the weblog of Alan Knox

It’s hard to comfort from a distance

Posted by on Jul 29, 2013 in blog links, fellowship | 9 comments

It’s hard to comfort from a distance

One of my favorite bloggers, Kathleen from “Church in a Circle,” has written another excellent post called “Fellowship happens face-to-face.”

Like me, Kathleen sees the benefit in “long distance” communication, like through letters, phone calls, even Facebook and Twitter. But, these cannot take the place of “face-to-face” communication. It seems that John recognized this also. (See 3 John 1:13-14.)

While there are several great parts of Kathleen’s post, I want to point out this paragraph in particular:

The world is desperate for true community. God’s solution is the church. Jesus commands us to love one another – he says this is how people will know that we are his followers. But how can we get to know each other and minister to one another’s needs if we don’t get to talk to each other or even make eye contact? How can we encourage each other, teach each other, and spur one another on to love and good deeds, if we can’t even see each other?

I’ll take this a step further. It’s difficult to comfort someone from a distance.

Last week, someone who is very close to me needed comforting. Unfortunately, she’s about 600 miles away. I could talk to her on the phone, and I could text her. I could pray for her and encourage her as much as I could from a distance. But, I could not sit with her face-to-face. I could not hug her.

There’s a difference. Yes, at times (such as this time for me), we cannot meet with someone face-to-face. But, that should be our goal whenever possible.

God willing, I’ll get to comfort her face-to-face later this week. But, for many believers, there’s rarely an opportunity for face-to-face fellowship of any kind. Why? Because the church tends to focus on one gathering, and that gathering offers very little opportunity for fellowship.

Yes, it’s possible for believers to fellowship at other times, but shouldn’t any church gathering be the normal time for us teaching one another, encourage one another, serve one another, and, yes, even comfort one another?


9 Comments

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  1. 7-29-2013

    Alan,

    I wrote the following this morning, then came here. I think there must be something percolating (and no, it isn’t coffee)…

    http://ceruleansanctum.com/2013/07/lonely-christian-men.html

  2. 7-29-2013

    Thanks for the shout out Alan. I’m so struck by the emphasis in Scripture on the need for two or more to gather together, agree together, etc. It’s almost as if God is telling us we will never truly get to know Him EXCEPT through relationships with other humans.

    Dan, I love your article. As you say, men often find it much harder to seek out and maintain those intimate relationships with other men. I am in awe of my wonderful husband, who manages to be a “manly man” while being vulnerable, emotional and loving in a way which other men admire and take courage from. I am deeply thankful he has found a unique men’s ministry in our city to be part of, where he leads and ministers to others, but comes home every week having been ministered to in return.

    Blessings,

    – Kathleen

  3. 7-29-2013

    Kathleen,

    Sadly, as much as we talk about vulnerability in men, my experience has been that men who try to be vulnerable in a group of Christian men are often punished for it indirectly. We hold up vulnerability as an ideal, but too often it comes back to bite the vulnerable person. There is still this mentality that to be vulnerable is to be weak, and to be weak as a man is to be unspiritual and…well, weak.

    This is definitely the case with larger groups. Perhaps with a smaller group it can work. Still, fighting that stereotype and that outcome is difficult.

  4. 7-29-2013

    Dan, I certainly have seen what you’re talking about. Australia is an extremely “macho” culture, and men try to appear tough and strong all the time – including Christian men. The man who heads up the group I’ve spoken of is bald, covered in tattoos, rides a Harley and spent 26 years of his life in prison and other institutions – he used to be a major drug dealer and run guns. It’s because he’s so incredibly “tough” that his choice to be vulnerable empowers other men to open up and be vulnerable too. The majority of guys in the group (about 50-70 men, who break into small discussion groups) have spent time in prison, or are going through other tough stuff in their lives – they’ve been close enough to rock bottom that they are willing to start getting honest and real with each other. It’s a very rare and precious environment. Obviously, I’m not a part of this group (I would stand out a bit), but I’m excited that God is doing such a significant work in these men’s lives, and that we can be a part of it (even though my part is being there for Kevin-Neil to debrief).

  5. 7-31-2013

    Thanks for the comments everyone. It’s interesting that this turned into a discussion about “macho” men. :)

    -Alan

  6. 7-31-2013

    Apologies, Alan. I accidentally hijacked your thread.

  7. 7-31-2013

    Dan,

    There’s no reason to apologize. I wasn’t complaining.

    -Alan

  8. 7-31-2013

    I’ll add this:

    I find Facebook to be an accomplice in the war on face-to-face connection. It’s a positive tool for connecting with people who live far away, but I’ve found it has become a substitute for connecting with people who are near. I think it is no coincidence that the small groups I frequented all collapsed once the people in those groups discovered Facebook.

    Personally, I find this a terrible trade-off.

  9. 8-4-2013

    Dan,

    I agree. Facebook is a positive tool for connecting with people who live far away, and a decent way to make quick plans/contacts with people nearby. However, it can never replace face-to-face fellowship.

    -Alan