Side by Side, Edward T. Welch
I meet with two other ministry wives and we recently read Side by Side together. It was time very well spent.
It is a brief, eminently helpful and practical book that helps you think about how to love other people well. Rooted in the principle that people are needy and are also needed, Welch has created a great manual for those who want to be proactive in both sharing burdens by acknowledging we need others and also for bearing the burdens of others in our community.
One of his overarching ideas is that normal people help normal people. We don’t always realise it, but it is friends, family, colleagues, church family who help us through hard times much more than professionals (eg counsellors, etc)
We were meant to walk side by side, an interdependent body of weak people. God is pleased to grow and change us through the help of people who have been re-created in Christ and empowered by the Spirit. That’s how life in church works(p12)
As such, he breaks the book into two parts. Part 1: We Are Needy acknowledges that life is hard and our hearts are busy. Sin weighs a lot and sins are often shown up in suffering. Life can be hard and we need to ask both God and those around us for help. One of the challenges he raised was finding ways to ask for help that links the eternal to the temporal. So, for example, not just asking for wisdom with parenting challenges, but asking that God will remind us of his patience with us as we seek to be patient and also model patience to our children.
Part 2: We are Needed gives an almost chapter by chapter guide on how to be helpful to others. The first of these are applicable to all situations, but seemed most appropriate to gatherings of God’s people. So there are reminders to actually move towards people and greet them, to have thoughtful conversations, to see the good in each other, to find out people’s stories, to have compassion during hard times, and to pray. All of these are helpful practical ideas. Nothing new really, but a helpful reminder to many of us of the power of our words and giving people our attention. In many ways, these chapters reminded me of “The ministry of the pew” which went round our church in the 1990s. (which I found a reference to in a 1994 Briefing Article).
Then it got a little deeper, encouraging conversations about sin. Our reading group felt this was accurate and needed, but it signified that each chapter really represented a continuing deeper relationship with someone. These were no longer topics generally covered over morning tea after church. These were conversations requiring careful thought and wisdom.
He finishes with the reminder to keep the gospel story in view – knowing it is our past, our present and our future. We have been predestined and saved, our sins are forgiven by amazing grace and we live with hope.
This is a book well worth reading, and its value will be greatly increased if you read it and discuss it with others. Highly recommended.