Follow-up: Lonely in a (Church) Crowd Pt. 2

My post, Lonely in a (Church) Crowd, clearly  hit a nerve. There is no question that there is a problem with this issue in churches today. In this follow-up post, I wanted to address a few things based on messages and comments I have received.

My own experiences with this problem, as everyone’s experiences are, are made up of a unique history and set of circumstances.  I do bring to the subject matter, due to my age, more than a little experience. I have a lifetime of living this, including those experiences of my childhood in various churches, and also the added insights gained by talking with countless people through my 23 years in Christian radio.  I know that which I am addressing.

There are some things I am not saying in my comments about the subject. I received a message from a new church elder from a denomination I am personally familiar with. The message, in essence, put blame and responsibility on me, dismissed the importance of what I mentioned and then went a step farther to say that Tom and I should start a home church, so the imperfections of the average church wouldn’t make their way in. It was pure sarcasm, of course. Duly noted. (I would add that this man has no knowledge of my husband or me and our lives.)

So what wasn’t I saying in my first post? I wasn’t saying that churches must reach a state of perfection before they are good enough for me or others.  Hardly.  I do have a problem with a church where a pastor’s wife can walk up to tithing members of many years and ask them their names and  if they are visiting.   (True story from a family member.)  I do have a problem with churches where people shuffle in, week in and week out, nodding politely at people whose names they don’t even know, and that’s OK with them. For decades.

I do have a problem with pastors  (or elders) who can make trips for the sake of teaching those in other states or countries and yet seem unable to drive 2 minutes down the road to visit those with clear spiritual struggles, or just visit them at all.  There isn’t much glory in that kind of thing, visiting those who can’t do much for you. It is, however, where real ministry begins.

I have a problem with loveless places of worship and loveless faces, and women who can talk endlessly with their BFF’s, while all the stranger gets is the sight of their backs in the Narthex (lobby, or whatever you call it in your church.)

I also have a problem with elders like the one who wrote who dismiss, callously, the concerns of a Christian woman like me who writes of something that is a reality, a tragic reality, for many. What’s missing? Loving concern. It’s amazing how far that goes in staunching the bleeding in hearts, it’s amazing how that balm of kindness can heal wounds. Suggesting that it is a woman thing, with hysterical females sobbing into their hankies at not being liked, is exactly the spirit that drives many from the church entirely. And I have another bit of news:  The experiences I have written about are not just those of women, as evidenced by the comments on social media to this article and here at the blog. I spoke with someone last week who described the treatment her  husband receives from others in the church. They’ve been there for several years, but he’s quiet and humble. The kind nobody notices or bothers with.  No, it is not just women experiencing the problem in churches that are too busy with their church programs, activities, etc.  to notice their own right in front of them.

It’s a lack of love. That’s the real problem.  Not public relations or manipulation towards the end of membership growth, but love. That kind of love has to be placed in hearts by God, the one supposedly being worshiped in church each Sunday. If you can’t reflect that in the house of God of all places, something is terribly off.

Additionally, for those who recommend trying to find others in the same boat within a church, that’s one suggestion, and a good one. But realize that not everyone is equipped physically or emotionally or spiritually to continue to try in the face of ongoing failure to break in.  Some will just give up.

I always believed that “church” was supposed to mean more than an hour on Sunday morning, a brief crush in a crowded hallway and then the car. A family should mean more than that, or am I wrong? After the preaching of the Word, shouldn’t it mean relationships, shared burdens, shared rejoicing over things, a place to serve and a place to find help when you are in need?  If so, than why are so many not finding that?

Anyone can slide in and out of a pew or seat each week. Whether “church” in the fullest sense goes beyond that takes more than a lonely person wishing things were otherwise. I commend those with the tenacity to keep trying. Not everyone can do that. Do we care about those who can’t or even recognize them?

The elder who wrote to me insisted that “Word and Sacrament” were all that was needed. Stuff and mortify your hurt  and shut up. But Word and Sacrament are given in a context. When that context is unloving, uncaring, and it functions  like an assembly line in a factory, (here’s Communion, you’re good to go for another week) when Christ’s love for us is the whole point of the Sacred Meal, you create stumbling blocks spiritually. Rather than open hearts to God’s Word, you shut them down. The elder who wrote to me doesn’t have to like that fact, but it’s the truth.  And God help those in clerical clothes and professing Christian leaders who put stumbling blocks where there don’t have to be any.

A lack of love is the hallmark of our dark times. It’s no surprise that the church is this way as well, as it seems to take its clues from the culture, rather than from the Scriptures.  And yes, Orthodoxy is crucial, but putting that into practice in our lives is where ministry begins.

We can only try to run counter to that spirit in how we treat those we meet in a church and out of it, for those who have no church.  Program heavy institutions calling themselves “churches” can do what they want. The real ministry of the church – meaning the people –  is still one on one, person to person, in good times and bad. God seems to be using many of us outside the institutional church in various ways.  Small lights out there where there aren’t any. And it’s a shame that these things even have to be said. Consider it said.

11 thoughts on “Follow-up: Lonely in a (Church) Crowd Pt. 2

  1. Tim Cunningham says:

    If orthodoxy does not go hand in hand with love, what good is it? (I Cor. 13)

  2. Carolyn says:

    Keep speaking on this, Ingrid, irrespective of what others may say. You’ve hit a nerve, and on an issue that is desperately needed to be openly and candidly discussed. These clarifications are helpful for those who either misunderstood or mischaracterized what you said. Don’t you dare remove these posts from the internet!

    “What’s missing? Loving concern. It’s amazing how far that goes in staunching the bleeding in hearts, it’s amazing how that balm of kindness can heal wounds.” YES. Additionally, Ingrid, you are exactly right on what church should be.

    To the elder, no, the word and the sacrament is not all that is needed. Ingrid is exactly right, the word and the church ordinances/sacraments/whatever one wants to call them, are indeed in a context: LOVE. Yes, that means pastors who are more than preachers/Bible expositors, but who are actual shepherds, caring for their own local assembly, and knowing and loving those sheep. That means more than church discipline, by the way. Far more. It requires a real relationship with those you serve. And that requires time and effort.

    (Semi-related rabbit trail, but the “stuff your hurt and shut up” thought process is really callous. Are there people in church who just gripe all the time? Yes. But there absolutely circumstances (more than we’d like to admit) where someone has been legitimately hurt, and while the Bible clearly says those situations are to be genuinely rectified with the love of Christ, confession of sin, seeking of forgiveness, etc, they often are not, for a variety of sinful reasons. Telling those hurting people anything along the lines of “stuff it” and “shut up”, just callous.)

    The Law of Moses that shows us our sin and points us to the need of our salvation in Christ… that Law is terminated at Calvary, in full. The born again believer is then transferred to a new law, the Law of Christ, which is the law of love. 1 Cor 13, we can have it all: doctrine, gifts, sacrificial service/giving, etc, but if we have not love, it is meaningless and profits us nothing.

    Finally, the saying goes, when the battle is lost, all that is left is ad hominem. Because if you can’t civilly discuss a matter, or intelligently and articulately refute an argument, slander the person. Or mock them off the pulpit… that works, too.

  3. Ingrid says:

    What believers need to hear and see in these times of so much sin and brokenness among professing Christians is that they have encountered counterfeit Christianity. I will be honest and say that more than anything, that is what I so much need to hear and see. Because when you have been betrayed, badly injured and then discarded by most of the “Christians” in your life, including even your own family members who should have loved you most of all, you can start to believe that God has discarded you to. So when you go to his house, when you are looking to be with the Body of Christ and find love and concern and you find nothing of the kind, it’s kind of like a door shutting, like a click. The bleakness this creates in the minds and hearts of hurting people is hard to describe. It can create tremendous doubt, coldness, despair and ultimately destroy you. That’s why this issue is so serious. We have no idea who is around us and how deep their level of despair really can be – like the analogy of the person coming up for the last time when drowning. It is scandalous that both clergy and leadership as well as parishioners so often fail to reach out and include those. Jesus told the story of the shepherd who left the flock safely tucked away and went after the one who was caught and hurt. Today’s shepherds can’t be troubled to make a call or visit a home. Bigger fish to fry. And a lot of the narcissists in the pastorate simply don’t do anything that won’t give supply to their egos or advance their ministry/career goals. Sad, but true.

    Those injured need to hear that the real Jesus, not the cardboard cutout of false professors, but the real Jesus is the Good Shepherd, the friend who sticks closer than a brother, the One who will never leave us or forsake us. We need to hear that we can cast all our care on Him, because He cares for us. We need to hear that He leaves us His peace, not the worldly, kind, but His peace. Those precious words are healingn words. Berating, lecturing, insulting, using sarcasm, bullying or showing contempt? You not only sent that person out the door, you added additional confirmation that church is not a safe or a helping place for souls. It’s that simple.

  4. Ron Whited says:

    Amen Ingrid. It really is that simple. The church of today has failed to be “doers of the word”,and the fault lies in the pulpit. Actually,when I think about it,it goes higher than that. It lies at the feet of the compromising leaders of every denomination.

    If the sheep in the pew had any idea how much deception goes on behind closed doors they would run away as fast as they can. I know because I have both witnessed it and been the recipient of it. No amount of excuses or white washing it will justify these actions. God is going to require an accounting one day,and there will be many who will hear the dreaded words “depart from me,I never knew you”.

    God told his prophet that Israel were like sheep without a shepherd. One can only weep at what he must see today. Is it any wonder that Jesus asked “Nevertheless,when the Son of man comes,will He find faith upon the earth”?

    Keep sounding the alarm Ingrid, it is needed.

  5. healinginhim says:

    Another excellent post, Ingrid. Yes, this topic hits a nerve because as you so aptly said, ” Program heavy institutions calling themselves “churches” can do what they want. The real ministry of the church – meaning the people – is still one on one, person to person, in good times and bad. God seems to be using many of us outside the institutional church in various ways. Small lights out there where there aren’t any. And it’s a shame that these things even have to be said. Consider it said.”
    Over the past years as I’ve accepted invitations to various churches, I’ve left empty and grieved as even during the coffee time after the sermon it was quite evident that I had to ‘fit into their programs’ … that I had nothing to offer: like the many times I would warn against the heretical women’s Bible studies they chose. Instead of recognizing my concern for Biblical integrity I was considered an outsider, someone who should just go with the program. (sigh) … So, one morning, after presenting resources to one of the women concerned with the fluff they were condoning … I left in tears. One of the senior couples arriving as I left, not knowing why I was crying just said, “we’ll pray for you” … ugh… they didn’t even care to know why I was crying and I can only imagine what they were told by the inclusive church body about my departure?

  6. Done says:

    I left the church many years ago, after my son became severely mentally ill. I had been a very committed member, contributing to many programs and smalll groups. But when my son became ill, I couldn’t do that anymore. My time was consumed by caring for him. I desperately needed the body of Christ, but everyone disappeared. Going to church only created more pain because no one cared, and I felt more lonely when I left. The only thing that helped was taking long walks, so that’s what I did on Sunday mornings. Sometimes I would walk by the church, just as everyone was arriving. No one noticed me walking by.

  7. Ingrid says:

    Dear Done, that breaks my heart. It really does. I wish I could have walked with you on Sundays, because I understand for my own reasons. How wrong this is and how foolish to think that is the “body of Christ” when they have no interest in the ones who are isolated, alone, lonely. I am sorry this has been your experience as well. Know you touched my heart today, and a lot of us understand that the programs obsessed, real estate based, complacent institution calling itself “church”, in too many cases, has nothing at all to do with Jesus. Because Jesus stopped by the ones who were hurting, He didn’t reserve his important time, the Son of God, for the powerful, attractive and influential “religious” of his day. He did the opposite. Wouldn’t he stop by our homes when we are isolated with ill health, with situations where we are caregivers and unable to go to a building on Sunday? Wouldn’t His comforting presence make its way to a house of sickness or struggle? Do the rituals and rubrics and things done in the sanctuary, depending on denomination, mean anything outside the church building? In my experience, not really. Not really. Maybe in individuals, here or there, but as a priority in a church? No. At ease in Zion. A Fish Fry to run, a Bible study (why are they actually studying the same passages over and over and nothing every changes in their treatment of others?) to teach, a coffee morning, a speaker to stage. Whatever. Carry on, busy, busy people. Just know that the ones who need a touch from the Lord won’t get it from your outfit.

  8. healinginhim says:

    Dear Done,
    I am so very sorry you had to endure this. I’ve been done with the local assemblies for quite some time, too. I couldn’t bear some of the apostasy and also the fact that they refused to really hear me when I was experiencing marital, thus family problems.
    I had been one of their faithful sisters-in-Christ but as soon as I was admitting that our so-called perfect family wasn’t so perfect I sensed a ‘polite coolness’ towards me.
    ((hugs to you precious Done))
    So glad you found Ingrid’s Hope Blog. May you be encouraged and loved by what you glean from her excellent posts as she exalts and glorifies The Lord and condemns the wolves.

  9. Janet says:

    Ingrid, I appreciate you addressing this problem. I’m currently without a church home as well. After many years of church hopping with just my kids through various denominations, it was always hard to fit in. Plus now I can’t stomach much of what American Christianity has become. I can’t sit under seeker friendly or hyper Calvinist teaching any longer. That’s about it for churches in my area. My last resort now is Lutheranism and I’m contemplating on attending the nearest LCMS congregation that is an hour away. I’m drawn to the Law/Gospel centered teaching of the LCMS and the Word and sacraments, but still afraid that I wouldn’t fit in this congregation because I would be attending alone (husband doesn’t attend church) and really wouldn’t get to know the congregation because I live so far away. I’d really appreciate your thoughts on the importance of receiving communion and absolution regularly as this seems to be the big emphasis of corporate worship in the Lutheran church. Thanks

  10. J.L. Pattison says:

    This was so spot on, Ingrid:

    “I do have a problem with pastors (or elders) who can make trips for the sake of teaching those in other states or countries and yet seem unable to drive 2 minutes down the road to visit those with clear spiritual struggles, or just visit them at all. There isn’t much glory in that kind of thing, visiting those who can’t do much for you. It is, however, where real ministry begins.”

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