Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Book Review - Side by Side

We are needy, and we are needed. That is the central truth in Ed Welch's new book Side by Side. This is a book for the entire body of Christ, not just counselors. Welch opens with this exhortation:
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 is how life in the church works. 
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. Most often, they were friends -- the regular 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.
Welch believes that we don't have to leave everything to the professionals. Ordinary people are in unique positions to help others. There is indeed a place for professionals, but there is also a place for using the resources within the body of Christ.

The book is divided into two sections. The first section addresses our neediness. Welch discusses the reality of struggle in the Christian life. He emphasizes the weight that sin places upon us and our need to reach out when we want help. Even as we help others, we have to admit our own weaknesses, because that fosters humility, and humility is necessary as we come alongside others. Personally, I receive help better from someone who comes across not as superhuman, but as someone who understands the struggle of trials.

In the second section, Welch gives excellent suggestions for how to start conversations to foster relationships with others. He recognizes that being able to help someone begins with trust. If we show our love to others, they will know that we care about them. We cannot follow Welch's advice and be lukewarm toward people. If we truly want to help people, it means making an investment in the other person. Often, it means putting our own needs aside.

In the chapter "Prepare to Talk About Sin," Welch provides guidance about how to talk to someone about sin. It can be a tricky business to confront others about their sin, yet there are times when we must. Sometimes we can see someone is tempted; sometimes, we can see the person sinning; and sometimes, someone will confess sin to us. This is where love, grace, and careful thinking are required. Welch gives some examples of how to bring up such conversation. He admits that it can be hard, but if we love others, we won't want them overcome by sin. And at the same time, we have to be compassionate as we approach others.

What I loved about this book was the unmistakable message that we are in a position to help those around us, that often, the ordinary person is the best source of help. In John 16:5-11, Jesus promises his disciples that he will send a helper. The word in the Greek comes from parakaleo, which means  to come alongside another, which is exactly what the Holy Spirit does with us daily. Likewise, we must come alongside people. As Welch points out, we do have the tools to help others. We have God's Word, which provides us his revealed will and the source of wisdom. We also have the Holy Spirit. We may not be able remove someone's trial, but we can walk through it with them. Recently, I have been the recipient of someone walking through something with me, and I have been able to walk alongside a young mother who needs a listening ear. It's a beautiful thing. This is what the body is for.

If you are in a position of needing help or giving help, Welch's book will provide a lot of guidance and encouragement. It's not a difficult read, nor a long read, but the principles are eternal value.

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