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You Know You've Drifted When... You Stop Gathering and You Start Isolating

You Know You've Drifted When... You Stop Gathering and You Start Isolating

There is a difference between solitude and isolation. One is connected and one isn’t. Solitude replenishes, isolation diminishes. ~ Henry Cloud


The Community of the Church

Everything I grew up thinking about church changed for me when I was twenty-two. A friend I met while volunteering at a local community youth center for at-risk kids invited me to his church. I remember him being so passionate that I had to go and find out how anyone could be so excited about something I had found utterly boring. When I walked in, I discovered something I had never known — people who were gathering because they wanted to. Because they couldn’t wait to worship and learn and grow and share the love of Christ. Because they were willing to be scattered afterward and go find people like me — someone who needed to know that Jesus loved them, died for them, and rose again from the dead so that they could have forgiveness for their past, a fresh start here on earth, and an eternal hope for the future.

{In church,} I discovered people who truly understood the value of gathering — the gathering helped to strengthen and equip them for their scattering.

From that day forward, my understanding began to grow. Over time, church became family for me, and like every family, it has not been perfect, but it has been a haven and home. In church I started to deal with the pain of my broken past, and over time, I found healing and wholeness. I began building lifelong friendships, met and married my husband, Nick, and dedicated and raised our daughters in the same local church. There I fell in love with the Word of God and learned how to truly worship. I discovered my gifting and calling. I was discipled, loved, corrected, challenged, and released into ministry. In church I learned to love the lost, reach the lost, become active in the fight for justice and peace, advocate for the poor and the marginalized, and strengthen and empower women. I learned to appreciate and care for the planet God has given us.

Through the years, I have struggled, laughed, cried, grieved, prayed, hoped, dreamed, despaired, suffered, rejoiced, and praised, all with my church family at my side — and at other times, I’ve had the privilege of being there to run alongside my church family when they were experiencing the same things.

The connection to my church family helped me stay anchored to Jesus — and not drift far from His purpose for my life.

At the same time, I am not naive enough to think that my church experience is everyone’s experience. I am well aware that for some people, the very word church causes them to recoil and pull back. You may even be one of these people and want to put this book down now because of your negative church experience. I get it, but please keep reading. You were on my heart as I was writing.

There is no doubt that for some, the church has been a poor witness of the love and grace of Jesus, for one reason or another. Maybe a leader they looked up to let them down. Maybe a position they held dear was given to someone else. Maybe someone in the children’s ministry excluded their child. Maybe when their marriage dissolved, the people they thought would walk alongside them walked alongside their ex instead. Maybe it was something far worse.

I’ve had plenty of conversations with people who have been deeply wounded by other people in the church. Some have even asked me why I would spend my life building the very thing that has caused them such great pain. It’s a valid question. Some have pointed out the flaws of the church throughout the ages as proof of its inherent faults.

It is true that many injustices have been done in the name of Christianity. History can’t hide what has come to light throughout the centuries — the Dark Ages, the Crusades, the times the church didn’t live up to its own standards. When it was plagued with corruption. When atrocities like war and famine and genocide occurred, and it looked the other way. Even in recent generations, the church has continued to grapple with so many issues, though none of them new — racism, sexism, abuse, materialism, greed, idolatry, nationalism, misogyny, legalism, judgmentalism. It is little wonder that some of you might feel done with the whole thing, not even wanting to darken the doors of a church. I get it. I really do.
I can’t possibly know what each one of you may have gone through personally, or exactly how you feel, but I do know that

though we are often hurt in community, we also heal in community.

This includes the community of church.

With all its flaws, quirks, challenges, and issues, the church is God’s idea.

And because the church is made up of people — and all of us on this side of eternity are flawed, imperfect people — there is no church that’s not flawed.

You Have Something to Give

Sometimes, the reason we stop gathering is far simpler. Perhaps you went on vacation, missed a few Sundays, and gradually just got out of the habit of going. Maybe you started a new job, and your schedule included working on Sundays. Maybe you moved and struggled to find a new church home. Maybe you started having to travel farther and more often for your kids’ sports leagues. Maybe you feel like you don’t get out of it what you once did. Or you prefer to watch online — something that’s great when we can’t get there in person. I’ll never forget when watching online became our only option, when the pandemic hit and we had to shelter in place. I feel sure you remember it too. We were forced to isolate for our safety and protection — and for everyone else’s. Perhaps, after that, you just never went back.

I feel sure there are more reasons than I could ever list, but it seems that some are more common than others. I cannot recollect how many times I have been asked, “Can I be a Christian and not go to church?” I always answer honestly: yes, of course. Nowhere in the Bible does it say you have to attend church to be a Christian. But of course, being a very passionate Greek woman, I want to hear the reason behind their question and then tell them about my own experience — with lots of humor, hand motions, and serious volume! I just can’t help myself!

What I hope they eventually discover for themselves is that when we stop gathering, we start isolating, and when we start isolating, we become more susceptible to drifting—something that naturally leads to distance and distance to disconnection.1

Aren’t you glad the writer of Hebrews gave us the antidote?

Do not neglect to gather. — Hebrews 10:25

When we gather, it helps us to stay connected. To stay anchored. What’s more, when we fail to gather, we miss not only all the blessings that come from gathering but also being a blessing to everyone else who has come to gather. We are one body with many parts, and we all have gifts to give. Have you ever wondered who might miss something because you were not there to give it? I know every time my daughters are not at the dinner table, I miss them! I miss what they add to the conversation — their witty observations, serious introspections, and fresh perspectives. I miss their off-the-wall humor. (I have no idea where they got that from!) For sure, I much prefer dinner with them than without them.

So it is with church. Church is about far more than just what we get out of it. It’s about being in the body of Christ doing body life — together. When one of us is missing, it affects us all. What one of us does — or doesn’t do — makes a difference. Paul wrote of this very idea in his letter to the church in Rome:

We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully. — Romans 12:6-8 NIV

God wants us fulfilling our individual roles in the body. Participating. Contributing. Sometimes, I think we forget that going to church isn’t just for us, but it’s also for all the other people we will see there. It’s not just about what we can get out of it, but what we can give while we’re there.

One Who Is Always Waiting

All of us have been in the position where we have been looking forward to a family member or friend coming to visit. I can think of many times when I have looked forward to a loved one coming and how I celebrated Greek-style when they arrived — meaning loud and with lots of food. I can also think of times when things didn’t work out as planned, and I was left missing the one who I had prepared for and hoped would visit.

When it comes to us gathering together, I am convinced that no one looks forward to it more than God Himself. While it is true that, through faith in Jesus Christ, every believer is indwelt by God’s Spirit and has direct access to God, something else is also true:

In Him [Jesus Christ] you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. — Ephesians 2:22 ESV

The “you” in this verse is plural, not singular. You together are a dwelling place for God. Remember, Jesus said,

For where two or three gather in My name, there am I with them. — Matthews 18:20 NIV

The truth is this: There is a special grace when we gather. There is a special way that God takes residence in our midst when we gather. Our gathering together does not just happen in God’s name, but also in God’s presence. And God is not the guest at His gatherings — we are.

The letters to the churches in the book of Revelation reveal that God is not only aware of but also cares deeply about each and every gathering around the globe. The ones in Qatar. The ones in Texas. The ones in cities. The ones in villages. The ones that are well known. The ones that aren’t. The ones that meet freely. The ones that are forced underground. The one where you might be going every week. Each one is filled with people Jesus gave His life to save. And each one is a place God chooses to make His home. Each one helps us to stay tethered to Jesus. Each one helps us to keep from drifting.

Are you connected to a local gathering? If you are, then keep going and plant your roots even deeper! If you aren’t, then I want to encourage you to consider going to one. I know it might not be easy for you, but it could be the missing link in your chain that will help connect you more deeply to your anchor, Jesus. God is looking, longing, and waiting for your arrival, and so are others — others you need and others who need you.

1. Dan Reiland, “5 Reasons People Drift from Church and How to Respond,” Outreach Magazine, June 20, 2019, https://outreach -from-church-and-how-to-respond.html.

Excerpted with permission from How Did I Get Here? by Christine Caine, copyright Caso Writing, LLC.

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Your Turn

There’s a special grace when we gather together to worship God and read His Word. Are you attending and involved in church? If not, why not? We need you! ~ Devotionals Daily