Falling Through the Cracks

If you are physically attractive, have a comfortable amount of income and your family has something to offer in the area of time and talent, you will find a warm welcome at most churches. I am thinking of a church right now where hundreds of well-dressed, attractive and successful people gather every Sunday. It is like most others of its type across the country. If you stood and watched after church, you would never dream that anyone could possibly feel left out.

But if you don’t have a picture-perfect life, or if you have a life-altering problem, or if you are a single parent with no money, the situation can be very different. At many churches, people fall through the cracks. They don’t have nice clothes. They don’t cut a handsome or pretty figure. They have no talents to share. They are needy and hurting, and they don’t know where to turn.

Maybe it has always been this way. Maybe that’s why Christ himself spoke of the pharisees who would give the best seats to the well-dressed and the wealthy and put the poor at the back. Some Christian churches today are no different. Because of this, hurting people leave such churches, limping into the night without a backwards glance.

Needy people take time. They need help. They need money or housing. Sometimes they need intensive counseling for a difficult and complex situation in their lives. They don’t burnish a church’s image. They might even be embarrassing to a church in some way.

I know the feeling of being a single parent with a seemingly endless life of drama. It is the worst feeling in the world. Late night calls for counsel, the feeling of never belonging anywhere because you’re alone with two children, have no money, and so forth. How rare and wonderful it is when someone reaches out in understanding to help.

If you have ever felt what it is to fall through the cracks, to be deeply lonely and to feel left out in a church, you will know what it means to have a hand of friendship stretched out to you. Maybe because I do know, the Lord occasionally sends someone like that in my direction. I have not always succeeded in being a blessing to those people. Maybe other times I have been. I am more convinced than ever that such a ministry is important to the heart of the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd doesn’t walk away from a wayward or injured sheep. He tenderly cares for it. We should do the same.

It isn’t always big things that help someone. One couple asked me and my little boys over for dinner after church once, and my boys went swimming in their pool. It was so nice to feel a part of something. Another woman I knew called one night when I was at my lowest ebb. Her call came through at a moment when I was so depressed I was having extremely dark thoughts. Her name was Jane, and she came and picked me up for the night. My boys were gone for the weekend, and she just sat and talked to me. I’ll never forget it.

If you ever see someone who has needs in your church, consider what you might do or say to let that person know that you care. As Christians, we are showing Christ forth more than at any other time when we reach out to them. When we do so, we should do so in humility, realizing that we some day may need just such love. Sometimes we are on the giving end, and sometimes we are at the receiving end in life.

If you know there is a financial need, an anonymous gift is a great way to go. It doesn’t embarrass the recipient or create any discomfort for anyone. Sometimes, a gift of your time or having coffee and just listening is a help. An offer of babysitting is huge for a single parent who may not get a chance to have a break.

Elderly church members very often fall through the cracks. My husband recently spent time in the home of an 80-something blind woman. She had lost her husband and her son. Tom came away saying that he was the one who was blessed during the visit as the woman talked to him about her life and how God had met every one of her needs. Sadly, many large churches don’t see elderly people as worth visiting anymore. My mother-in-law was one of those people. She commented that the church never forgot to send out fundraising appeals, but the days of visits to older members had ceased.

There is someone in your life that you can encourage. If you don’t feel like you have a ministry right now, the Lord may have just one person that can use the love of Christ shown through your life. Ask the Lord, and He will show you who it is.

18 thoughts on “Falling Through the Cracks

  1. Kristen says:

    I really liked your writing. My three girls and I left a church aways back after I got divorced. The idea of being there and feeling like the odd one out was too painful. I left and went to another church. I never got connceted. So we have not been to that church for about 6 months. I feel very guilty but just feel so odd as a single person with kids. I do not have much time to get that overly invovled and small groups are too hard for me.
    I feel very out of sorts. I am wondering if I ever will go back.
    At times I feel badly and yet other times I feel like why should I subject myself to feeling badly.

    I work with elderly at an assisted living place. I am a housekeeper. You are right. Most older folks look forward to me stopping in to make their bed, sweep the floor and clean their toliets. Very often I have to clean up their messes that are gross and not pleasant. At times it is very dirty and not too fun. It is not very glamorous and at times I get looked down upon for my job among family and friends. They find my work disguisting. I have a college degree but for now this job works so I can be home with my girls. The elderly I see are so happy to have a friendly person stop in their apartment. Sometimes they just need a hug or a hand to hold. Sometimes they like to hear about my kids or just the weather or what I am making for dinner as I work in their rooms. Most families where I work, look down on us as housekeepers. It is kinda sad how we spend more time with their elderly family member than they do. I do get alot of satisfaction out of helping these little souls. It has taught me many lessons on how to treat others, how to have the right heart attitude and how to age with grace and dignity. I look at it as a way to have my “church”…….without going to church. By the way I have yet to see one church group or pastor visit anyone where I work. Again——-very sad.

  2. Lisa K says:

    Unfortunately churches are organizations and in some cases big business! They need a lot of volunteers to keep business up. So new faces are roped into volunteering immediately and if they can’t they are ignored. This is not that much different from a school really. It is sometimes impossible to get parents to help with fundraisers or anything – the same handful of parents do everything!
    While it’s heartbreaking to fall between the cracks, I understand why those who keep the church running pay more attention to those who can give, rather than those in need. It certainly seems backwards and in some ways makes me think the idea we have of “church” is all wrong. Churches shouldn’t be run like businesses in a perfect world…

  3. Ingrid Schlueter says:

    Hey Lisa,
    Churches shouldn’t be run like business in this world either. That’s why many Christians are simply walking away, having tried every church in town. I personally have grown sick of performance churches, program driven churches, personality driven churches with great herds of people who don’t even know each other showing up for the show on Sunday and then you never see them until next week when they do the same thing. Is this really what the Bible meant when it said not to forsake the “assembling” of ourselves? Slick music, fancy sound systems, slick pastors, services run with a choreography designed by some church growth efficiency expert. Sometimes I want to mess everybody’s perfect hair up and say, “ditch the act, people. Can we please get real? Some of us are seeing our faith under severe attack. Could we just get humble and pray together?” Something is fundamentally wrong even in “conservative” churches these days. I could not count the number of people I have talked to recently who see and feel this. If the Holy Spirit ever really visited these churches, the leadership wouldn’t let their choreographed services get interrupted. There is a pitiful handful of biblical churches in our city of 1.7 million people. The rest are dead mainline, mega circus churches, or closed clubs where only a certain brand of fundamentalist need apply. Sad. Sad. Sad.

  4. Christina says:

    Ingrid-

    I couldnt agree with you more. I always wonder how slim the true biblical churches will be when our little girls grow up!

  5. Lisa K says:

    Ingrid I totally agree with you. We are currently involved with a Congregational church. My son’s Boy Scout troop meets here and I have been to several services. This church is dry and dying. They can hardly afford to pay a pastor, and have had temp pastors for a few years. The congregation is aging, the message from the pulpit is pretty watered down, etc. My sisters attend suburban mega-churches that are like rock concert events – everything has to be entertaining!
    Though some of us are realizing what church should NOT be, the hard part is to do it right – I don’t know if that can even be done, and though I live in a big city I don’t know that we even have an uncorrupted church here.

  6. Donna says:

    I hope you will not be offended that I post here. I do not share your faith–am an observant Jew. However, I enjoy this blog very much. Posts such as this are the reason why. Thank you.

  7. Ingrid Schlueter says:

    Hi Donna,
    Please post here any time. I’m glad you stop by the blog. I think that this kind of writing is what I love to do most! Your thoughts are welcome.

  8. Michael says:

    I don’t know where to begin. All I can say is that this article is dead on. As a Pastor to-be in training, I am sensing the Lord teach me what the purpose and function of a New Testament Local church is. The Lord has mentioned nothing about coffee bars, cafe’s, hip services, super sound equipment, market driven surveys, casual dress, a fun atmosphere, cool-relevant attire for me as a Pastor, the decor’ of the building, or manipulating the gospel to make it appealing to baby boomers. The American church has lost its focus and her sight. I’m hearing the Spirit say and confirm in Scripture that believers (true converts of Jesus Christ) gather to worship God and our Savior Jesus Christ, receive the instruction of His Word, pray, and fellowship with each other. We then go outside of the four walls of the church and do the work of an evangelist by allowing our crucified lives witness to people that Jesus Christ is raised from the dead. That’s how He is lifted up and draws men to Himself. I believe the local church is to care for its elderly members and for those struggling single mothers who truly want to serve the Lord and demonstrate that by their actions. It is shocking how much money CEO-Pastors spend each year trying to get their churches to outwardly appeal to people; rather than just using those funds to care for the needs of their flock. It’s amazing how many of these places called churches don’t have a benevolence department. It’s so amazing to me that these hip CEO-Pastors are taught by church growth gurus to appeal to the “felt needs’ of their targeted group while at the same time they ignore the needs of those already in their congregations. It’s so sad. I pray that when the Lord releases me into full time ministry that the ministry He in trusts me with is a place that brings honor to His name and a smile to His face.

  9. Dawn says:

    Churches today are mostly run just like businesses, and that is the biggest problem within the institutional church of today. The word “church” has evolved into something it never was. In the early church, church was simply a gathering together of believers. Somewhere along the line it started to become corrupted with it hierarchy structure and the clergy/laity split. Now we have big fancy church buildings and we gather money for it, name it, incorporate it, hire people for “it”, have bank accounts in “its” name, etc. I’m not saying that Christians should never gather together, but this modern day church system is so far off track that I wonder whether any of the early Apostles would even recognize it if they were able to walk the earth today. I heard this quote once, I’m can’t remember who said it. But it went something like this:

    “Jesus said if we lift Him up He will draw all men unto Himself. But today we lift up religion and draw all men unto an institution.”

  10. Lisa K says:

    Dawn you said EXACTLY what I was trying to get it – but you articulated it much better!

  11. Helen says:

    Well said, Ingrid. I couldn’t agree with you more. I have seen this kind of discrimination too often in the different churches I’ve been associated with over the years.

    I have frequently found myself at the bottom of the crack, stopping the fall of those who come through. I’m down there now, working with an abused wife, a new believer, who needs lots of time and energy.

    The abuser is too be released from jail earlier than we expected (the middle of April). Although he will have many requirements to fulfill for the courts that should keep him busy, we are concerned that he may follow her and do something stupid. We are weighing the options, and the best may be for her to get off the island (we are on Guam).

    The problem is her family on the East coast doesn’t appear to want to help. Do any of you have churches/fellowships that would be willing to assist a mother of four (including a child with severe handicaps and a set of twins) to get on her feet?

    She’s dreading getting re-established elsewhere. I’m dreading an angry husband who cannot control himself. If nothing else, pray!

  12. Fellow cheesehead says:

    Dear Ingrid,

    Thank you for a beautiful post and for your honesty.

    My wife has a disability that limits her activities. She is unable to work because of fatigue and her inability to focus for long. I have two chronic medical/psychological conditions but my energy level is OK.

    We’ve been in danger of losing our home because of these things and other factors. Our church gave us a large sum of money (and we only have about 100 regular attendees). We cried out of gratitude. It should help us keep our home.

    I’d like to encourage readers who don’t feel like they have much to offer, that God cares about you dearly. He does not base his evaluation of you on what you can or cannot do. He bases it solely on His dear Son. That means He sees you through Jesus’s eyes, and Jesus’s eyes only. That means complete and perfect — His righteousness has been imputed to your account!

    And I’d also like to encourage people that there ARE grace filled churches out there — where acceptance is grace based, not based on your performance (or lack of!) It took us awhile to find one, but they are there! Sadly, so many churches today do mimic the world’s ways — bigger, better, etc. More bodies. More activities. They have imbibed the world’s business model. How sad.

  13. erunner says:

    I loved your article Ingrid. There are so many brothers and sisters that we miss the opportunity to help because of some pretty silly reasons. Thank you for speaking for those who so often don’t have a voice. I’ll bet many of them will shine like diamonds in Heaven! God bless!

  14. Rose says:

    Another group in society that is sorely neglected by the church are the mentally ill. My adult daughter has a mental illness and is also somewhat developmentally disabled as well. She is not always appropriate in her behavior, speech, or appearance. She tries…but she will always stick out like a sore thumb..rumpled clothes, wild looking hair, often has BO because she has a hard time with hygiene skills. She can’t help it…though she does try. She could not find a church in her town where she was accepted for herself. She finally gave up..people mostly were irritated by her or just shyed away or ignored her. Now she has given up church completely and she associates with mostly unbelievers who unfortunately just use, take advantage of her and lead her into wrong behaviors. But she had to find a place to ‘fit in’, people who would accept her, but it wasn’t at church unfortunately.

  15. Ingrid Schlueter says:

    Rose,
    How sad that we are so “perfect” we can’t have someone who struggles with mental disability around us. Imagine Jesus Christ turning his back on her. Depression/anxiety is also not understood. I have struggled with it on and off, and I can tell you that Christians and their “depression is a sin” answer will push you right over the edge if you’re around that kind of thinking. I believe there is a real biochemical basis for depression, triggered at times by long term stress or trauma. When I was having panic attacks, I just stopped going to church altogether. Nobody would have understood. It’s when you’ve been close to someone or experienced these things yourself that God works compassion in you. I wouldn’t trade that for the world for a “perfect” life.

  16. Rose says:

    How true! I have gone through that as well…went through a terrible panic attack at one point in my life. Not something you can just snap yourself out of. I felt so unspiritual and alone. But through that experience, I now have more compassion/understanding for others you are struggling with depression and other mental health problems. I had only the Lord to rely on through that time, but He brought me through it. I remember trying so hard to read the Scriptures and pray. I could not concentrate …my mind seemed to be mush. I would get a line or two from the Word each day and pray the same little prayer over and over. But, God was faithful and brought me out of it finally. My heart goes out to anyone who is in the midst of that… like living in a nightmere and not being able to wake up. God understands though and is so patient with us. While I hope I never experience anything like that again, God has used it for good in my life.

  17. The Lone Christian says:

    Hi Ingrid,

    My husband forwarded me this article as we also are church members who always seem to “fall through the cracks.” We are 40 and have no children. I have fibromyalgia and am frequently in pain and/or too tired to go to church and bible studies.

    Just the fact that we don’t have children secludes us from many people our age that have that common bond and get together for play groups, morning women’s Bible studies, birthday parties,etc. But you add on being our young age AND having physical problems, well almost no one can relate to you.

    Most of the people who befriend us have been older than us (50 and above) and have grown children or other older people who have physical issues.

    In spite of all that, we on occasion, have met and fellowshipped with other couples who don’t have kids and have had a great time, however, those are very few and far between, and those people can be so busy with extended families and work.

    Our rudest awakening came after we moved out of state. People I thought were our friends and thought we were close to don’t even call or return our calls. It’s my husband & I who try to make the effort to keep the “friendships” going. However, how can you have a one-sided friendship? The only time people will get together with me is when I call them and invite them to lunch or something. No one ever invites me.

    Sometimes I fear I won’t be able to continue working anymore as it is the only ministry, fellowship, and socialization I seem to get apart from being with my husband. ( I teach part-time as a preschool teacher in a Christian school)

    I don’t know who I would turn to if my husband was not around or if we had marital problems because I am not close enough to anyone to trust them enough to confide in. It takes time, a long time, to develop that kind of relationship and no one has been willing to reciprocate even a phone call or lunch invitation. I know it says in Proverbs: “a man of many friends comes to ruin, but there is a friend that sticks closer than a brother.” I would settle for one close female friend, but haven’t even been able to find that. Yes, the church CAN be a VERY lonely place. However, I pray that you find some comfort, as we have, knowing you are not alone.

    My husband & I have talked about having a ministry for people in similar situations so that no one has to feel alone in the church, but first we need to find a church that we can be somewhat a part of so that they can get to know us so they trust us to lead a ministry.

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