I have struggled to understand this for years!
Just keeping it real and being absolutely transparent.
You know we all need a tribe. We all want to belong. We all desire a place at the table. We all need a circle of friends.
Can I just spill my guts here? At the risk of being criticized or judged here I go!
One of the hardest places today to feel like we belong is in church. I know I am not the only one who feels this way. I just know it!
Churches can be lonely places.
Churches can be HARD!
Not Jesus, no NOT Jesus; but church.
At least most churches in the “Bible Belt.” Which is just so backwards from anything in the Bible.
Me and my husband feel like we just don’t fit anywhere. In our 28 years of walking with Jesus there has only been ONE time in which we felt like we truly belonged. Where we experienced that sweet koinonia fellowship that we read so much about in the New Testament. This is NOT a slam against any one church. It’s not even a slam; it’s just a real observation from up close and personal experience. We attend a great church in our community. Great Gospel preaching, teaching, sharing, going, mission driven church. They are Gospel centered and proclaim Jesus Christ in all they do. Friendly and warm is your first impression for sure! It’s just that like every other church we have been involved in; once you get past the front door and try to “connect” well….that’s when it gets hard. But, this is NOT just at our church. It is across the board in the churches we have served and worshipped in.
Church should be the last place where you feel of lonely or disconnected. We talked the other night about how years ago at our first church “home” where we attended and were actively serving Jesus for 16 years. After church we would go to lunch almost every week at this one particular place. We would sit at a table with our little family all by ourselves and right next to us would be two families who were great friends; never once did they offer to pull up an extra table and invite us to eat with them. We went to the same church. Our kids were in the same classes, yet no room at the table for our family, no room in the circle. They were friendly enough but no invitation to join them. This went on for years; not sure why we didn’t ask to join? We probably thought it would be rude to invite ourselves.
This was a place we were very committed and served faithfully at for 16 years. Although, we were satisfied in service we never truly felt like we belonged. We knew some great people and had a few close relationships but for the most part; just felt isolated. As the years went by and we moved to a new church when our youngest kids were in elementary school Same thing happened. We were new! Wednesday nights we would show up for the meal and sit all by ourselves. No one would ever sit with us. We would even ask but they would go and sit with their same little circle of friends. It was just lonely. This happened so often we quit going to the “fellowship” meal. There was no fellowship for us except with one another. It was quite awkward and it hurt. My husband hated it. I would think to myself…”why doesn’t anyone invite us to their home, or ask us to sit with them; knowing we are new and probably don’t know many people?
In all of our years in different churches we have witnessed this “friendly & warm up front” atmosphere but once you get in the door and start trying to connect; it’s like the door shuts…to say, “sorry no room in the inn” or there is not enough room at the table or maybe their circles just won’t stretch that big to include a few more? I don’t know what it is. I used to think we had a sign on our foreheads that read….we are weird stay away! But No. It’s not like that. We desire friendship. We enjoy meeting new people and spending time with people other than our family.
I have a feelng we are not the only ones who have experienced this loneliness inside the walls of our “friendly and warm” churches. Especially those churches that are old well established. They have something with one another we can’t possibly bring to the table…longevity of relationship. For the most part the core families have been coming there for years. Their children have grown up together. They have served at home and abroad together over a number of years. We don’t have that in common.
I also, understand human nature, we like those who are most like us. It’s hard to get to know new people. We stick to what is familiar. My feelings are in no way a slam to our church. We have the perspective from our side of things. Our own deacon doesn’t know who we are when he sees us; he looks right past us. LOL. I kid you not! He can’t help it. Probably too many people under his care. Faces and names become a blur at that point. Not blaming him; just an honest truth. We have been at our church now going on two years and have not once been invited to anyone’s home or even out to lunch. I think that is a sad thing? I see it as a real problem in every church we have been in.
We have jumped in and signed up to serve in different ways and capacities because we love Jesus and others. It’s also a great way to get to know other people. We have enjoyed the serving part but as far as making any new friends not happened. I ask my husband all the time., “are we weirdo’s?”., “Do we stink?, Actually asked him that last night. People we attended another church with (actually served with and were in same small group for 3 years) needed two seats we motioned them to sit next to us. They did and then saw people they knew better and moved up, saying, “no offense” (2nd time they have done this btw…). We just looked at one another and said, “we had our showers today.” I know in my heart they did not mean to offend us or even think anything about it. It was just a bit more salt in a wound.
I feel like there are many people sitting in the pews of our churches that are extremely lonely inside the walls of our churches. I know we are not wierdos. I firmly believe it is a problem. Jesus was the most hospitable person that ever walked this earth. Those of us who love Him and love others need to follow in His foot steps. We need to make room in our circles for a few more. We need to open up our homes and hearts to new people in our church and invite them in, getting to know them. We need to include others. We need to give them a seat at the table and actually strike up a conversation with the newbies.
We have watched and seen this in our two youngest children’s lives as well. They have both walked away from “Church”. They didn’t fit there. No one reached out to them with genuine love; sure they have heard the Gospel over and over. People have “taught” the Word of God and made sure they were teaching sound doctrine and accurate theology. But, how about actually loving in deed not only in word? They rarely felt the love and acceptance of Jesus in our Bible Belt Churches. They like us aren’t platform people. They are not performers but would rather do behind the scenes things. That is a totally different topic. If your kids aren’t “church” kids or from the “star” families in many churches, they get a raw deal inside the walls of our churches. And God forbid, one of your kids goes through a season of rebellion or sin they get cast aside like an old shoe. Forgotten or labeled the “bad” kid or “black sheep”. Instead of reaching out in Christ’s love; they get black balled. Doesn’t sound much like Jesus does it?
I have prayed over the years and asked the Lord to search my heart and remove bitterness, hurt, anger and an unforgiving attitude in me towards “the church” But the truth of the matter is; it’s NOT me. It’s not something we have dreamed up because we have nothing better to do. We are not divisive people. We want unity. We love Jesus Christ. We love others. We love the word of God. We enjoy serving in anyway He leads us to. We want a family. We want to be part of a tribe. We also want others to experience this inside the walls of our churches.
So, the Holy Spirit has been speaking to our hearts…You initiate conversations with other new people. You be the inviters. Open up the door of your home and heart to welcome people in. You open up your circle. You be the includers (yes a made up word). You make room for a few more. You reach out.
Jesus took notice and saw things others people overlooked. He noticed the lonely. He spoke to the outcast. He loved the unlovely. He healed the leper. He made room at the table for a few more. His heart and hands are wide open. He makes a place for us at His table.