And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” – Mark 2:17
I was talking with a friend a few weeks back about the launch of Christ Presbyterian Church’s third location, and she asked me, “When you think about this new congregation, what, in your mind, would constitute a failure?” One of the things I said was, “If in a few years we’re a group of people who don’t serve each other and don’t need each other.”
A number of years ago, I was serving as a pastor in a small church in another state. A woman started attending our services who had a brain injury. One of the symptoms of her condition was that she experienced seizures on a very regular basis. In fact, she had seizures in church almost every Sunday—usually right in the middle of the sermon.
She could feel them coming on. When she knew one was coming, she would get up and move to the back of the room, sit down on the floor, and wait for the seizure to grab her. One of her friends in the church knew of her condition, and would sit with her until the seizure passed. Then she’d drive her exhausted friend home.
Others in the church saw this happening and asked what they could do to help. They met during the hour before church several weeks in a row to learn about this woman’s condition, her seizures, how to keep her safe when they happened, and how to care for her afterward. Soon there were a dozen people in the church who knew to sit near her, watch for her to move to the back of the room, sit with her during the seizure to keep her safe, and drive her home after it passed.
Then one day, this woman came to tell me that she was going to stop attending our church. I was stunned. I asked her why? She said, “Every Sunday someone has to tend to me and drive me home, and they miss the service on account of me. I feel like I burden the church.”
I don’t know if it was the Holy Spirit in a moment of Gospel-clarity, or my own naïve inexperience as a pastor, but I told her, “The truth is, you do burden this church. And we are so grateful to have you as part of our community. Every week, your presence requires a cross-section of our congregation to be actively ready to care for someone in need. People have gathered and formed friendships with one another around caring for you. They have come to count you as their friend, and you have done the same. This is the nature of friendship—we ask each other to carry our burdens. True friends burden each other, and true friends welcome the honor of helping to carry the load. Please don’t go. You give us so much. You help us so much. You have an important ministry here.”
Christianity is a faith built on the recognition of our great need, and the confident hope that our deepest needs are met in Christ—forgiveness, peace with God, eternal life. But one of the beautiful truths about following Jesus is that we need each other too. We live in a world of limits, and we ourselves are limited. This need is a gift.
For this need, Jesus gives us the church—a community where we serve one another, where we benefit from one another, where we become known, cared for, and called upon to step in to care for the needs of others. This will always be a hallmark of a healthy church—this recognition of our need and our call to serve.
We live in a wealthy place where we spend unimaginable amounts of money, effort, and thought avoiding the appearance of need. We try to present ourselves in the best possible light, which usually involves employing a fair amount of fiction. We try to hide our less visible weaknesses and we try to down play those which are more obvious to others. We all do this to one degree or another.
Why do we do this? Why do we work so hard to appear as though we need nothing? Why are we ashamed when our needs are made known? The Gospel is for the helpless, needy, poor. Jesus said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
As our congregation forms, one of my prayers is that we would need each other, and that we would be honest about our need for one another. This is so important. Why? Because the Gospel itself is a message of needs met. If we are going to be Christians in public, part of the reason for the hope that is in us—part of our public witness—is “nothing in my hands I bring. Simply to Thy cross I cling.” Our public faith and our confession of need are tied to each other. May one of our greatest qualities as a congregation be how quickly we confess our need for Christ, and for each other. May we need each other, and may we serve each other.