The Happy Face is Broken
What happens when you drive too quickly through a steep driveway onto the road?
Your Happy Face trailer hitch cap gets broken. This happened to us on our last day in CapeBreton and the image was too symbolic to pass without recording it. I kind of think that the picture is an illustration of life – a broken happy face.
Scripture reminds us that we all have sinned and come short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). That means that our sin breaks our relationship with God, breaking the image of God in us. Sin impacts every aspect of our lives from our relationship to God, to our relationships with each other, to how we think about God, others, our world, ourselves, all the way to our hopes, dreams, aspirations, and values. Broken people in a broken world is the legacy of sin.
So what does it mean to be the Church today in a broken world? I remember doing a survey when I was at Fuller Seminary in the early 90s with a worshipper at the Anaheim Vineyard, asking him what his church was about and hearing him say: “Our Church is a hospital!” That image has always stuck with me, but as I have reflected on it, I think it is more than that. I think the Church is to be a teaching hospital. Why do I say that? Well, there are some characteristics that strike me as being relatable to life in the Church.
1. Universal Health Care - Everybody needs a hospital at one time or another, either to be born, to find healing, to be surrounded in comfort in our dying, or for education. At some point in our lives we need someone else to take care of us, to help us get back on our feet. It seems strange to say this, but it seems like it needs to be said. When we are in one of those seasons where we need to lie down, IT IS OK TO REST AND RECEIVE FROM OTHERS! I think that’s a picture of the Church in its truest form – a community where people can be born spiritually, can be cared for in their growth and development, healed when they are wounded, and even taught how to die well. At some point we all need to lie down and let someone take care of us. That’s the ministry of Christ (II Corinthians 1:3-5).
2. Multiple Layers of Care - When you find yourself in a hospital, you become subject to multiple layers of care – from the triage nurse, to technicians, to orderlies, to nurses and doctors. It is not a one-man show. The best care comes from multiple layers, which is also true of the Church. When the ministry of the Church depends on one person, inevitably care is limited and people suffer but when everyone exercises their gifts, effective ministry is the result (II Corinthians 12). I love that when our youth pastor preaches, people hear and respond in ways they don’t to me because he brings something different. I love the way he relates to youth. He does what I can’t do. I love that there are people in our congregation who, when you are sick, will always make sure you never go hungry. If it was left to me, sick people would get sicker with my cooking. Multiple layers of care means different people doing different things to make the ministry of the Church whole.
3. Learning Opportunities - Part and parcel of developing a multi-layered caregiving system is having opportunities to learn and grow. Teaching hospitals provide a training ground for every layer of health care, which takes theory and grounds it in the reality of people’s lives. In the Church our purpose is to train people so that theology gets grounded in the dirty reality of all of life. It means building a relationship with the teaching physician, Jesus Christ, which gets nourished by His training manual, the Bible, is immersed in the daily dialogue of prayer, and is grounded and accountable within the healing community. This is the Church using all of her gifts. It includes mentors and learners, courses and classes, individual reflection and group participation. A Lone Ranger in the hospital is a danger to others. I believe we are called to be life-learners together, spurring one another on to higher ground. I think that’s what it means to be the Church (Hebrews 10:24-25).
4. Contextual Care - Every hospital is placed in the context of the particular community it is called to serve. The same is true of the Church. Care is addressed to needs of the community. When we lived in Bobcaygeon (an hour and half northeast of Toronto/cottage country), our family doctor had on the wall of his clinic about 200 fishing hooks he had taken out of people who apparently fish like me. When we lived in Toronto, it might have been bullets or knives removed by the doctors. The care fit the context. The care provided by the Church also needs to fit the context and ultimately needs to get out of the “hospital” so that people can learn about healthcare, hygiene, disease prevention, etc. The church needs to get outside the walls to address the spiritual/emotional/social needs of our community and the individuals whose lives and health hang in the balance (Matthew 28:19-20). We live among broken, wounded people in a broken world who need to know that there is a Great Physician and who need people to help them get to the hospital before their terminal soul-sickness takes their lives.
5. Imperfect Healthcare Workers - Stories abound of people who have had bad experiences in healthcare. Fortunately, they are mostly from people who are still able to tell their own story. However, there are also those who have been casualties of healthcare as both patients and caregivers. My wife and I were recently at The Ottawa General and as I waited for Dawn to get her coffee at Tim Horton’s (it’s a Canadian thing), I observed a hospital staff member on a phone nearby who was clearly getting a reprimand for something for which she was trying to give an explanation. As the conversation progressed, it clearly got harder and harder for her to hide her tears. My heart ached watching her deal with whatever had happened as gracefully as she was able. Hospitals are filled with people who mess up.
Churches are filled with imperfect people just like hospitals. Sometimes we misdiagnose and make people sicker. Sometimes our bedside manner leaves something to be desired. Sometimes the waiting room is too full and care is not delivered in a timely manner, or the delivery room is unstaffed. When someone gets well, we thank the Great Physician. When that person goes on to get involved in healthcare to others, we thank the Master Teacher. When others get better, stronger, healthier because of individuals committed to providing care, we give thanks for the caring community created by the Lord of the Teaching Hospital. Individually, we can’t do it all, but together we can do the seemingly impossible (Colossians 3:12-17).
I’m not sure how you view the Church, but let me invite you to consider either taking a bed or becoming a part of the healthcare team. If you’re sick, take a bed until you are well enough to get up and become a part of the care team. If you’re healthy enough to serve, then grab a bedpan – we need your ministry.
No church is a perfect “teaching hospital” and all churches are full of imperfect caregivers, but we can’t let those limitations keep us from striving for health and wholeness. HCM International has provided some wonderful tools to help us all become better assistants to the Great Physician. Let your brokenness become the platform for the healing of others in Jesus’ name.
In a world where the happy face is broken, let The Great Physician knit the broken pieces of life back together in you and through you. Only Jesus Christ can take imperfect healthcare providers and add in His grace so that we can be vessels of blessing and healing for others. Interested in serving in the Teaching Hospital? Apply Within!
About the Author
Dan is a Board member of HCM International and serves as Lead Pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church in Orleans, Ontario, Canada. He has been a conference speaker and worship leader for various Presbyterian Renewal Ministry International events. He has been married to Dawn for 26 years, and they are the proud parents of three children who are their joy and delight. He lives with a deep sense of gratitude to God for the saving grace extended to him by our Great Savior.