Four Ways the Church Can Teach Compassion for Suffering

  • tear-stained-faceAccording to the CDC, as of 2012, about half of all adults—117 million people—have one or more chronic health conditions.
  • According to the National Alliance for Mental Health (NAMI), more than 26% or one in four adults over the age of 18 suffer from a diagnosable mental illness. 
  • According to RAINN (Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network), one out of every six American women has been the victim of a completed or attempted rape in her lifetime and 3% of men.
  • According to a survey by the National Institutes of Justice, one in four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime, and in 1992 the AMA reported that as many as one in three women will be assaulted by a domestic partner in her lifetime. 85% of domestic violence victims are women.
  • Almost ten percent of the general population is experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder–not just returning vets. And the causes of PTSD can be any terrifying experience that overwhelms the brain. Now do the math–how many people does that represent in YOUR church congregation who may be suffering in silence?

With these realities in mind, our churches must be mindful of the suffering of those sitting in our pews. Every form of suffering we read about and see on the news is affecting our churches and homes as Christians.

Our kids our suffering.

Our marriages our suffering.

As men and women, we are often silently suffering.

And too many churches are preaching a theology that doesn’t allow us to talk openly about hurt, pain, and the realities of our lives. We’re taught to be “happy all the time”? But why?

We’re afraid we’ll give God or Jesus a bad rap. So we teach a shallow, false view of Christianity.

But Jesus was a “man of sorrows, acquainted with grief.” Scripture is filled with tough questions, lament, frustrated believers challenging God, and deep, authentic grief and sorrow.

So how can the church do a better job of teaching compassion?

1. Let us learn from authentic struggle. I’m grateful for my church, where most sermons are followed by an “application” time where members (as well as pastors and leaders) talk openly about how they’ve struggled through issues as wide-ranging as marital discord, battles with porn or other addictions, forgiveness, identity struggles, or other tough issues. We immediately recognize that, while truth is clearly taught in Scripture, church is a place where everyone is in the battle together.

2. Teach the importance and integration of mental and physical health. Too many Christians falsely believe that addressing health issues stops at the neck. The brain is an organ that operates under the same created biochemical principles as the rest of the body. Mental illness is real and needs to be respected. We need to stop shaming Christians for taking medications and seeking medical solutions. Of COURSE God is our healer–he’s my healer just as much when I go to a non believing cardiologist for medication and surgery as when I take a needed anti-depressant for chemical imbalance.

3. Make compassion ministries a priority. Teach about grief and suffering from the pulpit. Offer care groups. Hire a parish nurse. Create a health ministry or partner with other churches that are already doing these things. Yes, partner with OTHER churches and promote their health ministries to your congregation if you’re unable to create one yourself. Partner with inner city ministries to widen your perspective on compassion and community ministry.

4. Create a culture of transparency, accountability, and humility that flows from the top down. Compassion will seldom flow through a local body of believers if it is not modeled first by leadership. As a speaker and consultant, I am often horrified by the “rock star” attitude conveyed by some pastors. Look for pastors who speak openly about their struggles and create safe places for people to seek healing, comfort, and growth. Churches should be safe havens for the hurting.

What about YOU? How has the church ministered compassion to you in your suffering?

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