Side By Side (Book Review)

side-by-sideThis one is making its rounds in our church.  Home fellowship groups, weekly Bible studies, and discipleship relationships are using Ed Welch’s book Side By Side: Walking With Others in Wisdom and Love to learn the ABC’s of helping others.  I’ve been through the book with 2 different groups (one all men, the other all ladies) and am now beginning to read through it again with a group of young families that meet in my home after church.  So far, everyone is delighted with its message.

The author, Ed Welch, is a counselor and faculty member at the Christian Counseling and Education Foundation (CCEF).  He has decades of experience counseling people and now shares his wisdom about helping others.  And it is super-practical for the normal “non-counsely” folks, which makes the message even better.

The book is divided into 2 parts.  The first part is “We Are Needy”.  Several chapters are devoted to orienting the discussion and harnessing eager helpers to take a personal inventory of themselves before jumping into helping other people.  Someone might think this part of the book unnecessary or optional.  “Just skip it and get to the real topic—helping other people with problems.”  But that would be a big mistake.  Welch understands that the best candidates for walking with others in the pain, suffering, and sin, are those who own their own brokenness and sin.  Humility is an absolute requirement for Assistance.  Without a humble spirit, a helper can either be (or come off as) aloof, proud, know-it-all, out-of-touch.  In a word—unhelpful.  So we need to deal with and understand our own hearts first.

Chapter titles in part 1 include:

  1. Life Is Hard
  2. Our Hearts Are Busy
  3. Hard Circumstances Meet Busy Hearts
  4. Sins Weights a Lot
  5. Say “Help” to the Lord
  6. Say “Help” to Other People

In part 2, the theme is “We Are Needed”.  Thus when you put 1 and 2 together, the book’s thesis emerges.  No one is indispensable.  Regular people are equipped by God to help regular people.  Most of the time professional helpers are unnecessary and even less helpful than those who know us best and love us.  The best helpers of the needy are those who are needy themselves.  The Needy walking side by side with the Needy, doing so with the wisdom and love of God.  Chapter titles in part 2 include:

  1. Remember: We Have the Spirit
  2. Move toward and Greet One Another
  3. Have Thoughtful Conversations
  4. See the Good, Enjoy One Another
  5. Walk Together, Tell Stories
  6. Have Compassion during Trouble
  7. Pray during Trouble
  8. Be Alert to Satan’s Devices
  9. Prepare to Talk about Sin
  10. Help Fellow Sinners
  11. Keep the Story in View
  12. Conclusion: A Community Works Best Side by Side

There are many things I love about this book.  First, every chapter is short, readable, and digestible.  What I mean is Welch writes in a conversational tone, even including many sample conversations.  They read aloud in a group setting quite well.  Actually, that is how I structured our group discussion times.  We all read a few paragraphs, pause, and let the conversation organically arise from what we’ve heard.  In groups where the reading aloud skills are diverse, I’ve found that everyone can take a turn without feeling intimidated.

Second, the author frequently cites Scripture references.  Almost as often he quotes Bible verses.  These citations and quotations serve to illustrate his point, but they also facilitate Bible study.  As a discussion leader, I prepare by looking up each Bible reference to compare the Scripture in its context to the point Welch makes in the book. (This is a good habit for those who want to confirm that a book is faithful to the Bible’s message.)  Then I note the wider biblical context that we’ll look up and study as a group during our meeting.  Almost always we find new insights in the Bible as we read, question, discuss, and apply to our practical, daily lives.

Third, every chapter includes 2 or 3 suggested discussion questions.  These questions are not review or comprehension in nature (those types are included in the supplement Study Guide), but rather application-oriented.  Many times the questions gave us concrete suggestions for putting the principles just discussed into practice this week.  And they were realistic too.  It was refreshing to return the following week to review the “homework assignment” and heard folks share stories of what happened as they sought to walk more intentionally side by side with another.

Fourth, there are so many examples of how the author brings his knowledge as a seasoned counselor to the table.  El Welch knows people.  But it turns out that he doesn’t know people so much from his extensive experience.  He knows people because he knows himself and the Bible.  Put all of this knowledge together and the result is a well-rounded set of perspectives on the nuts and bolts of walking side by side with wisdom and love.  It turns out that, whatever the topic, if you understand God’s Word, your own heart, and the various contexts in which we live in the world with others, then we’ll understand more truly and deeply that topic.  So when the topic is needy people are needed to help other needy people, multiple perspectives fill out our understanding.  The result is a wealth of breadth and depth of wisdom.

Fifth, the author does not shy away from any of the three sources of pain and suffering.  There is a tendency among all of us to emphasize one or even two of the sources to the exclusion or minimization of the other.  For example, one person might see the Devil and the evil worldly system as the primary sources of evil, functionally denying fallen human nature.  Or another may be so focused on indwelling sin that he misses Satan’s schemes to tempt and deceive him.  Or still another sees his own sinful nature but uncritically follows the ways of the world.  You could fill in the blanks to describe your own tendencies.  The point is that we all do it more or less.  But this book can help open your eyes to all three sources of evil: the world, the flesh, and the devil (Eph 2:2-3a).

Side By Side is just another example of the excellent practical theology resources that CCEF continues to develop for the glory of God and the good of the Church.  Don’t miss this one.


Reformation Theology

Out of the Ordinary


Side By Side, Introduction and Chapter 1

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