When the Going Gets Tough, Get the One-Anothering Going

Lately I’ve heard of some churches struggling with Big Problems. While each situation is unique, together they reflect the struggles of  thousands of congregations in today’s challenging ministry environment. Individual details aren’t important here. These situations took a long time to develop. They have very serious consequences. Things could still go either way for these churches and their pastors. Serious, perhaps even terminal, decline is a likely outcome for churches that behave like any other human organization and resort to mutual blaming, rumoring, whining, and fingerpointing.  But some churches will dig deeper into their faith. Their crisis will help them remember who they are–children of God, followers of Jesus, the Body of Christ, members of one another. They could begin a journey toward healing, renewal, even resurrection.

It’s too early to tell how these situations will play out. I hope and pray that these folks will rediscover the transforming truth that sustains God’s people in such times–“When the going gets tough, get the one-anothering going.” When things get tough internally or externally, we  turn inward. We go into self-protection mode and focus on ourselves. That’s the worst thing we could do. Following Jesus is a team sport. It’s never just about me. It’s about being together in Christ and helping one another grow into “the fullness of God” (Colossians 1:19). The measure of  our discipleship is less the quantity of our church busywork than the depth of our “one-anothering”. Biblical bean-counters identify around 60 verses (depending on translation and related technicalities) that address  “one-anothering”. Search “one another scriptures” and you’ll find a variety of lists, as well as bible studies and other resources.

One-fourth of those 60-or-so verses are variations of “Love one another”. One group comes from Jesus’ farewell discouse in John 13-17. The context is the farewell meal, footwashing, and Jesus’ farewell address–all leading to the Cross. Such sacrificial love will get us through just about any church glitch (or life glitch!) that might arise. Another group of verses comes from 1 John, where the author gets very specific. Love, he says, validates our profession of faith. Lack of love, on the other hand, reveals the shallowness of our faith. These early Christian communities, incidentally, were under at least as much pressure as the contemporary congregations I have in mind. They learned through their experience–“When the going gets tough, get the one-anothering going.” 

These verses get lovingly specific. Four times we’re urged to “encourage one another”. Four times we’re told to serve or submit to one another, or practice humility. Twice we’re told to forgive others, and once to “Accept one another…as Christ accepted you.” (Romans 15:7) Twice we’re told to “live in harmony”. “Harmony” doesn’t mean everybody sings the same note. It means we sing our  different notes as part of the same God-given song. We are a choir, not a collection of competing solo acts. We’re also told to “teach”, “instruct”, and “admonish” each other. We have so much to teach one another, and so much to learn from one another.  But it takes great love to offer teaching, instruction, and admonishment in a helpful way, and great love to receive it gracefully. We are also warned about negative “one-anothering”: “If you keep on biting and devouring each other…you will be destroyed by each other.” (Galatians 5:15) “…passing judgment on each other” (Romans 14:13),”slander(ing) each other” (James 4:11); “grumbl(ing) against each other” (James 5:9).

I know some Christian communities (and families, and even neighborhoods) that on their best days provide rich, deep “one-anothering”. But I know others that are caught up in “blaming and devouring”, as well as many more that live somewhere between indifference and armed truce. Too many of us who say we’re “family” in Christ simply aren’t very engaged with each other. We coast along on the surface on Sunday morning, get our needs met, and act like that mythical “friendly church” until we’re out the door. We’re not fighting, but we’re not “lov(e)ing one another deeply…” (1 Peter 4:8). That takes time and commitment we often choose not to make. The consequence is that we  fail to build a reservoir of “one-anothering” that  can sustain us “when the going gets tough”. Cultivating that depth of one-anothering can’t be an optional extra, one more item on the activity smorgasbord.  It has to be a continuing priority because it’s an expression of our very identity. Then we’ll be ready when the day comes that demands all our best “one-anothering” gifts and abilities.

So how’s the “one-anothering” in your part of God’s world? What will you do to make it better? If it’s great already, what can you share to help the rest of us increase in[“one-anothering” where we live our lives?

5 Responses to “When the Going Gets Tough, Get the One-Anothering Going”


  1. 2 Mary & Don May 25, 2012 at 5:51 PM

    ouch

    • 3 soulmanlv May 26, 2012 at 9:23 AM

      I know. We all have significant failure at this point. Good news is that the community’s resources (the Holy Spirit flowing through each person’s life) can help us deal with our willful and accidental failures, support and encourage us as we grow, and heal even deep hurts. We’re never in this alone.

  2. 4 Lois May 26, 2012 at 3:51 PM

    Thanks for the well stated reminder of who and whose we are – now for the follow through…


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