Yesterday in church, I was seated about three rows behind an elderly man who is a mainstay in the congregation during morning worship.
He walks with a walker and has mobility issues; aides get him in and out of the sanctuary. Once he sits, he struggles to get back up again, and he can’t shift or move around very easily. I’ve always admired that in spite of this, I can set my clock by his regular attendance.
As the service got underway, he dropped a small clipboard over the arm of the pew. I saw it fall; I watched him look over at it, frustrated, and then slowly begin to maneuver his walker in an attempt to bring the clipboard a little closer so that he could pick it up. Assuming someone else in one of the rows directly behind him would help, I didn’t stir.
And then, as he continued to move his walker and struggle, I realized that we were all waiting for someone else to help, or perhaps assuming that someone would. Meanwhile, he was struggling along unaided.
I ran forward and picked up his clipboard for him.
But it made me think and it shamed me more than a little. How often do I fall prey to that way of thinking? We don’t give to that one major church offering because, well, everyone does…right? We don’t sign up for that massive ministry project because, well, everyone is…right? We don’t go visit that person or have that conversation or make that phone call because, well, someone probably already has…right?
But when we all think someone already has, then nobody actually does.
No one in church yesterday morning was sitting in their pew out of malice. They weren’t mocking an elderly man or taking joy in his helplessness. They (and I) just assumed that someone else – someone closer, one of his aides, someone who knew him, someone – would help. And so no one did.
To my shame, I realize that “someone else will do it” is one of my most common excuses for avoiding God’s work – or, more explicitly, for avoiding the work that I’m least interested in or least motivated to do. I don’t think I am alone in that, and the result is that those things everyone should be doing simply don’t get done.
We need to be mindful of this, especially in large churches. There, the “black holes” in service get a lot wider because there are so many servants that it’s easy to assume everyone is out there taking care of everything. Meanwhile, visitors fall through the cracks, the sick remain alone in the hospital, and those asking for prayer receive no communication in return. Some of the greatest hurt in the church can manifest from this kind of neglect.
The next time you catch yourself thinking “someone else will do it” or “someone else is already doing it,” double-check that assumption. Before you walk away from a need, ensure to yourself that it’s being met or served in some form.
If you don’t, it’s possible that no one else will.