Relationships (or lack thereof) In the Church

Posted on December 4, 2011 by

How accountable do you feel toward those you worship with? Very accountable? A little? Not at all? This is something I think about often, because of the select few believers in my life to whom I feel accountable, whom I have allowed close enough to call me out if need be, not one of them is a member of the church that our family has attended for the past dozen years or so.

There are any number of reasons I can give for why this is so, and I have rehearsed them all in my mind on numerous occasion, beginning with the fact that we are members of a rather large church, where relationships rarely develop any amount of depth without great effort.  Given this definition, I’d say our church is a borderline mega church, though we may fall just a  bit below the 2,000 member threshold on a typical Sunday, between the two meetings.

I have surmised that in most churches, but particularly your average mega church, there are 3 types of people. First are the people there because they truly believe it’s where God has called them to worship ( maybe 20%). Next are the people there out of religious tradition, habit, or to feel better about themselves because “at least” they go to church (another 30%). Lastly are the Christians who gravitate to big churches because it satisfies their need to be a part of a fellowship while still being able to maintain enough obscurity to avoid accountability toward those next to them on the pew ( 50%). It’s the opposite of the thing that drives the people who hate big churches and will only attend small churches because they feel a need to be connected to their fellow parishioners.

Having grown up in a small church, I am well aware of the “familiarity breeds contempt” spirit that must be guarded against in smaller fellowships as well. In other words, there ain’t no such thing as a perfect church so long as my name or yours is on the roll. But that isn’t what our fellowships are supposed to be about anyway, and the realization that there are no perfect people would cut down on the church hopping so prevalent today.

I was a part of that big ol’ majority for quite a while myself, when I first started out looking for a place to worship as a young mother and wife of an unbeliever. It was very comfortable to be able to attend services and get lost in the sea of people.  I could ease in, enjoy the worship and Word, hug a few necks of familiar faces as the service ended, and ease on out the door. Very convenient. It wasn’t until the Lord called my husband to faith (and to our church) that our family settled in and became an active part of the fellowship. Active being a relative term of course, because while we are involved in a ministry, we aren’t all that involved with other members. From what I can tell, we are not alone in that, either.

But what happens in the lives of people who worship this way? It cannot possibly be healthy. Even if every other person in my church is like me, surrounded by believing parents, extended family, and long-term friendships with fellow Christians, is the authenticity of the fellowship compromised when no one (or very few people) really knows anyone else? Are the relationships are all surface or superficial? How do we do this:

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.  And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works,  not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching. Hebrews 10: 23-25

Or this:

Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted.  Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.  For if anyone thinks himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. Galatians 6:1-3

I believe one of the reasons we can’t restore one another in a spirit of gentleness is because we aren’t invested in one another. We haven’t exhorted one another, or beared one another’s burdens, or practiced self-control with our mouths so that our brothers and sisters can trust us enough to open up their lives to us. I’ll be honest. One of the main reasons I have kept those in my confidence confined to family and long-term friends is because I trust them.  Most of them also at the every least, respect our “out of the mainstream” lifestyle. They knew me when, and I knew them when. If none of them were believers I’d be forced to open up to other people, which would be a good thing, perhaps.

I recently found that I am not the only one who contemplates these matters when I received a call from one of the few people in my life I do trust when I need to confess a fault or ask for prayer. We don’t attend the same fellowship, but she was facing this dilemma as well. Interestingly enough, I am on her short list as there was no one in her fellowship with whom she trusted enough to share her heart.

I’m very grateful for the people who really know and love me, warts and all,  but I can’t help but think there is something off about this. That there is something wrong with the fact that I don’t feel free to ask the people who serve alongside my family at the local homeless shelter and attend services with us every week for prayer when challenges arise. Isn’t that the purpose of gathering together week after week? The equipping of the saints for the work of ministry is part of it, coming together in agreement as we worship God and learn His word is another, building one another up, holding each other accountable, and meeting the needs of the saints is another. If either of these is glaringly absent, how can we be moving together toward becoming a church without spot or wrinkle?

The answer of course, is that God’s grace is sufficient. The answer is also that I need to get out of my comfort zone and reach out to those around me at my church. I am in the process of doing just that, though it is not at all easy for me. The fact that I’m married to a fellow introvert makes it very easy to maintain the status quo. But I have determined not to.

As I thought about this, it occurred to me that it certainly isn’t a problem that I alone battle. I believe there are, as I said above, a large percentage of believers hiding out from other believers. I understand much of what motivates us to live this way. Sadly, it’s the way our generation, those of us under 40, have been raised: live and let live.  American rugged individualism of the Christian variety. As long as every thing is coming up roses, it works well, or at least it appears to.

But it’s selfish. We need- no, I need- to do better. Or does it matter at all if we are not intimately tied to those with whom we worship weekly at church? Is it good enough that I have solid relationships with other believers with whom I can pray and be transparent? Sometimes I think yes, and other times, not so much.

Are you intimately acquainted with the people who you attend services with? Why or why not?

Posted in: Religion