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Meeting Unfelt Needs

"How are you feeling today?" Do you feel good, bad, mad, sad, or glad?! Circumstances have a great impact on how we feel. From time to time life jerks us around all over the emotional landscape, from mountaintop experiences of fun, laughter, joy, fulfillment, and contentment to the very depths of the valleys of sorrow, regret, disappointment, grief, and mourning. In our lives we have various "felt needs." And just as various as "felt needs" are the way people address and seek to meet them. Groucho Marx once said, "I'm not feeling very well — I need a doctor immediately. Ring the nearest golf course." I hope you paid close attention to that! Groucho felt the need for a doctor, and the doctors he knew felt a need to play golf! Many churches got into the "meeting felt needs" business decades ago. That is a good thing if we closely follow the model of Jesus in the gospels. He fed the hungry, gave sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf, healed lepers and other sick people, reached out to and ate with tax collectors and "sinners" and other social outcasts of His day, and forgave penitent people who were drowning in an ocean of shame and guilt. It is clear Jesus was interested in meeting "felt needs." If the church desires to be like Him, we will have a ministry that seeks to meet these same kinds of "felt needs." But there is a need for caution and careful consideration as the church devises ministry strategies and services. According to one definition I ran across, "Felt needs [are] an individual's or group's belief that they need something. This relies heavily upon an individual's own perception of their need, and their perception of any discrepancy between what their situation may be and what their situation should be. This definition is very similar to a `want'." That definition may explain much of the preaching heard today. Preaching that is driven by perceived needs. Preaching that is nothing more than a response to what people in pews want. Or even worse, dumbing down the gospel and its presentation, becoming so driven by the desire to be "user-friendly" in our worship and other church functions that we end up allowing people who know little about God to become the greatest influence in our message and methods. For many people, the unforgivable sin in preachers and preaching and sermons is if they that are not "relevant." And so off churches and preachers go in their desire to meet felt needs — to the point that meeting God slips away.

Matthew 9:1-8 relates an incident that helps us find the right approach to "meeting needs." A paralytic "lying on bed" was brought to Jesus (see Mark 2: 1ff for added details). This man definitely had a "felt need." But Jesus did not address the obvious felt need of the man until He met a need that may or may not have been felt. Before even acknowledging the man's paralysis, Jesus said, "be of good cheer; your sins are forgiven you" (verse 2). Jesus saw the physical condition of the man as symbolic of a much worse spiritual condition — a paralysis of the soul brought on by sin! After addressing the man's need for God's forgiveness, Jesus healed the man's paralysis. Let us learn — Jesus often met felt needs, but was never content to stop there. He consistently addressed the deeper spiritual needs of the people He helped. The gospel of Christ is relevant to our age. It continues to speak to mankind's most acute need (Romans 1:16; Mark 16:15-16; Matthew 28:18-20). Let us seek to meet that need, whether people feel it or not.

Dan Gulley
Smithville church of Christ