Everywhere around the world, there is a version of the Walking Dead playing on a digital device. Images of mindless zombies wandering the earth, and folks trying to protect themselves from the danger that is lurking about.
Inside every church, the walking dead live among us. The “walking dead” the church may have a relationship with Jesus. These may have been baptized. Some may be your leaders, deacons, even pastors. What is going on inside of these people that you cannot easily see?
People are very good at hiding a shaky marriage. You cannot easily tell who is a survivor from the pains of a divorce as a child. It is difficult to know who is harboring guilt or shame from past or even recent present sexual, physical, or emotional abuses. Concealing the struggles of addictions, depression, anxiety, sexual identity, trying to raise children as single parents, and other issues is what people do to try to get through one more day. In our dysfunctional world of today, many walking dead may wrestle with more than one of the above problems – often compounded with financial, employment, or other social welfare issues.
When a person has cancer or some other physical disease that incapacitates, we get that person to the doctor to see what can be done about it. People in the church pray; it is talked about. The person works though the issue alongside of trusted friends, family, and church members. The pastor and deacons visit. Everyone rallies around the one suffering.
For most of the “walking dead” in the local church – there is no help readily available; and quite often, we don’t even want to talk about any of this out loud. After all, once we become a Christian, we are a new creation, made new – right?
2 Corinthians 5: 17 says that we have a new beginning to our life with God. He has forgiven us of our transgressions; but the damage from sin that we suffered – and are often suffering daily – still must be dealt with.
Treating these issues is messy, complicated, and requires time, resources, but most of all, someone that cares. Second – in the legal world we live in, people are afraid to tackle some issues out of fear of the church being taken to court. Third – and perhaps the most difficult thing we must admit – just like a person entering a twelve-step program – is that we really have a big problem that can no longer be ignored.
Some large sized churches generally have a system of support groups in place; some medium sized churches have one specialized support group available. Few Christian professional counselors exist. Secular counselors can provide help but may advise their client in a way that moves them further from serving the Lord and not towards biblical wholeness. The author has witnessed this very thing too many times. A hindrance in both cases is the financial question when consulting with professionals.
There are any number of ways the churches could help – from establishing couples / singles groups to young mother programs to addiction and divorce recovery groups. Food closets, meals on wheels, free health / dental /legal clinics can provide relief to many. Even if some counseling professionals could donate some of their time each week to provide pro bono services in some areas churches, it would greatly enrich the community at large. Could churches network together to provide these services to the community? Yes!
Cell groups / churches can provide much first line pastoral ministry to the walking dead – and will be there for those really struggling to provide emotional support. Small peer groups that operate with anonymity and confidentiality can help even more as they are all seeking to survive the effects of a common trauma or condition. However, this does not eliminate the need to have counseling available to those that have deeper traumas; and the pastor does not always have the time nor the background to resolve every case.
How could churches in a city network together better to share valuable counseling resources so that those that need care have access to it where you are? What programs, groups, or ministries need to be developed in the church right now with the resources at its disposal? How can leaders be trained / retrained to best handle certain kinds of issues and do they all know how to get someone help as efficiently as possible?
Let the church stop talking about being a hospital and become a hospital.