Sometimes I read a book and think, “If we all just got this, the church would be so much stronger. If we all just did these things, the church would be so much better.” And Ed Welch’s new book Side by Side is exactly that kind of book. If we could all just agree to do these things, the church would be immeasurably blessed.
Side by Side: Walking with Others in Wisdom and Love is practical advice for Christians on how they can live lives of love for others. Welch begins with the observation and assumption that “God is pleased to use ordinary people, ordinary conversations, and extraordinary and wise love to do the heavy lifting in his kingdom.” In an age of experts and specialization, we need to remember and believe that the work of the ministry is still assigned to all of us—to ordinary Christians. “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. This is how life in the church works.”
What keeps us from doing this with joy and confidence? At least two things: the idea that such work is best left to experts, and our own pride. But in most cases simple friendship trumps expertise. “In our era we consult experts, professionals, and specialists, but when you look at your own history of having been helped, it’s likely that you’ll notice very few experts among those who have helped you. Who were your helpers? Were they professional counselors or specialists? Probably not. More often they were friends—the regular, everyday people in your life. Friends are the best helpers. They come prepackaged with compassion and love. All they need is wisdom, and that is available to everyone.” This is not to say that there is no room for specialized pastors or counselors (since Ed Welch is, himself, a counselor), but that we are not dependent upon such people. Far more of the help we receive in love comes through ordinary Christians than through trained experts.
If the first hindrance to this kind of life is a misplaced emphasis on expertise, the second is pride. Pride convinces us that we need to be strong, that we cannot ask for help from others. “Yet weakness—or neediness—is a valuable asset in God’s community. Jesus introduced a new era in which weakness is the new strength. Anything that reminds us that we are dependent on God and other people is a good thing. Otherwise, we trick ourselves into thinking that we are self-sufficient, and arrogance is sure to follow. We need help, and God has given us his Spirit and each other to provide it.”
When we let go of pride we invite others into our struggles; when we let go of the idolatry of expertise, we allow ourselves into other people’s struggles. And this is exactly what God wants us to be—ordinary people who minister his extraordinary Word to others. Welch says he has written this book “for people like me, who are willing to move toward other struggling people but are not confident that they can say or do anything very helpful. If you feel quite weak and ordinary—if you feel like a mess but have the Spirit—you have the right credentials. You are one of the ordinary people God uses to help others.” Not only that, but your neediness is the very thing that qualifies you to help others. “Your neediness, offered well to someone else, can even be one of the great gifts you give your church. You will inspire others to ask for help.”
Side by Side is simply a collection of practical instructions on extending and inviting the kind of help we all need as we live lives like these in a world like this. It is ultra-practical and ultra-biblical, and, as I said at the outset, if we just chose to do these things, our churches would be better and stronger for it. I appreciate what Heath Lambert says in his commendation: “This book will help you to know what the love of Christ looks like, how to extend it to others, and how to accept it from others as you live in relationship together.” What could be better than that?
Note: Side by Side happens to be on sale today at Westminster Books; it is discounted for individual copies and discounted further still for multiple copies.