Watching One Another's Back

Gabriel Byrne portrayed Dr. Paul Weston, a therapist on the TV program “In Treatment.” I caught a few episodes several years ago when our cable company gave a preview, and later rented the series. I watched in rapt attention as Dr. Weston probed the issues and brought about breakthroughs for his patients.

But Paul was often clueless about himself. For example, his patient, Laura, was a temptress. Paul knew this, and knew he should refer her to another counselor, but he wouldn’t do so. And Paul and his wife, Kate, didn’t communicate. A little tenderness could perhaps have healed their marriage, but neither was willing to offer it.

Paul did have the good sense to talk with an old friend and therapist, Gina, who made an insightful comment.

“Paul,” she said, “we often see clearly the patterns in the lives of others but not our own.”

I’m quite sure this is true for us all.

I heard Dr. Jimmy Allen a number of years ago teach about the Christian solider Paul described in Ephesians 6: the breastplate of righteousness, the shield of faith and the sword of the spirit. Allen insisted this soldier was protected save in one area.

“This soldier is vulnerable to an attack from the rear,” he said. “He needs someone to watch his back.”

I thought about this lately when a woman asked me about an issue in her church. Her pastor is apparently a bit out of touch over a matter that has potential of becoming a larger issue.

The Ministering to Ministers Foundation has recommended for years that every pastor have a “feedback group” in his church. This is an informal group of three or four respected church members who know the pulse of the congregation. MTM says the pastor should bring this group together occasionally and ask, “How are things going? How am I doing?”

Of course it takes a confident pastor to submit to some of the possible judgments, but the pastor is wise if he listens to his leaders. They watch his back.

The pastor needs feedback, but the rest of us do, too.

One way we do this is with a support group. Ideally that’s what a Sunday School class is—a group of believers who love, support and pray for each other. Sometimes believers join their fellow church members at another time and in another place during the week for Bible study, sharing and prayer. Some do this with a group outside their own church.

We all need support in dealing with blind areas in our lives. We must have some folk who love us and tell us the truth, even when it’s painful. They watch our back.

When People Walk Away From Church

WHEN PEOPLE WALK AWAY FROM CHURCH

“Apostasy” isn’t a word my denomination uses much, probably because we don’t believe in it. Many evangelicals hold to the fifth tenet of John Calvin’s TULIP acronym that a genuinely converted person won’t lose salvation. But it’s true that we witness people who walk away from Christian commitment for various reasons.

I saw this for the first time as a teen-ager. Bobby and his wife were youth workers in another church, but their ministry touched young people in surrounding churches. Bobby worked with a relative who put me in contact with him as a youth speaker, so I was in his church several times for events. On one visit the pastor said, “I don’t know what’s wrong with Bobby. We’ve not seen him in weeks and he won’t tell me what’s wrong.”

A friend and I went to Bobby’s house and, indeed, he wouldn’t talk about it. His wife sat there in tears. We assured him of our love and prayers, but I don’t know how this experience worked out since I moved away to college shortly thereafter and never saw Bobby again.

I’ve seen similar situations in the ensuing years, and each one has been heartbreaking.

I’m convinced there can be a spiritual component to walk-aways. Some believe this is what Jesus’ disciples did in John 21 when they returned to fishing. Jesus came to the seashore and gently prodded them and their leader, Simon Peter, into rededication (John 21).

My experience has taught me that most often human relationships are a major factor in walk-aways.

Sometimes couples experience conflict. No marriage is perfect, and storms are sure to come. Wise spouses realize the value of their investment in each other. A pastor shocked a couple when he suggested their issues were beyond his expertise and they needed a professional who would charge a fee. They said they couldn’t afford a counselor.

“If you had cancer, could you afford treatment?” he asked.

He meant that a sick marriage, like a sick body, might need a professional with some costs involved.

Sometimes the walk-aways are in conflict with other church members. We’d like to think that congregational life is a slice of heaven, and it is in many ways. But just as in basketball, sometimes elbows are thrown intentionally or not, and people get hurt. The old church covenant has wise counsel: “to be slow to take offense, but always ready for reconciliation, and mindful of the rules of our Savior to secure it without delay.”

 I’ve always believed that sincere believers with a genuine love for God can find a path to reconciliation. The church is in the redemption business, and sometimes this means restoring walk-aways to useful service.

Being A Christian In The Restaurant

I stood there a bit speechless since it didn’t work out like I’d planned, though I suppose it made me look kind-hearted.

I paid the bill for my hamburger lunch and then gave the cashier a five-dollar bill.

“Can I have some dollars?” I asked.

She responded, “Who was your server?”

I pointed to the server, also behind the counter, and the cashier gave her the $5. The server quickly smiled and said “Thanks!”

I still don’t know how “Can I have some dollars?” became “Give this to my server,” and I didn’t know how tactfully to regroup and start over. So I left after giving a $5 tip for a $7 meal—something like a 70 percent tip.

Our son managed a restaurant for several years and used to instruct me on appropriate tipping. According to payscale.com, the average salary for a server is $6.87 an hour, though it’s my understanding this is a bit high for our area. I’ve heard that servers earn two or three dollars per hour and rely on tips to make up the rest of what they need. Certainly we need to remember this when dining out.

I had two students at the Christian college I was affiliated with who gave their final persuasive speeches in public speaking class on proper tipping. Both had been or were currently servers, and both shared their experience that Sunday lunch was the worst meal for tipping. I found this quite an indictment of the faith community. I mentioned this in another class as an example of choosing a speaking topic from an area of personal expertise, and had an interesting response from another student.

“Well, Christians give all their money to the church on Sunday morning and probably don’t have enough left to tip much,” she said.

I’m convinced neither assertion is correct.

Another area I’ve observed in restaurants is how badly some people treat their servers. I can’t say these are Christians, of course, but it’s disappointing how picky some diners become and how upset they get over minor issues. My mother always taught us to eat whatever was set before us and be grateful. I often think when observing rude conduct in restaurants that diners ought to remember that this isn’t their final meal before execution at the state penitentiary! They’ll eat again the next day and probably won’t remember whatever irritated them the day before.

Part of Christian discipleship is treating everyone with kindness as good representatives of our graceful savior. I’ve often said how we treat others is the acid test of our faith. We should be kind to those who serve us food, though we may not need to tip 70 percent.

An Appeal To Cellphone Courtesy

I accepted a lunch invitation from a community organization and was happy to meet some new businessmen and women in the area. The day’s speaker was interesting and fun and most of us learned some new things, except several gentlemen at our table. They not only stayed on their cellphones throughout the lecture, but they whispered to one another the entire time. The matter didn’t seem to be urgent since they joked amongst themselves. I thought how strange that these members weren’t supportive of their organization and might as well not have been there at all.

I suppose common courtesy isn’t so common anymore, especially in the era of cellphones. The stats say more than 90 percent of American adults have one, and the Pew Research Center asserts the cellphone is the fastest most adopted device in history. I understand the advantages, of course. I remember years ago collecting three or four telephone numbers for hotels and conference centers where I might be reached by the deacon chairman if needed. This seems so archaic now since we’re never far from contact.

But I also lament that many appear to be conversant on cellphones but not with each other. How often do we see families in restaurants with each person on their phones instead of talking together?

Teachers frequently fight this battle in the classroom. Some schools have strict policies, but others leave discretion to the instructor. Nevertheless, some students can’t seem to function without device in hand.

A teacher told me of two disruptive students who she eventually confronted. They admitted they were texting each other during her lecture about what their weekend plans were. She told them they were wasting their parents’ money in a college classroom since they weren’t learning or preparing for a career.

We face the same kind of issue in the churches. Many follow the day’s scripture text on Bible aps, and this is fine. But others, I’m told, apparently choose to text and surf and ignore scriptural truth shared from the pulpit.

 We had a different manifestation a few years back when pastors commonly included notes in the weekly bulletin with spaces for key words. One lady said to me, “My pastor thinks I’m taking sermon notes, but I’m really making my shopping list!” I was surprised by her admission and by her levity, and I couldn’t help but think she was treating her spiritual life very casually.

 It’s a courtesy to pay attention to anyone presenting helpful information. This is uniquely true in the churches where ministers work hard to share life-changing truth each week. Choosing to ignore God’s word is not only discourteous, but a bad life decision.