- David Defries
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Heb 10:24-25, bold mine)
And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. (Acts 2:44-47a, bold mine)
We aren't designed to be alone. We all crave connection, relationship, and community because that is exactly how God created us. At some point, we all come to this conclusion because it is impossible to be a healthy and whole person with being a part of a larger group.
Now I love being by myself. I'm a strong introvert and am usually very content to retreat away by myself and recharge by being alone. However, there always comes a point after too long by myself where I start to get emotionally itchy… my thoughts get a little weird and absorbed with some truly random tangents. It's easy in moments like this to convince yourself to believe things that simply aren't true (ie. "no one wants to be with me") or to become paranoid (ie. "something really bad is going to happen to me").
Friends and family ground us, affirm our worth, and provide a much needed check against stupid thoughts.
This is why God also designed the church to be a family and emphasized again and again for us to prioritize getting along with each other. Ironically, virtually nothing is said about the quality of the meetings that we run, how inspiriting the teaching is, how powerful the worship should be, etc. Rather, we're told over and over to "love one another" (John 13:34), "encourage one another" (Heb 10:24), "pray for one another" (James 5:16), and to "build one another up" (1 Thess 5:11). The church is meant to support each other and strengthen each person. It's a loving community that looks out for every part.
It's always ironic to me, then, when I hear Christians explain to me over and over why they don't come to church or why they've removed themselves from church. Why would a person voluntarily remove themselves from a source of support and blessing? It's like a plant uprooting themselves from a pot of soil… there can be only one outcome. There is spiritual stagnation and death away from a place that provides the nutrients and resources that you need to grow and sustain spiritual life.
I understand that the issue may not be as simple as I outlined above. I, too, have been hurt by people in the church before. I've served leaders who led poorly and were full of insecurity. I've been through situations where the church I was attending provided no encouragement, support, love, or community. Those situations hurt. It's easy to get disillusioned in moments like those.
I also understand when other priorities seems to get in the way. You want to spend more time with your family, you need a break from work and want a rest, or church seems boring and doesn't feed anything into you. What's really the point in spending the effort to go if it doesn't seem to give anything back to you?
It seems to me like the answer to this problem is twofold. First, churches need to get back to prioritizing what matters, what we've been called to in the Bible. We need to not just hold the value of encouraging, loving, and lifting up each other… we need to demonstrate it. We need to show people that we are communities that care for them and for others. We need to help shape people into emotionally whole beings who are capable of caring for others rather than dysfunctional people who hurt everyone around us regularly. Second, Christians who think it's fine to leave off being an active part of a local church need to re-examine their own priorities and understanding of their identity. If they aren't a part of the body of Christ practically, then aren't they denying the very faith they claim to uphold? Are they expecting someone else to fix the problems in the church or are they willing to be a part of the solution? Are they demonstrating the ability to help and serve others? Are they willing to do what it takes to learn and grow and develop into who God has called them be? Where is their relationship with God at?
I know that every time I talk about this I end up putting a massive target on my chest. Whenever I hurt someone else, especially in the church, there's usually the feeling in them that "he says he holds the value of family and relationship but clearly doesn't demonstrate it". In short, they think I'm a hypocrite. I actually agree with them. I'm not intentionally trying to hurt anyone, but I'm fallible and still end up being destructive by accident. I'm working on that. It still doesn't mean I give up my value for connection inside the church. It means I try and respond to their charges against me with humility and learn, grow, and try to make it right. This is also why the church believes in repentance and forgiveness.
We can't do this life alone. We can't grow properly without others around us supporting and encouraging us. We are designed to help others and be helped by others. We are designed to be in a dynamic and active relationship community. That is who we are as a church. Do you want to be a part of that or would you rather be off alone, doing your own thing without any help? I, for one, know that I need help.