We’ve all felt ignored. We’ve all bumped into an acquaintance we haven’t spoken to in a while, being asked, “How are you?”. And when you start to answer, you notice that they’re not really paying attention. Their eyes are on the coffee machine behind you, the printer, some other person, the traffic—whatever it is, it’s not on you. You know that they’re not listening.
On the other hand, you could very well be the other person.
This can happen even in a conversation between good friends, where one person knows the other is prone to being dismissive. The thing is, the one who says, “Oh, don’t worry, it’ll all work out! Don’t be sad!” is likely doing their best to be supportive. And yet, do you really think the upset friend is going to come back in the future for support?
I see this in the church (a lot). Oh, no, you say. Not our church. Everyone here is practically family. No one gets left behind.
Well, people do get left behind.
There are people in your very churches, right now, who have been silently struggling for years. Without friends. Sure, there may be people they talk to for a few minutes after service before heading home, but no real community support—that is, no one to listen to them.
But they weren’t always silent.
At some point, these people have come forward at some point or another, seeking companionship, but have been hurt. They opened up to a church pal about health struggles, financial struggles, emotional struggles; they battled through their anxiety to be open. And in response, they were met with a surface-level “I’ll pray for you,” eyes on the coffee machine, and an “it’ll get better.”
Ouch. Will it?
It’s the Christian brush-off. Those phrases are a scape goat for having to really hold onto anyone’s emotional baggage. It says, “I don’t really want to listen to what you have to say, but I’m morally obligated to not say that out loud.” And with that, these people retreat into themselves, believing that the Christian community does not care.
What if we don’t?
But I don’t do that, you say. I stand there and listen. I open up about my own struggles too. I make sure they feel included. Check out my post on making people feel like they belong here.
Maybe you do. What about when it’s not a quick fix? What about when the problem lasts longer than you want it to? Do you care? Does it really matter to you? Do you have to ask them, “So, are things better?”, with the expectation that simply asking that is enough emotional tithing for your week?
I’m not saying to not pray for hurting people. That’d be ridiculous. But are you actually intercessing for them, or giving lip service?
It’s this emotional apathy that plays a part in driving people away from the church. Not just people on the fence of their faith. But real, Jesus-loving people with generations of strong Christian heritage.
Many people love Jesus, but they don’t love the church. Can you guess why?
The good news is, the reparation starts with you, standing beside our fellow man, loving them as they are in their current circumstance. No conditions. No expectations.
With COVID-19, we meet in our homes to worship instead of going to a building. We can avoid the small chit-chat and get straight to the sermon. For some, this is great. For others, it means that they are devoid of their only small talk with their church family. There are people desperate for connection who won’t get it, because it means they have to reach out in a world where they have before been shut out.
We need each other. More so than ever.
This topic was already on my mind, but then I saw Pastor Michael Gibney’s sermon from Belhaven Free Methodist Church this past week, and I knew it was time. Give his sermon a watch; I know you’ll love it as much as I did.