I know I’ve offended some of you by saying “suck” in my blog post title, but I wanted to get your attention. And it worked. 😉
After I posted part of my story in “The Bumps (Mountains) in the Road“, I received so many messages from people who could relate to what I said. It was affirming for me to find out that it was part of God’s plan that I share what I shared with all of you, but it was also sobering to know how many people feel isolated IN THE CHURCH. This is the portion of my story that I received the most messages about:
I struggled with feeling so alone most of the time. This is still a struggle of mine. I seem to feel the most alone when I am in a group of people I know. It’s during those times of feeling left out that Satan’s lying voice comes back in my head: “Nobody likes you.” “Even Christians think you are awkward and don’t belong.” “You aren’t good at anything.” Satan, the accuser, likes to strike in my life again and again and again. He knows my weakness.
As much as I loved knowing that what I said helped people and built them up, I do feel the need to address this problem. It is just not okay that people feel left out at church. We are called to love those in the church for two reasons:
- Christ loved us first!
- It is a huge way that we witness to nonbelievers.
In John 13:34-35, Jesus says, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
If the Church behaves like everyone else, how will anyone know that we are Christ’s followers? If Christ’s followers walk into their local church only thinking of themselves, how will they reach new people for Christ? If going to church is just another time for us to see and talk with our friends, how will newer believers feel comfortable and want to keep coming?
It is not enough for us to go to church and love on our friends. It is not even enough for us to go to church and watch for new people to welcome (although this is extremely important!). We need to be reaching out to those who are already regularly attending our church but maybe aren’t plugged in yet. We need to intentionally LOOK for those who are alone at church and show them we want to know them more. People just want to know that they matter. It’s so simple, yet we don’t take the time to do that for people.
Not all of us are good at making friends. While it is their responsibility to try, it is also everyone else’s responsibility to make an actual effort to include them. To notice them. To realize that they probably want to talk to you, they are just feeling scared, or awkward, or even unwanted. We need to recognize the lonely and hurting in our churches and go out of our way to help them.
In Matthew 25:40, Jesus says, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” I would argue that “the least of these” that Jesus refers to in Matthew 25 are not the poor like often assumed. Although helping the needy is biblical, it doesn’t seem like that is who Jesus is talking about here. Did you notice that He says “the least of these brothers and sisters of mine“? So “the least of these” are our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. He uses similar language in Matthew 10 when He sends out His disciples and explains to them that they will leave with nothing and others would take them in and help them out with whatever they needed. “Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.” (verse 40) AND “And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.” (verse 42) On their journey, His disciples would be hungry, thirsty, homeless, naked, sick, and imprisoned. This is exactly what Jesus said about “the least of these” in chapter 25. So “the least of these” are those already in our churches. They are Christ-followers who are hurting or need help.
Would it move you to action to know that people are leaving your church because of this? Because they are hurting and no one notices or no one helps? Would you make a change if you knew that people are being turned off of church because they can’t seem to fit in? Would you make more of an effort to include people if you knew that it may soften their hearts towards Jesus and accepting His grace?
In keeping with the “Practigal way”, here are some steps we could all take the next time we go to our church to begin better loving nonbelievers and Christ’s followers alike:
- Actively look for people who are standing alone (or only with their spouse/kids). If this is going to make your friends think you are mad at them, let them know in advance that this is what you are doing now. 😉
- Talk to people you don’t already know AND those you know but aren’t your friends (yet!).
- Try your best to remember people’s names. This is REALLY hard for me, but I’ve noticed that when I say hi to someone on the shyer side using their name, their eyes usually light up knowing they were remembered. Do whatever you need to do. Repeat their name out loud, make a note on your phone once you’ve parted ways, and don’t be afraid to ask them for their name again if you already forgot it. They will love that you are making an effort.
- Seek out people you’ve met recently. It means a lot to people to know they are remembered!
- Invite people who are not in your circle of friends to an event or out to coffee. Think outside the box on this one. We tend to gravitate towards people who are in the same life stage as us. We miss out on some really rich relationships in life when we don’t get to know people who are older/younger than us or in a different stage than us (think kids vs. no kids OR young kids vs. teenagers).
- Don’t exclude people who seem very different from you. Sometimes these people are just hard to get to know, or they are hard to deal with. Be willing to go out of your comfort zone with the type of relationships you choose so that you can grow (and hopefully they will grow too!).
I’m not giving you this simple list because it’s simple. I know that it’s hard, it’s complicated, and it could require you to break some well established habits. I also suck at reaching out. Although God has gifted me with the noticing part, I have often let fear get in the way of me talking to people, helping people, and loving people. I have made many excuses to talk myself out of acting. I will be working hard towards this right along side you. And I will be praying for God’s strength and courage in this because I am horrible at it on my own. No matter what side of this you find yourself on (lonely or not), we are ALL called to love our brothers and sisters in Christ. We are all called to be Jesus in the life of someone else.
If you are a Christ-follower, please begin to pray for God to help you notice people you don’t normally notice. Also, begin to pray for God to move you to action even when it’s uncomfortable!
If you are trying to make these changes in the way you behave at your church, please let me know how it is going!