Rebecca McLaughlin wrote about “How Gospel Community Can Overcome Loneliness”:
“We know the cure for loneliness. So why do we suffer?” Journalist Nicholas Kristof posed this question in a New York Times op ed.
Citing warnings from the US surgeon general, Kristof reports that, “Loneliness is as deadly as smoking 15 cigarettes a day…more lethal than consuming six alcoholic drinks a day” and “more dangerous for health than obesity.”
The scourge of loneliness is not only severe. It’s also widespread. Kristof points out that most Americans say they experience loneliness.
We Christians, of all people, know the cure for loneliness. But we not only let our neighbors suffer it, we all too often suffer loneliness ourselves.
So, what is to be done?
In light of scripture, I want to argue that we need to reimagine how we operate at church and how we conceive of family.
When I say that we must reimagine church, I’m not proposing that we ditch the vital elements of Sunday services. But the more I read the Bible, the more I am convinced that how we tend to act on Sundays undermines the gospel, fails to banish loneliness, and keeps us feeling hamstrung in our mission to share Jesus with the world.
We don’t need new solutions to our modern problems. We just need to let God’s word disrupt our deeply-seated norms.
In Romans 15, Paul writes, “Therefore, welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God” (Romans 15:7). How did Christ welcome us? By taking on human flesh, by living with a bunch of sinners, and most stunningly of all, Christ’s welcome was a welcome that was ready for rejection, even to the point of death.
Too often we leave people feeling lonely even as they sit in church. We fall at the first hurdle as we fail to truly welcome those who walk into our church alone. But we can change this.
A recent study of dechurching showed that in America, millions of people who no longer go to church have done so casually, because they stopped attending during the pandemic and never quite came back. If any of those people wander in, how we respond could make the difference between them coming back again or not.
Those of us who see church as our home must welcome anyone who walks in off the street as Christ has welcomed us. We must reimagine church, not first-and-foremost as our chance to hear a helpful sermon and connect with friends, but first-and-foremost as an opportunity to welcome others as the Lord has welcomed us.
One day Jesus got a message that his mother and his brothers were outside and wanted to see him. We might expect Jesus to leave at once saying, “Family first!” But he does not.
Instead, he answers in a way that cuts against the grain of so much Christian culture in the modern West: “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” Matthew 12:48-50
Jesus’s teaching is radical. He isn’t undervaluing the family. He’s redefining it. And as his followers today, we need to redefine it too.
When we come to church on Sunday, we come primarily not with (or painfully without) our family, but to our family. If we are to welcome one another as Christ welcomes us, we must be ready to act like we believe that those we meet with week-on-week are truly family. When we come to church on Sunday, we come primarily not with our family, but to our family.
I’ve heard about the loneliness of church from people who have never been “in a relationship,” as our culture often puts it. I’ve heard about the loneliness of church from people who have been to church throughout their adult lives with their spouse at their side. But then their husband or their wife has died, and suddenly they feel like they don’t belong. I’ve heard about the loneliness of church from single parents who feel excluded.
Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Paul called Christians to be family for one another—brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, knit together in love, one body in the Lord (1 Timothy 5:1-3; Colossians 2:2; 1 Corinthians 12:12-13).
Who will you reach out to this Sunday? Who will you speak to? Who will you sit with? Who will you love like Jesus? Remember, anyone sitting by themselves in worship is an emergency until several in our church family offer to sit with them.