As I spoke to friends about helping cell group leaders as they lead and serve in church, a friend reminded me that everyone in church has struggles and needs – not just those who lead or serve in an official capacity.
So how can we care for the different communities in the church?
Perhaps, a more complete perspective on worship – as both a personal and communal activity – includes the awareness that as much as the church helps their members to worship, the congregation also serves the church – each other.
Loving and serving the church community varies with their needs – and while this article cannot address every single one, these are experiences I have encountered.
As my friend and I exchanged observations about church, he pointed out the difficulties new mothers have in attending church with a newborn.
He noted that most new mothers end up being unable to attend service for several months, while adjusting to the new routines that come with parenting a newborn.
The initial months of having a new baby, he reasons, is tough. What, then, can the congregation do to help new mothers participate in church service?
While churches, including mine, have nursery programmes, these usually cater to infants at least a year old. What about those with newborns?
These sentiments resonated with me – I’m not a parent myself, but have observed friends who have only recently restarted attending the full duration of service while being able to give it their full attention. Previously, their children were too young and required full parental attention, even during service.
Now, their older child is old enough for Sunday School; the younger child, though not of Sunday School age yet, is able to be entrusted to a caregiver while both parents attend church service.
I recognise that there is value in having someone else help to take care of the newborn while the mother participates in Sunday worship – such as someone who has prior been in the same shoes.
Yet, as a single young adult, I am aware there are others who might be better equipped to care for a newborn than I would be. Nonetheless, this does not exempt me from the call of bearing the burdens of other believers, which thus fulfils the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2).
In view of this, one way I have helped my friends participate on Sundays when their babies were newborns, was to help them take notes during sermon – even as they take care of their babies on Sunday mornings, should they need to leave the service, they can catch up on the segments they have missed.
It might not be as significant compared to being able to lull a baby to sleep in minutes, but if I am able to love or serve someone in this way, I will!
Having congregation members with special needs within the main service, when the opportunity arises, should be the church’s joy and privilege – when this happens in my church, it warms my heart to know we remain a safe and welcoming space for those with different needs.
Yet, sometimes the service might be overwhelming on the member with special needs.
My friend recounted instances where the church community helps a family who has a child with autism, in an event of the child’s meltdown – members of the congregation have offered to sit with the child in the car. This enables his parents to continue in worship during the main service.
This reminded me of the time my friend did the same – a member of our congregation brought an intellectually disabled sibling to the main service.
How can we bear each other, such that as a whole body we glorify our head – Jesus?
It would have been draining for the sibling with intellectual disability to sit through the full service; hence my friend left midway at a suitable juncture to sit in the car with them until service ended.
Having said that, I recognise having many overenthusiastic helpers wanting to love or serve this way would likely be counterproductive and overwhelming instead.
Instead, the attitude of our hearts to show love in this way – should we get the opportunity – is a more pertinent consideration. How can we bear each other, such that as a whole body we glorify our head – Jesus?
After all, Romans 15:2 tells us that in doing so, we help to edify others and build them up in the Lord.
In the church service I attend, there aren’t many elderly members – most of the senior members either attend Mandarin service, or the earlier service prior.
Nonetheless, having participated in a mission trip where members of the congregation were elderly, I glimpsed how small gestures can help them participate more joyfully in worship.
The elderly believers were squinting their eyes to read the lyrics of the songs we sang during church, which was printed in the hymn book in a font size that was far too small.
Picking up on my teammate’s initiative, I Googled the song lyrics on my phone for us to view it together. On my phone screen, we were able to zoom in on the lyrics as needed, until it could be read with ease.
Alternatively members may be able to read the song lyrics with ease, but struggle to find the song number or page number – it is the loving thing to do when we help them find or turn to the requisite song or page.
Of course, all these pointers may not be of universal relevance to every church congregation – they are practical pointers stemming from personal encounters.
Yet, at the heart of these lies the main goal of recognising that bearing each others’ burdens fulfils the law of Christ – which is summed up in the commandment to love our neighbours as ourselves (Matthew 22:39-40, Galatians 5:14).
As people who are called to love others because Christ first loved us (1 John 4:19), let’s heed this command – in any capacity as God enables us.