The past year has been filled with challenges and difficulties, from the risk of COVID-19 to its various lockdowns and restrictions; from the protests of the summer to the election to the events of January 6.
But underneath the headlines and debates, underneath the health-department orders and tweet storms, has been a steady stream of human suffering.
Wounded People Require Soul Care
This year has left a trail of hurting, struggling, confused, and isolated image-bearers in its wake. Anxiety, depression, suicide (considered or attempted), financial hardships, anger, marital discord, and relational tensions are seemingly at all-time highs.
Beyond all the disputes that catch our attention and pump us full of adrenaline, beyond all the cultural and political moments we keep hearing about, the spring of 2021 is the church’s soul-care moment. And if this is the church’s soul-care moment, this is your soul-care moment.
Never before in my lifetime has there been a comprehensive, widespread need like this. But the love of Christ compels us to see the realities of this moment with open eyes and compassionate hearts, ready to step into the lives of those around us who desperately need to experience the hope of Christ again, even as those who need reminders of that hope ourselves.
I’m not going to belabor my point with statistics about mental health or examples about the toll the past year has taken; I’m sure you’re plenty familiar with both. Instead, I’m just going to offer a few practical steps we can all take to meet this moment. You see, this moment can’t simply be met by pastors, counselors, or therapists. There aren’t enough professionals in the world to address the magnitude of pain and suffering 2020 left behind.
There aren’t enough professionals in the world to address the magnitude of pain and suffering 2020 left behind.
This is a moment for the entire church family to step deeper into one another’s lives, equipped with the hope of the gospel and empowered by the Spirit. After all, that’s how the church family was designed to function in the first place (2 Cor 1:3–7; Eph 4:15–17).
God is calling every one of us, as his children, to meet this moment with compassion, grace, and a renewed energy to be Jesus’s gentle hands and pursuing feet in the world. Here are some practical steps every Christian can take to meet the need of this moment. Of course there will always be suffering and pain in the world, but there is a particular need for the grace and hope of the gospel in the hearts of those around you right now. Now is the time.
1. Now is the time to pursue.
Jesus was a pursuer of people, and when our hearts beat with his, we become pursuers of people too. Often when those around us become the quietest is when they need us the most. This is even more true in the aftermath of the isolation that characterized so much of 2020. It doesn’t matter how long it’s been or how awkward it may seem, there’s no way to care for people in the midst of their pain, anxiety, depression, or fear without first taking the initiative to pursue them.
2. Now is the time to listen.
I don’t believe it’s a coincidence that mental health has been deteriorating for years now precisely as we all spend more time talking and tweeting, and less time patiently and compassionately listening to one another. Listening is the first step in ministry to others, and it’s a ministry in itself.
Listening is the first step in ministry to others, and it’s a ministry in itself.
If you want to really help others apply the hope of the gospel to the struggles they’re facing, you have to start by carefully listening. Listening allows you to discover how the person and work of Jesus speak to someone’s situation, helping you know what to say and when.
3. Now is the time to soak in the Word.
Most Christians I know are intimidated by the thought of ministry to others when they’re hurting, discouraged, confused, or afraid. Over and over I hear the phrase, “But I wouldn’t know what to say.” And yet, over and over, I find the biblical passages I most often use with others come from whatever I’ve been reading or studying lately.
The best way you can be prepared with biblical truth and gospel hope for others is to saturate yourself daily in God’s Word: read it, study it, pray through it, memorize it, meditate on it.
4. Now is the time to ask your pastor for help.
But, of course, it would also be incredibly helpful to be specifically equipped with some of the biblical tools of soul care. And if you’re looking around at the need of the moment and wanting to be a part of God’s solution to the pain the church is experiencing, your pastors are the first people you should talk to. This has been a year of discouragement for many pastors. Your pastors have, almost assuredly, been argued with, ignored, disparaged, and had people leave the church.
I can’t think of anything that would be more encouraging to them at this moment than for you to ask to be equipped so that you can care for other hurting and struggling people. At the core of it, that’s your pastor’s job (Eph 4:11). And if he doesn’t know where to start, there are great organizations you can ask (including the Institute for Biblical Counseling and Discipleship) or books you can read, including my Loving Messy People: The Messy Art of Helping One Another Become More Like Jesus (Shepherd Press, 2020).
I can’t think of anything that would be more encouraging to pastors than for you to ask to be equipped so that you can care for other hurting and struggling people.
5. Now is the time to pray.
Finally, if this is a moment when the church family desperately needs soul care, it is most fundamentally a moment when the church family needs prayer. As Jesus reminded his disciples, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).
Ultimately only God can meet this moment’s soul-care needs. He may use our loving actions and words to care for others who are hurting and struggling, but the greatest thing that every struggler needs is him. The most powerful thing we can do for those around us who are struggling is to be faithful to pray for them, crying out to God for them, pleading with God on their behalf.
If you don’t know where else to start, try there. Now is the time to pray. And as you pray, also pray that God will give you a heart of compassion that can’t help but pursue, listen, speak truth, and be equipped for the kind of one-another ministry God has called every Christian to do.
When a fire erupts, firefighters spring into action. There’s a problem and they are uniquely equipped to address it. When a war breaks out, troops spring into action. There’s a problem and they are uniquely equipped to address it.
When a mental, emotional, and spiritual health crisis peaks in our society (as it is now), Christians are called to spring into action. There is a problem, and we are uniquely equipped to address it. This is the church’s soul-care moment.