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Review: Side by Side by Edward Welch

Side by Side

Each one of us is needy, and the longer we live the more we understand how deep our need is. However, we may not all realize that we are needed too; even though we may be a mess, God commands us to care for our brothers and sisters in their neediness.  In Side by Side: Walking with Others in Wisdom and Love, Edward Welch addresses these two aspects of living in God’s church.

We are needy.

We all have issues and therefore we all need spiritual encouragement. Because Satan is so powerful and subtle, we need help in our circumstances, our neediness, and our temptations. We need help turning to the Lord in each new situation, and we need help opening up our lives to others so that they can encourage us.

We are needed.

Others need our help in the same way that we need theirs. Of course, that is a scary thought and leads to two questions:

1.If that is really what God wants us to do, how are we equipped for such a delicate and important task?

God works through ordinary people with the Holy Spirit’s love and wisdom, and we ordinary people can help others. We do not need to be professionals to show Christian love and care.

2.Well then, how do we go about it practically?

The rest of the book guides Christians to developing deep, God-centered relationships with others. From simple greetings, God-centered conversations, and compassion, to prayer, facing temptation together, and dealing with sin, Welch provides detailed examples of ‘how’.

Throughout the whole book Welch reminds us that it is easy to get lost in the course of helping each other. We need to keep the gospel story in mind and let it shape our lives. Then we can, from personal experience, apply it in many different ways as we help each other and as we talk to ourselves.

In conclusion, Welch points out that we need help in helping each other. This is undoubtedly true; most problems are complex and we cannot deal with them on our own. Beyond that, we also need support ourselves as we care for others.

Considerations

Welch only very tentatively points to the need for engaging skilled professional help in case of physical danger. Though the whole book is about countering our natural tendencies to leave issues to ‘the experts’ and our paralysing fear of making a mistake, he goes too far.

Since up to 20% of North Americans suffer from mental illness, we need to know when to seek professional help. Love from fellow-believers is crucial, but it is not always enough. For serious issues, including mental illness and especially when a life is in danger, we need to rely on professionals, just as we would with cancer, a broken leg, or even the common cold. And, because we may need to provide such help immediately, we should be aware of crisis phone numbers and other emergency resources.

Another caution: Sometimes our stories, temptations, or sufferings involve others; the line between being open about ourselves and inadvertently sharing things about others we are involved with can be very narrow. The other side of the coin is that confidentiality is crucial when we are walking side by side with others. As Welch mentions, often we need help in our helping, even if only to enable us to bear the load, and it is important to make decisions in advance about whom to confide in and how to go about getting permission.

Note: As Blind Spots (link is to my review) so clearly reminds us, we are each different, with different ways of reaching out and walking side by side with sufferers. Some people will gravitate more to providing practical help, such as soup, rides to medical appointments, and passing on job opportunities; others will tend to focus on sharing the truth of the gospel; others are more equipped to listen and provide emotional support. All of these are crucial aspects of life in the church, and a congregation where all of them are practiced will thrive.

Conclusion

So, would I recommend Side by Side? Absolutely, though with the above considerations. This book is an important and practical guide to life in the church. It emphasizes that we all are broken and in hard circumstances, and that we all need the gospel and each other. It points out that helping is not leading from the front, or pushing from behind, but humbly walking side by side. And it encourages us to do all this in love.

As Professor David Murray said, “This book of practical spirituality … made me feel both more needy and more needed. A rare double blessing!”  Side by Side is a blessing, indeed, and should be part of every church library.

Note:  A free Leader’s Guide for group study is available from the author.

This is yet another book in the in the 2015 52 Books in 52 Weeks Challenge and is also linked to Saturday Reviews, Booknificent Thursdays, Literacy Musings Monday, and The Book Nook

For more encouragement, visit Raising Homemakers, Titus 2 TuesdayR&R Wednesdays.

Disclosure: A review copy of this book has been provided by Crossway Books and Beyond the Page.

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3 Comments

  1. Jennifer says:

    I totally agree with you, Annie Kate! I am only part way through the book and I did not get the feeling that Mr. Welch is neglecting the need for professionals. I took it as “this is how an ordinary Christian should help.” Your cautions are so right. And, thank you for your comments. I have missed you. I hope and pray you are on the mend.

  2. Nelleke says:

    Thank you! I hadn’t realized that you reviewed this. I am about halfway through reading along with a ladies’ group from our church. So far I have been very blessed by it, particularly because by nature I am someone who just tries to work hard and power through when I encounter difficulties. I have been actively pausing and asking God for help in the middle of the daily chaos in a way that I never had before.

    1. Annie Kate says:

      Thank you, Jennifer. You are right that the book is about how ordinary Christians should help. It’s just that, as an ordinary Christian, I have at times needed to know exactly when to call in professionals or even emergency workers.

      Yes, Nelleke, it’s a good book in many ways, despite my cautions. I have been blessed by it enough that I asked for a paper copy for my birthday…. And, yes, learning to ask God for help–and to thank him when he gives it–is fundamental. May God bless your study!

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