Churches and their pastors attract the lonely just as much as clubs and pubs and any other ‘fellowships’ where groups of people coexist. Many attend church for the same reasons that many join clubs and congregate at pubs. Loneliness is part of the human condition, and church attendance may not be any nobler an endeavour than attending a club or a pub, unless there’s a mature decision made to address such loneliness.
Churches and their pastors have an urgent role in creating the right environment of ‘hospitality’:
“Many people in this life suffer because they are anxiously searching for the man or woman, the event or encounter, which will take their loneliness away. But when they enter a house with real hospitality, they soon see that their own wounds must be understood not as sources of despair and bitterness, but as signs that they have to travel on in obedience to the calling sounds of their own wounds.”
Setting People Free, Really
When we imagine that at least some people who attend church are looking for salvation from their loneliness, via an attraction toward fellowship or guidance by a pastor or simply a place to belong, there’s a cogent opportunity to do more for this person than meet the immediate need.
But to do this requires a risk; it means not being the thing the needy need. If we’re to teach people how to fish instead of giving them fish to eat we’ll need to ensure they can see the need to fish.
Church must be an environment where not only is brokenness welcomed, but it’s to facilitate, as a tool, the process where each person might freely admit their fundamental loneliness—and their need of God, alone, to fill that void.
But this is one of the gaps within church experience, largely—there’s typically little growth because there’s so little abandonment of the fearful pride that protects such loneliness. The very vessel that’s provided to show people the true way home becomes more of a club or pub experience than church should be.
The Risk In Ministering
The proper minister takes a big risk. When they don’t satisfy the superficial need, in order to allow the exposure of the deeper need, some people walk. Those who aren’t after a salvation experience don’t seek to be set free. Many more resist change than those who embrace it.
The risk in ministering (properly) is to coax people toward solid food, not merely milk. It’s to bring them, along with their own resources, and the development of those resources, to a more acceptable understanding of themselves. It’s to occur in a seedbed of brokenness, for what is church if it appears perfect (or even close)?
The Personal Opportunity
Venturing personally, sick of our loneliness, wanting the wholeness that others have attained, we sense an opportunity—not in rejecting our despair and bitterness and disappointment, but in embracing it on a slow, often painful journey. Yet, wholeness is surely there to be claimed; but not without stepping through the process.
Could it be the very things we’ve been running from are those things that will, eventually, set us free?
And when we’ve made this courageous connection, that our brokenness is the key to our wholeness, we can truly understand how God (and the church and pastors) can help. Straight away the relationship with God, to this end, commences. We stand open before the Spirit for healing.
There’s a direct link between our loneliness and our wholeness.
We cannot have wholeness without rummaging through our loneliness, bitterness and despair. We’ll get what we want when we deal with what we don’t want to deal with. The beauty is, during this process, we’ll become fearless. We’ll come to truly know God.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.