During the last three years (even before Covid), health problems and New England winters have prevented me and John from physically attending church. Thankfully, I’m getting better, so we anticipate returning to in-person worship in April. Meanwhile, we praise God that our church streams its Sunday morning services and Wednesday night Bible Studies. Recently, we had to download Zoom (for my annual doctor visit), which will allow me to participate in our church’s bi-weekly women’s Bible Studies. We maintain contact with our pastor, and one of the elders (along with his wife) visits us often. This period has relegated us to the status of shut-ins.
We typically think of shut-ins as being sick, elderly and/or disabled, which is certainly true. But we should also include caregivers who must miss church in order to assist us. I guess I could write a post listing ways churches can minister to shut-ins, seeing that most of my readers probably are able-bodied. Perhaps I will write such an article in the future. But right now I want to give you tools to encourage shut-in friends and family members in taking whatever responsibility they can to serve their local churches. And I pray that any shut-in reading this post will apply the principles I lay out.
Scripture teaches that the local church is a body of believers (1 Corinthians 12:1-31, Romans 12:4-5, Ephesians 4:10-16). Those who are able to physically attend church, therefore, need to meet faithfully with their brothers and sisters as frequently as possible (Hebrews 10:23-25). At the same time, those of us who are (to borrow a phrase from Michelle Lesley) providentially hindered from attending church need to adopt the attitude that we’re still very much a part of the body. We possess the same privileges and responsibilities as all the other members in the congregation. Today I want to talk about some of those responsibilities.
Let’s look at a passage from 1 Corinthians 12 for a moment.
14 For the body is not one member, but many. 15 If the foot says, “Because I am not a hand, I am not a part of the body,” it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear says, “Because I am not an eye, I am not a part of the body,” it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired. 19 If they were all one member, where would the body be? 20 But now there are many members, but one body. 21 And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; or again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, it is much truer that the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary; 23 and those members of the body which we deem less honorable, on these we bestow more abundant honor, and our less presentable members become much more presentable, 24 whereas our more presentable members have no need of it. But God has so composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that member which lacked, 25 so that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26 And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. ~~1 Corinthians 12:14-26 (NASB95)
Consider Paul’s remarks in verses 22-24. Is it possible that shut-ins are the “less presentable” members of the body in that we appear to have little to offer? We can’t serve on the deaconess board, work in the nursery or lead women’s Bible Studies. And music ministry is definitely out of the question. Most of the congregation probably doesn’t even know we exist! Yet God has placed us in local churches, and each of us is just as essential as the people who receive all the attention and acknowledgments, The invisibility of our service in no way diminishes our responsibility to serve.
As you’d expect, the most obvious service shut-ins can perform is prayer. And everybody automatically assumes that we must be mighty prayer warriors simply because our bodies don’t work. (I’ve always resented that assumption.) But even those of us who struggle with the discipline of prayer need to recognize its importance. Our prayers, particularly those on behalf of our local churches, have great effect (James 5:16-18).
If nothing else, pray for your pastor as he prepares his Sunday sermon. If he properly exposits God’s Word, he puts in several hours of careful study, interrupted by constant demands for his time and attention. He needs prayer as he prepares his sermons, as as he delivers them. He needs prayer as he leads the church, and works with the elder board. He needs prayer for his wife and children, who often sacrifice a lot so that he can minister to the church Pastoring is a hard — and frequently thankless — job with little financial compensation, so pastors need people who faithfully pray for them. Far from being insignificant, your prayers for him may have a powerful impact n his ministry, thus impacting your church as a whole. Don’t dismiss praying for your pastor and his family. Your church depends on it!
Closely aligned with the ministry of praying for our pastors is the ministry of encouraging them. Rich Story of Voice Of Reason Radio alerted me to this idea, and I completely agree with him! Rich also has a physical disability that has prevented him from attending church much longer than my disability has prevented me from doing so, causing me to regard him as somewhat of an authority on the topic. His empathy for pastors challenges me to encourage my wonderful pastors more than I do. How hard is it to send a text or a Private Message once in a while to say you’re praying for him or that you caught his sermon online and it ministered to you?
Actually, you can extend your ministry of encouragement to other members of the church. Are you on Facebook? Okay, comment on their Status Updates with appropriate Biblical principles. Send emails asking how you can pray for them. Use your telephone the old-fashioned way by calling them up and asking them about their lives. Invite a couple ladies over for lunch and order delivery…on your credit card. Pray with them, and continue praying for them in the days following your conversation. In a few weeks, check back with them to see how they’re doing. Instead of expecting them to minister to you, put yourself in a position of ministry to them.
Finally, try to give financially to your local church. If you can only afford a few dollars a month, that’s fine. What you give is between you and the Lord. But don’t send money to other ministries and charitable causes unless you’ve first given to your local church. God has placed you in your local church body so that you could support it, and financial support really helps more than you might think.
If you’re a shut-tn, either because of your own physical infirmity or because someone with an infirmity requires your care, please remember that you are still an important member of your local church. Rejoice that the Lord has blessed you with wonderful opportunities to serve your church, and pray for ways to seize those opportunities. If God restores you to physical fellowship, praise His name. But whether He does or doesn’t, serve the church He’s given you with joy, confident that you most assuredly have something to offer.
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