the weblog of Alan Knox

The church and loneliness

Posted by on Jan 23, 2010 in blog links, community, fellowship | 6 comments

There is a very good, thought-provoking post at Communitas Collective called “The Loneliness of Church.” The author has noticed something important:

My family and I were part of a large church that had many activities and ministries. I jumped in the swirl and began to form relationships with others who were involved in the same things as me. We enjoyed each other, experienced intense spiritual moments together, spoke the same language, voiced the same longings. All the things that make up friendship. Except for one detail; our involvement was limited to a church building and a church ministry. Most of my church friends, probably 99 percent, had never been to my home nor I to theirs. The people I would pray with and cry with and have spiritual intimacy with did not know my children’s names or know that I am an avid rose gardener with over 20 rose bushes in my backyard.

It was like an illusion, the illusion of friendship and the illusion of community.

Yep. Busy-ness and projects can create the illusion of friendship and community. But, it could be just an illusion.

How can we tell? What happens when the project ends? What happens with the tasks are complete? Is there still a relationships and a desire (that is acted upon) to spend time together? No… then it was an illusion.

This illusion can cause the busiest, most engaged, most assimilated people within the church actually live a lonely life.


6 Comments

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  1. 1-23-2010

    I may have mentioned this, but I recently picked up a book on understanding Culture in the US: “What’s Up, America? Second Edition A Foreigner’s Guide to Understanding Americans.” Among the many interesting things it pointed out was that we tend to isolate our relationships within narrowly defined boxes. So, for example, we may build a relationship/friendship with someone at the gym, but the relationship rarely moves beyond the gym. The same is true for relationships at work, around sports teams, etc.

    This may explain the observed phenomenon that were the “church” relationship seemed intense, it never moved outside the (insitutitional) church walls/activities. This means that when we want to “do church” more as a family than as a club, we are really pushing against cultural comfort zones. As a family member, we have access to every area of a life, not just a compartment or two. We Americans do not find that comfortable going in (of course, what a delight–just like the rarity of a long marriage, deep, peevasive relationships allow us to feel accepted).

    This cultural tendency also has implications in how we build relationships in a community that we hope will result in conversions. We should not think that because we have built an area of relationship that we are “reaching” into someone’s life. We will need to extend into several “boxes” before we are considered a true, inside friend. So, making relationships in a local bar, or a local book clud, or at the gym, or at work, or at the PTA, or any other grouping, is just the starting point and you will need to work to bring you and them together in several more narrow boxes of experience–without making them feel suffocated or intruded upon–before you really have a “friend.”

  2. 1-24-2010

    This does seem to be a tendency of American culture manifest in the church. I don’t think the church created it, just exists within it and has built itself around what is comfortable for people.

    We were doing church in a library for a while and then we lost the building due to construction. We moved into our house for the next three months and we lost several families. The report from one family came back to us through the grapevine, “we are just not comfortable having church in a home. It is too personal for us.”

  3. 1-24-2010

    I believe there are many illusions in many churches today.

  4. 1-25-2010

    Joe,

    I think it is very hard to meet in a home. People don’t mind doing bible studies or small groups in homes but to have “church” in a home just is going too far.

  5. 1-25-2010

    Thanks everyone for the comments. We are called as followers of Jesus to not be conformed to this world. Do you think that includes the individualism and isolationism that is normal for our culture?

    If so, how do we break out of this pattern, and how do we help others break out of this pattern?

    -Alan

  6. 1-25-2010

    “… how do we break out of this pattern, and how do we help others break out of this pattern?”

    Here is my testimony of how God helped me do it..briefly.
    1. Read God’s Word directly, not through the filters of your pastor or S.S. curriculum.
    2. Test everything you hear and read to see if it matches up with scripture. Acts 17:11
    3. Share your discoveries of God’s call to intimacy, mutuality, and full participation in every gathering of believers. If at this point you never discover these scriptural instructions, it indicates you are still stuck in limitation point #1.
    4. When your sharing begins to confront the systemic error in the church and the leaders start a file on what you have written and shared, then they meet with you to say you are “out of step” 2Thes.3, which is really about laziness-which is mostly characteristic of other saints – not you, it’s time to leave the institutional system. You have done what you can. God may do more after you leave.
    5. Ask God to help you re-build church life on Christ and show you other saints who do church outside the institutional system. He will do it. He will lead you to people completely outside your box of comfortability, but follow Him there. Some saints will join in and leave looking for the “spirit-filled” church – if you know what I mean.
    6. Continue to walk forward in faith, throwing every doubt about: What about a youth pastor for my teen boys? What about my enjoyment of the band and big worship jam that you enjoyed?
    7. Read books written by those who have left the system and see more truth that you have not seen yet.
    8. Insert before point number one. Boost your prayer life to 24/7. Do not do anything without intense abiding in Christ.