As messy and painful as God’s people can be, Jesus and His people are a package deal.
I was too exhausted to roll out of my bed and cover my puffy eyes with concealer. It was too much to force my throbbing feet into heels with my Sabbath best. The last place I wanted to be was a place where my current spiritual reality was unwelcome or misunderstood.
I simply wasn’t feeling the corporate worship vibe. That hollow feeling stretched from one week, to two weeks, into months. And just like that, I found myself rarely attending worship.
I cannot deny that even now that as a Worship Pastor the desire to commune with other Christians languishes sometimes. Don’t get me wrong. I love God, and love to worship Him, but sometimes I struggle to love spending time with His people.
Searching for Love Among 4,000 Imaginary Friends
I suspect that I am not alone. Churches of all sizes are emptying out. A 2016 Pew Forum report on church attendance reported that only 32% of Americans attend weekly. A Gallup survey then asked the group that seldom attends the reason for low attendance, and 44% of Americans said they prefer to worship on their own.
Yet, we know everyone wants to belong, to feel connected. We can just look to the booming world of social media to know that. As of June 2017, according to the Pew Research Center, 2.01 billion people have a Facebook page, and 79% of Americans use this social media platform daily.
I have 4,665 Facebook friends, most of whom could be imaginary, since I’ve never met the majority of them. Having thousands of Facebook followers is considered being well-connected and friendly. But unlike real relationships, when people conduct themselves in a manner we disapprove of, or find uncomfortable, we effortlessly “unfriend” them.
It’s simple to opt out of online friendships because of the emotional detachment in relationships only accessible by WiFi. Detachment to our faith community is serious, though. When we feel disconnected from people there, we should courageously oppose the desire to remain in that detached space. True community is worth the fight!
It was Jesus who prayed, “…I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one” (John 17:20 ESV). Here are three actions I intentionally undertake when I sense that twinge of disengagement threatening my connection with the body of Christ.
Fall in love with Jesus to fall in love with His people.
“For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:13 ESV).
Often my lack of desire for community is a byproduct of my feeble passion for the Lord. And when my love for God is faulty, my lack of love for his people follows. But as messy and painful as God’s people can be, Jesus and His people are a package deal. They cannot be separated. So when I’m struggling to find true connection, I spend more time with God to inspire me to spend more time with His people.
When I pursue meaningful moments with God, I see how He’s merciful, patient and gracious to me and the people from which I feel disconnected. I dust off old prayer journals to refresh my memory of the specific things God has done for me, and those for whom I’ve prayed.
Remembering my initial love relationship with the Lord rekindles the flame. I also aim to bring the habits back that kept the passion alive. It may not happen overnight. By God’s grace, as my love for God grows, my love for His people grows exponentially.
Move from anonymity to accessibility.
“Not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near,” (Hebrews 10:25 ESV).
Social media affords us the luxury of hiding behind our profiles. We can limit our interactions, and the amount of information we share. But, when we desire an authentic space for connection, we have to intentionally burst our anonymous bubbles. When we make our lives accessible so that we can be held accountable, we can be encouraged and truly loved.
Similarly, we as digital natives can’t compartmentalize our identity and expect to be fully known by those we worship with on a weekly basis. To fight this, I do one of two things. I go to a church event, and with the Holy Spirit’s prompting I share. Instead of keeping to myself, I intentionally unpack parts of the real me to a minimum of three people each week.
I may talk about how I messed up my first attempt at vegan mac and cheese. Or, I mention how YouTube University rescued my protective natural hairstyle experiment from failing. I may even get more serious and talk about just how difficult it was to make it through the week. I have also opened my home to have someone over for a common meal. When I commit to this, I have found that it’s difficult to disconnect and disappear when people know the real you.
Never forget that church goes with you wherever you go.
For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” Mark 10:45 ESV.
Through Jesus’s example, we know the pinnacle of the gospel is achieved by denying self. My role, as the church, correlates strongly with my willingness to serve others wholeheartedly. I can’t expect to experience Jesus’ love within a faith community if I have not done all that I can to help others experience Jesus. Therefore when I am feeling far away from the family of God, it’s imperative for me to find opportunities to serve. I need to be the community someone desperately needs. You will be surprised how your perspective quickly changes when you’re serving others.
The concept of community was birthed in eternity between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We were created to replicate this beautiful image on earth.
So, with the help of the Holy Spirit, when we feel unfriended in our own churches, may our prayer be: “Lord, may these feelings of disconnection lead me to strengthen my desire for community simply because it is the will of God concerning us.”
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.