By Caroline Madison, Crosswalk.com
If you’re a believer, attending church weekly is probably part of your routine. I say routine because, for many, it is merely a ritual—checking a box, doing what’s expected of us. For those who are passionate about assembling together and connecting with fellow Christians it’s far more.
Admittedly, I’m addressing myself here. However, if you can relate, then maybe we can overcome together. Have you, like me, sometimes felt afraid and kept your churh at arm’s length? If you just show up, shake a hand or two, listen to the sermon, and leave—if you never really engage deeply with the people sitting around you—then you (and I) need to remind ourselves how damaging shallow relationships are to the church.
What Did God Intend the Church to Be?
Acts 2:44-47 gives us some idea:
“All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”
Present in Scripture is the idea of a true community operating as a unit to the glory of God. In contrast, so many churches today are made up of thousands of individuals all floating on private islands that contain only their own problems, families, and desires. We’re all drifting on the same ocean, and that excites us. We wave, we shout greetings in passing, we ask questions and can’t hear the answers. It’s togetherness that’s actually an illusion.
Really, most of us are living in emotional isolation while telling ourselves that we aren’t, because we go to church every Sunday.
Keeping each other at arm’s length makes God’s specific commands for a body of believers impossible, hindering His will for the church in four vital areas:
1. Be United
“I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought.” (1 Corinthians 1:10)
God tells us to be united, but shallow relationships divide us. How is it even possible to unite when we don’t know what our brothers and sisters are thinking or feeling—what they’re passionate about and good at? We each have unique gifts, but if we don’t know each other, we don’t know what those gifts are...and we can’t work together as efficiently.
We become a group of awkward acquaintances focused on our own lives and trying not to make eye contact for long. It operates more like a family reunion that only happens once every five years or so, rather than a gathering of friends. This hinders ministry and hamstrings our spiritual warfare, leaving us vulnerable.
2. Warn, Encourage, and Help
“And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone.” (1 Thessalonians 5:14)
One of the most valuable results of getting to know another person is understanding. Through conversation and observation, we learn how others speak and how they love. We learn their strengths and weaknesses. We learn about their history, how they view themselves, and how they view God.
Trying to warn, encourage, and help without that understanding often results in offense at best and spiritual maiming at worst.
Well-meaning Christians make judgments about the lives of their fellow believers without context. They may be following the Scripture’s commands but neglecting the relationships that God intended when He wrote them.
Words and actions are just the wrapping for something deeper; patience is so much harder when we see only two-dimensional versions of people.
3. Carry Each Other’s Burdens
“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2)
How many of us truly follow this command? It’s likely so few of us, that those who do stand out in the congregation. Shallow relationships make it impossible to bear each other’s burdens because they don’t allow for honesty.
The phrase “how are you” has become a greeting rather than a question. Most don’t linger long enough to even allow for an answer. If they do, the expected and most common response is a single word: fine, good, or some feeble variation.
Some believers are ashamed of their burdens and don’t want to talk about them. Others are so encumbered by the weight they carry that they can’t possibly think of helping anyone else. And still others are pretending they have no burden at all. Maybe we think it makes us stronger. But that’s a lie.
Refusing to share burdens makes us weak. It carves us up and separates us until we’re so far apart that we couldn’t ask for help even if we wanted to.
4. Be Accountable
“Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed...” (James 5:16)
It is human nature to build a public image that is more attractive than reality. We don’t want others to know what we do in our weakest moments, or what tempts us. And this goes for our brothers and sisters in Christ as well.
But if we’re hiding behind a façade and refusing to leave the shallows in our relationships, then we’re allowing ourselves to linger in dangerous waters. Any sin that we indulge has a firmer foothold because no one knows but us. Justification is far easier in a vacuum.
When a congregation neglects confession, they are compromised for every good thing. Satan takes the high ground, whispering lies that grow steadily more believable in the absence of contradiction. And we can’t even effectively pray for each other: we’re mere strangers sharing a building.
Vulnerability is overwhelmingly difficult.
It requires us to reveal our weaknesses, expose our struggles, and trust another person. It is a violation of our self-preservation and opens us up to judgment and rejection.
But it is undeniably necessary in our journey as believers.
To be the church that Christ wants us to be, we must know each other on a deeper level. Only then can we begin to function in unity and accountability—the model given by God to impact not only us but also the community around us.
“...And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47).
Caroline Madison is a freelance editor and writer with a passion for the written word and a special interest in telling and reading stories that present biblical truths in fresh ways. She also enjoys writing flash fiction, drawing pencil portraits, and playing piano.
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/Kritchanut