leading that way long before they were in a position of authority.” After you read Carter’s review, listen to my Influence Podcast with Clay Scroggins…then buy the book. It’s really good.

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Monday’s Influence Online Articles


Today, over at InfluenceMagazine.com:

  • Christina Quick profiles Leila Ojala, who shares the challenges and opportunities of planting a church in Summit County, Colorado. Quick writes: “It’s an especially harsh environment for church planting. The population is overwhelmingly millennial, unchurched, and transient, with more than 10,000 young adults coming to the ski resorts to work each winter and thousands more arriving to play, party and smoke pot for a season. Even the year-round residents seldom stay more than two years. And only 4 percent identify as evangelical Christians.” Ojala isn’t deterred by the challenges. “How we measure success is based on what God is telling us instead of what other people are saying,” she says. “Success is seeing individuals become disciples of Christ, and disciple makers, as the kingdom of God grows in and through their lives.”
  • In an excerpt from their new book, Known, Dick and Ruth Foth write: “So the question is, How can we get to that place [of feeling fully at home] with loved ones, co-workers, or neighbors? Doesn’t it make sense that, if God designs us for relationship, real friendship is fed by a growing experience of God’s love? When we know down deep that we are loved, accepted, and affirmed by the God who created us and knows all about us, we are free to give ourselves to others.”

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