One of the blessings or the curses of Social Media is that it keeps us in the orbit of people that we no longer see, live around or have meaningful relationships with. Whether it is a blessing or a curse really depends on who the person is, I guess. But always being a few clicks away from knowing all the exciting details of someone long gone is part of the evil genius of Social Media that keeps pulling us in. Loosely associated, creepily invested.
But what of the local church? Is this how a community of God’s people in a certain time and place ought to be? Is this what the a Biblical friend request looks like?
Considering passages like Hebrews 10:24-25 on the primacy of gathering together and passages like Galatians 6:2 on the necessity of bearing one another’s burdens — we should be able to say resoundingly, “By no means!” While friendships within a local church may be bolstered by technology, there is a connection called for in God’s Word that far outweighs what our inch-deep, mile-wide, likes-and-follows culture holds out. In fact, this is one of the reasons our church just put together simple membership directories, complete with holy headshots!
Which begs the question for us…what should we do when a member of our church slowly begins to slip away into mere-acquaintance oblivion?
How should we as disciples of Jesus here and now respond when one of our own is no longer among us with the regularity and consistency that we should expect?
And practically speaking, what can you do?
Below I’ve outlined five ways you can respond when you notice a brother and sister in Christ is less engaged than they once were.
#1: Check Yourself
One of the great gifts of having a church covenant is that it gives a meaningful way to measure our own commitment to the body of believers.
While some may consider church covenants restrictive or making the relationship too formal, I believe a better way to view this Biblical summary is to see it as the feet of our love for one another. Or, to say it another way, it gives “I love you” a practical meaning.
So — as we seek to reach out and be a blessing to those who are falling off our radars, the best, first step is to consider your on love for God’s people. Perhaps the person on your heart and mind is not so far away. Perhaps you, yourself, have been negligent and the separation you feel is due in part to your neglect of the loving care you committed to. This is why we should always examine ourselves first. See if their is any way we have faltered in our care and service. Turn to God in asking for forgiveness and trust that His opening your eyes to this blind-spot is just another sign of His wonderful grace to you in Jesus Christ.
Taking this approach also moves us into a place of humility and service for those we love and long to be with again.
#2: Pray With Expectancy
Which brings us to the next place to go in going after the wandering sheep among us.
This is where the rubber meets the road in regards to our actual trust of God. So often in the life of the church we throw prayer and prayer requests around like spiritual likes on the timeline of someone’s life. But this approach ultimately reveals a lack of active trust in the work of the Lord outside and around our own capabilities. This is not to remove the responsibility of fellow church members to care for one another, but to put our reliance where it is due.
Oh, how often we need to be reminded that it is God who holds our salvation in His hands, but do we believe that our ongoing faith also safely resides there? Do we believe that, while we are sitting on our couch calling out to God, He may be actively drawing His prodigal child back home? Do we willingly entrust to Him this season where He might be ridding a brother and sister of indwelling sin through a dry season?
Prayer is essential in caring for one another, especially for those who are less than enthusiastic about being with the saints, because it shows our ongoing trust that it is in fact Jesus who will build, sustain and keep His church (Matthew 16:18)
#3: Gather Outside the Gathering
Now, after we have been honest with God about ourselves and honestly reminded ourselves of who He is — perhaps we can move on to truly practical ways to engage with the unengaged. As I heard a fellow pastor say years ago, if someone is no longer gathering with the church they are either in active sin or they are about to be.
Because of this sin-situation, we may find that some of our brothers or sisters who have gone missing may feel like they are not in a place to be able to come to our corporate gatherings. While we should always encourage them that our gatherings are a place of Christ-exalting hope and refinement, it might also be a good start to get together outside of those everyone-gatherings.
Try inviting them over or meeting at a local coffee shop. This smaller, less formal setting will also give ample time for conversation, counsel and prayer. Perhaps it’s no surprise, but the best thing we can do for those who are not with us is to pursue and be with them.
Remember, our closeness to another reveals much more than our words and gifts will ever do.
#4: Encourage With Hope & Correction
With that said, words certainly do matter.
If we’re being honest, there is a temptation in some of our hearts to be frustrated or put off by those who have said they will be with us and then fail to show up. For some of us, those words of correction come easier than words of encouragement and hope. While others may want to just say, “We are with you!” without ever encouraging them toward that same commitment in their own life.
Push back against whatever tendency you find yourself falling in. Remember that loving encouragement is able to “admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.” (1 Thessalonians 5:14).
A helpful statement might go something like this:
“I know life is difficult sometimes, and different things keep us from being together, but you have been missed at our gatherings and I care about your spiritual health, so I just wanted to check in and see how you are and where you’ve been!”
#5: Don’t Be Afraid of the Awkward
Now, as some of us hear that, I know that you cringe or roll your eyes because you’d never jump into those awkward waters — but the final practical piece of advice for pursuing the wandering is to dive on in!
For too long churches have been plagued by a culture of nice and a steady diet of feel-good ignoring of sin. But, for the church to endure today, we must return to having awkward, sometimes hard conversations. All of our words will not come out right. Our tone won’t always be full of grace and tenderness. There won’t always be warm and fuzzies to accompany our care and pursuit, but that’s not the essence of true love anyway. Just like true friendship can never be captured through the comment section, true love can never be captured through people-pleasing and sin-ignoring.
So with that — consider these practical steps you might take when you notice that one of your friends has fallen off the radar, seems a little distant or is on the run from the relationship. Sure, there are many, many more things you could do that time and space don’t allow for, but use these as starting points.
Perhaps, just perhaps, if we take this great work of searching and seeking, we might find that our relationships grow deeper, wider and more meaningful in the long run. And in the end, Christ’s church will be strengthened with brothers and sisters standing shoulder to shoulder, holding each other up and sometimes even carrying each other along.
And Social Media can’t hold a match to this kind of blazing friendship!