Is your church insulating you from relationships? During our travels raising support, we have connected with many churches. Part of partnership development is meeting with as many people as possible to present the ministry. In one church, I started calling people in the church that we knew and those whom friends recommended we contact. It wasn’t long before I got a call from the pastor who said that he got calls from people, concerned about us calling them. Though he did not have an issue with my calling, I realized the people in the church looked at the church as a means of insulating themselves. In this case, they may be trying to insulate themselves from an individual responsibility to missions—but on the larger scale, we’ve observed that many people use the church to insulate themselves from relationships. The question: does your church insulate you from relationships, or does it foster relationships? Does it help you foster relationships with believers? With unbelievers?
A survey I recently filled out asked the question, “Do you purposefully develop relationships with non-believers for the purpose of sharing the gospel?” My initial thought was, “most of my social activity is at church, and we don’t have any unbelievers at church.” Unless I am purposely developing relationships with unbelievers, I can use my church to insulate myself from unbelievers. One man I spoke to related to me a time when a deacon at a church asked him to stop helping a man who was having deep spiritual and relational problems because “the church did not need those kind of people here.” He was told that he either needed to stop helping the man or stop coming to church. He quit the church. Recently, Shannon and I attended Genesis Process training, which is an addiction recovery program. The instructor and developer of the program concluded that the church is the best organization to provide the kind of accountability necessary to help someone out of an addictive behavior. Sadly, though, how many churches even want to have this kind of a ministry? Even if we don’t say it, we really don’t want “those people” in our churches.
I have also observed that many church-goers are not really that interested in developing relationships with other believers. I have been guilty of this as well. Often, the North American church model provides us with the perfect opportunity to salve our religious conscience but carries little opportunity or necessity for relationships. It is too easy to walk into church, smile, shake hands, ask “How are you doing? (…but don’t really tell me!),” get our religious “fix,” then leave without really connecting with anyone. The occasional church fellowship or potluck – or even homegroup – does not really provide the opportunity for deep relationships that allow us to restore a brother overtaken in a fault, to bear each other’s burdens.
What might be some of the reasons for holding each other at a distance? Is it that we’ve somehow conveyed the idea that we as Christians have to be perfect – that we really don’t struggle with sin? That our families aren’t what they should be? Would you be comfortable allowing a fellow church member to live at your house for a week: give him free access to your DVD and music collections, all your internet surfing history? Or, are you just too busy? Is running your children to sports, music lessons – even church programs – keeping you from having real relationships with people?
Even pastors are guilty of insulating themselves. Pastor, ask yourself this, “If I died suddenly, who would step in to take my place?” If the answer is that the church would form a pulpit search committee and find someone to fill the pulpit and ultimately pastor the church, then you have failed as a pastor. You have failed to build relationships among the men of your church that result in true discipleship, to maturity in the faith. The kind that Paul admonished Timothy when he said, “and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” (II Tim. 2:2)
Do you see your church in these passages?
I Thes.5:11,14, 15 “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. Be at peace among yourselves. And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone.”
Gal. 6:1, 2 “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”
More Scriptures that bear on how relationships in the church should function: