Sunday School Ministering in Times of Difficulty

Friday 21st December, 2007

I was nineteen and working at a grocery store. I was stocking at the end of an aisle close to the meat counter when I saw him. He was a large man looking at a large package of pork chops. He slid the package into his coat and began walking. I began following him. He went out a side door which set off an alarm. I continued to follow him knowing that others would join me because of the alarm.

He turned toward the back of the store and kept walking but suddenly realized I was back there. He stopped and demanded to know what I wanted. He scared me, so without thinking I said, "People who steal go to hell." He turned, walked a few paces, and turned back toward me and held out the pork chops.

I was scared to death. Remember, I said he was large! I reached out as far as I could while retaining as much distance as possible and took the pork chops. He turned and kept walking. In the distance behind us, I could see a couple of employees who had finally come to check on the scene. I continued to follow him until he turned again and said. "Hey, man, I gave you to pork chops. Why are you still following me?" To which I more calmly replied (with backup coming): "People who steal also go to jail."

He turned to go out toward a major street and was walking down the sidewalk. The two employees joined me just in time to see a panel van pull up and two men quickly jump out of the van and jump the shoplifter. They wrestled him to the ground and began trying to place handcuffs on his wrists. When they could not get them together because of his strength, one banged his head on the sidewalk--and together they were then able to handcuff him. I found out later that he had just been released from jail that morning.

Why do I share the story? Because this was a situation in which I did not know what to say. Life is full of those moments. And I believe that is also the case for many of us when when ministry moments occur in life. Consider some of the moments in need of ministry in which we may be found speechless. Let's set all of these related to an adult Sunday School class (but they could also occur as you make prospect visits, with family members and friends, and with others in life's paths). Consider the following:

  • a classmate tells you his teenage daughter is pregnant,
  • a classmate announces that her husband/his wife has filed for divorce,
  • a classmate announces that he/she is separating from his/her spouse,
  • a classmate asks for prayer for her family because her sister died in a car accident,
  • a classmate breaks down crying because he/she has just been diagnosed with terminal cancer,
  • a classmate tells you he/she has just been laid off after 30 years,
  • a classmate announces plans to move because of the financial pressures of the current house,
  • a classmate reveals a problem with gambling has caused legal problems resulting in upcoming jail time,
  • a classmate confesses a problem with pornography,
  • a couple announce that they are expecting their fourth child after he had a vasectomy,
  • a classmate is rushed to the hospital after an accident resulting in a loss of one arm, and
  • and so on.

These are stressful, difficult, but real moments that life brings. How can you as a class respond? How can you as an individual respond in these moments of opportunity, crisis, and challenge?

BE THERE. Some overly simple advice I would offer after experience over the years is this: just be there. Presence is important. Words are not as important as knowing that you care. Don't avoid the individual because you don't know what to say. Be there. S pend time with him/her. Feel free to say little. Your pres ence says much.

PRAY. Don't just promise your prayers. Do it! Pray with the individual. Keep it short and simple. Make it heartfelt. Pray regularly for the individual. Check on how the individual is doing so you can know better how to pray specifically for his/her needs as they walk through the episode. Praying through some of the Psalms may help you to identify with the individual in prayer and remind you of the awesome God we serve and His power to help and heal.

HELP, DON'T HURT. Look for ways to encourage, support, and help. But don't pester or push. Some people need time and space. Allow it, but be a caring friend. Help them to acknowledge and work through stages of grief or the crisis. Take food. Encourage him/her to eat and rest well. Ask them to help you with a simple task--some need to think about someone besides themselves and their own troubles. Listen to them. Suggest counseling if it is needed and they will accept your suggestion.

DON'T FORGET. These moments in life never pass quickly enough. They take time to work through, and sometimes they take even longer to work through emotionally. Invest time in the individual. Pray. Care. Act when needed. Listen. Remember significant anniversaries and check on the person without bring up the annivesary. Again, just be there.

So don't be afraid to reach out in love, concern, and ministry just because you fear you'll say the wrong thing. Presence is important. Be there. Pray. Help, don't hurt. Don't forget. (Just remember not to say, "People who steal go to hell," unless it is to me--because that would bring a smile to my face!) Be revolutionary!

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