the weblog of Alan Knox

Loneliness in church…

Posted by on Jul 25, 2007 in community, discipleship, fellowship, gathering | 8 comments

A couple of days ago, while reading my blog, someone searched for the phrase “loneliness in church” using the search field at the top of the page. When I first saw that, I was heartbroken.

After praying for the person who searched for this string and for the believers that this person meets with, I began to remember times when I was in a church meeting with many other people and yet felt lonely. Times of solitude (being alone) are important, but solitude is not the same as loneliness.

I can remember times of sitting on a pew or in a chair, surrounding by many people, and hoping that someone would ask, “How are you?” More importantly, I was hoping that when they asked, they would actually be concerned enough to listen to my answer. I can remember being completely turned off by “fellowship” that was defined as “shake as many hands as possible while the piano and organ plays the next verse”.

I have to admit, also, that I have been on the other side of this kind of relationship. There have been times when someone has cried out for help (even cried out silently), but I only shook their hand or gave them a hug. Sometimes, I recognized right away the cry for help or a listening ear. Other times, I was so busy getting to the next person that I failed to notice until it was pointed out to me.

It was this type of reaction – uncaring, too busy, pat-on-the-back, next please – that convinced me (for a time) that no one really believed what they preached and taught. And, now, I find myself walking this same road all too often.

Loneliness in church… think about it. A group of people, indwelled by the Spirit, surrendered to the will of God, obeying Him in everything, loving one another, considering others as more important than themselves, accepting others who are different, bearing with one another, giving to those who are in need, encouraging one another… and, yet, someone could meet together with this group and feel lonely.

Certainly this works both ways. Those of us who are hurting should feel free to admit our hurt and need to our brothers and sisters. Those of us who are not hurting should be prepared to serve our brothers and sisters who are hurting and in need.

But, what is it that keeps us from sincerely practicing the “one anothers” that we find in Scripture? Why do we recognize that God gave us one another for a reason, then fail to share our lives with one another? Why do we recognize hurting people, but decide not to get involved? Why do we recognize loneliness in our lives, but decide not tell others?

Lonely people are real. Hurting people are real. Grieving people are real. Needy people are real. Hungry people are real. They are meeting together with us, singing the same songs as us, listening to the same teaching as us. They are our brothers and sisters. They are lonely… are we lonely with them? They are hurting… are we hurting with them? They are grieving… are we grieving with them? They are needy… are we needy with them? They are hungry… are we hungry with them? Why not?

[UPDATE: After writing this blog post, an anonymous reader left a poignant comment on a previous post. I believe that comment is one of the most important (if not THE most important) things ever written on my blog. My question and challenge to you is this: 1) Do you know other believers well enough to know when they are hurting or lonely? 2) Do you respond when God shows you that another believer is hurting or lonely? 3) Do you frequently give (of your time, money, energy) even when there is nothing for you to gain in return?]


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 7-25-2007

    Sorry for not answering your questions, I’m too tired. But I am thinking of them. Thanks for giving me something more to reflect upon. You spur me onto good works.

  2. 7-26-2007


    Once again, you have encouraged me today.

    Three years ago I was just beginning to experience the Spirit teaching me His truths. I asked Him to bring people into my life that I could share them with. People who had been through what I had, and thought there was no hope if “church” wasn’t the answer.

    I was sitting at the bar in a small country cafe outside Bozeman, Montana. A man in his early sixties sat down next to me. He was from a small town 70 miles away in town to buy a vehicle. We said our hello’s and I continued drinking my coffee.;)

    Now, I’m thirty years old and I’m probably the least social person. But, I did ask for it, it’s just this man was thirty years my senior and I wasn’t expecting any deep spiritual conversation.

    He opened up to me…me…someone half his age and still ignorant in this life. He told me his life story. He had no family and maybe one friend in a distant town. He owned a ranch but was retired and did gold prospecting as his hobby. He said he had dozens of jars full of gold. But, what he took from the earth, he said, he was bringing back into it with him.

    He went on to say that the previous day he had been to the doctor and they diagnosed him with terminal cancer. They gave him two years to live. He turned his head away with tears in his eyes as he told me this. He said he was scared.

    I asked him if he knew the Lord. He shook his head in disgust and said he didn’t attend his church anymore because they shunned him for doctrinal indifferences.

    I told him he didn’t NEED to “go to church” to have a relationship with Jesus Christ. By his reaction this statement was obviously virgin to his ears.

    I got the opportunity to encourage him when he was vulnerable, lonely, and let down. Just what I had asked for.

    We exchanged phone numbers and I told him to call me the next time he came through town. I haven’t heard from him since.

    I tried calling him today, but the phone just rings. I hope I’m not too late to encourage him in Christ one last time and let him know I’m thinking of him.

    This is one of many encounters I’ve been having with people. We need to keep our spiritual eyes open. God causes many diverse people to cross our paths at the least expected times and places.

    Anyway Alan…THANK YOU!


  3. 7-26-2007


    We haven’t yet learned who our neighbor is.

    When Jesus said, ‘You have heard that it was said, “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy”‘(Matt.5:43),we, who call ourselves Christian, don’t appear to believe He meant it.

    I like what one old commentator, Albert Barnes, said about this verse: ” The command to love our neighbour was a law of God, Lev 19:18. That we must, therefore, hate our enemy, was an inference drawn from it by the Jews. They supposed that if we loved the one, we must, of course, hate the other. They were total strangers to that great, peculiar law of religion, which requires us to love both. A neighbour is literally one that lives near to us; then, one that is near to us by acts of kindness and friendship.

  4. 7-26-2007


    You said: “You spur me onto good works”. That’s one of the best compliments that anyone could give me. Also, thank you for calling Margaret!


    Thank you for sharing that story!

    You said: “We need to keep our spiritual eyes open.” This is so important! I recognize that many time I miss opportunities to serve people because I am distracted from what the Spirit is telling me.

    Aussie John,

    I think you’re right. How do we learn who our neighbors are, and how do we learn to love them?


  5. 8-5-2011

    In “Healing Damaged Emotions,” David Seamands says many loyal, well-meaning Christians continue to deal with emotional scars and that the response in the church is often simplistic and misguided.

    “We preachers have often given people the mistaken idea that the new birth and being “filled with the Spirit” are going to automatically take care of these emotional hang-ups. But this just sin’t true. A great crisis experience of Jesus Christ, as important and eternally valuable as this is, is not a shortcut to emotional health. It is not a quickie cure for personality problems.”

    So many of the people you describe (and I have been one of them), are they way they are in part because they feel they are judged if they are not “joyful.” And they probably are. Instead of someone reaching out and encouraging them — courageously kissing the frog to produce a prince, as I like to say — the depressed discouraged lonely person is made to feel morally deficient or leprous.

    An antidote, Seamands describes, is that an encouraged person needs to feel three things — that they belong, they are valuable and they are competent. We should work to help each other feel those three things.

  6. 8-5-2011


    Very good points. Thanks for adding to the discussion.


  7. 9-29-2011

    Hi Alan,

    I have come to this discussion late – I read this post last week, but my own “emotional” problems have plagued me. (“Emotional” is in quotes because they are complex and one word fails to fully encapsulate them.)

    I am amazed at Jeff’s story. It is so true that we have so many, many opportunities to both serve and be encouraged, and I know that I for one have missed so many of those opportunities due to my busyness or own insecurities/indifferences.

    I was also encouarged by Dan’s points, and I think this is where I have more experience.

    I have been in churches and simply felt unworthy to be there. Having been reintroduced into the Christian faith by a fundamentalist (and in many ways, I now see, erroneous) denomination that put blame upon a person who was suffering, with the “cure” of discipline, I often felt that one had to be perfect before truly being a Christian – all the other Christians “had it all together”. With my severe issues, I felt an outcast before even entering a church.

    Then, following a breakdown, I became a member of a local community church. Here I slowly began to see the truer Christian picture of people who follow Christ in His strength, because they need Him just as much as I. I experienced real fellowship.

    Then I felt strongly led to move to another church, partly due to my issues, partly due to discipline and leadership issues, and mainly more positive reasons. Yet at this new church I again started to experience that “other-ness”, or not being a part of the Body. This has largely been because of my anxiety at church attendance that I have developed, and it is very much a Sunday-based church.

    This has been a wilderness experience for me. At times I become despondent, yet I know there is better ahead.

    Loneliness is two-way. Because it is a relational experience, it requires work from both oneself and from others in order to be overcome. Encouragement is vital, and a refraining from any judgment as to why/how that person is lonely is also vital. And often, we must persevere in being there for the lonely person, as he or she may find social relationships very difficult.

    (That wasn’t what I had a planned to share here! I will endeavour to return to this topic and make a further short post later.)

  8. 9-29-2011


    Thank you for sharing part of your story with us. You’re absolutely right about relationship being a two-way street.



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