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| The Sin Most Churches Deny |

by Henry and Marion Jacobsen

Tom and Leah miss the fellowship of the Latter-Day Saints. They rejoice that they found the gospel and became Christians, but Tom's business has caused them to move several times, so they have belonged to a number of evangelical churches.

"In none of them," Leah says, "have we found the total accept­ance and genuine fellowship we took for granted among the Mormons."

Like Tom and Leah, many who attend evangelical churches are lonely.

They hear the Word of God preached faithfully and in doctrinal purity. They worship God in trie company of His saints. They go to fellowship affairs and may attend prayer meetings and adult Sunday school classes.

But they are lonely. Often painfully lonely. They lack deep friendships. They do not feel accepted by fellow Christians and have not been assimilated into the church family. They know little of the warm fellow­ship God's people can experi­ence.

What a contrast to first-cen­
tury Christians, among whom
fellowship was intimate. They
met together, often daily, in the
temple and in homes. They
greeted one another "with a holy
kiss." They shared their posses­
sions and walked miles to see
and help one another. A contem­
porary Roman said of them,
'Behold how they love one an-

Mr. and Mrs. Jacobsen are free-lance writers and Bible teachers in Sun City, Arizona.

How many would say that today?

Dr. John Drane, professor in a secular Scottish university, writes, "My students find the whole concept of the church in the New Testament supremely relevant and meaningful, but when they look for such a church in the local community they find outright contradictions between the church as it is and the church as it ought to be."

Christian fellowship is com­forting, encouraging, uplifting, and strengthening. It is a strong base for the kind of personal relationships that make life worthwhile.

Yet many Christians who have heard or read about this fellow­ship—and who long for it—have never experienced it.

Even more disturbing is that so many churches do not seem aware of their need. Some even vehemently deny it exists.

"Loneliness," one young Christian said, "though preva­lent, is ignored because as Chris­tians we re not supposed to feel that way."

Young people who are less than popular are especially aware of the problem. For a year we sponsored a youth group in a thriving evangelical church. Whenever the "kids" chose teams for a game, the same two or three boys and girls were always the last to be selected. How deeply were they wounded?

Often the people who run a church—pastor and staff, offi­cers, and members of the various boards and committees—have abundant relationships with their fellow members. They are too busy to feel lonely, and may honestly not recognize that some individuals feel shut out. When informed of this, those in charge


are instinctively defensive.

"Ours of a friendly church," they insist.

suppose you visit a "friendly" church. You are pleasantly wel­comed at the door by someone who wears a carnation or a greeter badge. It is his duty to be cordial to visitors whether he feels it or not. We have attended many churches where no one except the greeters seemed aware of our presence. Most people were too busy getting together with their friends.

Some churches give visitors a ribbon. It practically shouts, "Please notice me!" But we have often left such churches without anyone's hand reaching for ours or anyone even smiling in our direction. And others tell us our experience is not unusual.

Even after a person has joined a church, he may find it difficult to be assimilated socially. Pastors tell us it sometimes takes two or three years for this to happen. Not everyone is that patient.

We make a practice of having in our home people we think would enjoy our hospitality. One such guest told us, "I've been attending this church and sing­ing in the choir for two years, and you are the first couple to invite me into their home.'

Some church members arrive early at social functions such as potlucks to reserve chairs so they can sit with their own group.

Sometimes a newcomer is never accepted by the group. People will smile at him if they feel benevolently disposed. They feel they have done their Chris­tian duty and that their church is indeed friendly.

Of course it's no secret that churches are socially stratified. Almost every congregation has its "ins" and "outs." The "ins" usually—but not always—are leaders. They have that intangi­ble quality we call "personality." They are ones people want to know and to have in their social set. And they gravitate toward each other.

When an individual possess­ing this quality unites with a church, people practically fall over themselves to get him into

their circle. He receives plenty of invitations. In almost no time he is offered a position in the church.

The "outs" are not necessarily poorer or inferior. They include many people who are interesting and talented. Most of them do not hanker to be in the magic circle of "in" people.

Some "outs, however, are pain­fully aware of their exclusion and may go to ridiculous ex­tremes to get recognition or acceptance. These are the lonely people. And these are the very ones who most need the warm, encouraging climate of Christian fellowship.

There are cliques in every church—there are bound to be! It is quite normal for individuals to mingle with those who have similar interests or backgrounds.

To spend more time with some church people than you spend with others is not being cliquish. Cliquishness rears its ugly head when those in a little group habitually sit together and talk together to the exclusion of the rest of the church family.

The tragedy is not that people tend to form their own groups, but that some individuals are not accepted by any group. They may find acquaintances, but not friends. Other believers do not move out to them with the kind of love Jesus told His disciples would be the evidence of gen­uine Christian faith (John 13:34-35). And if these people— or their children—aren't ac­cepted, they may decide to try another church that may not be doctrinally acceptable but will make them feel welcome.

Christian counselors and psy­chiatrists can amply document this deep loneliness.

"Almost every emotional prob­lem," says Dr. Thomas F. Ma-lone, of the Atlanta Psychiatric Clinic, "is summed up in one particular bit of behavior: it's a person walking around scream­ing, 'Love me! Love me—that's air?"'

Many a sensitive person, old or young, has been neglected by Cod's people and has left the church entirely to find accept-

ance—and   perhaps  moral  or spiritual disaster—in the world.

Just what can a church do for those who are lonely or unac­cepted?

•     Recognize   that  we   are   not
meeting the social needs of some
people. Let's make up our minds
to change this situation.

•     Dispense with those ostenta­
tiously designated greeters at the
church door. If church members
can't be depended on to do their
duty, appoint at least three times
as many as at present, but don't
label them. Let them circulate,
greeting everyone informally and
introducing  visitors   to   others.
Have them on  duty after the
service too, engaging visitors in

Perhaps a fourth of the con­gregation could serve as greeters each Sunday! This would be hard on some of your people who think they simply can't talk to strangers. But once they try it (after proper instructions) more will enjoy it.

•  Educate our people in Chris­
tian hospitality, a virtue highly
esteemed by Christ and the New
Testament church. Let's get our
members to open their homes
for this spiritual service.

We needn't neglect our friends. We can't serve every casual acquaintance a seven-course dinner. But we can have people in for coffee or dessert in small groups and encourage them to get to know one another. And keep in mind the counsel of the Lord Jesus about inviting to meals those who can't recipro­cate (Luke 14:12-14).

•     Sponsor a series of small fel­
lowship dinners in the homes of
church members who are willing
to set their tables for six or eight
people (including singles), serv­
ing potluck  dinners  to which
each guest will contribute. Some
churches have a series of such
dinners each year. The person in
charge  assigns  guests  to  each
host.  This  takes  careful  plan­
ning, but some of your people
ought to be willing to do it 'as
unto the Lord."

•     Reach   out   to   visitors   and
newcomers—as   well   as   old-
timers—via a phone call, a brief






33P-4T7 |

visit, or by mail. Let's show genuine interest in the concerns, needs, problems, and daily doings of people who are not our special friends. This isn't hypocritical. It's obeying God's will that we love fellow believers.

•    Schedule functions designed
specifically   for   fellowship.   We
don't mean the "fellowship eve­
nings" where folks come, sit in
the pews, listen to a speaker, chat
with their friends over refresh­
ments, and go home. At such
functions, the people who most
need fellowship seldom find it.
Let's  encourage  true  together­
ness by the wise use of mixers
that get people acquainted and
give them opportunities to make
new friends.

•    Develop   home   Bible   study
groups. We  have learned that
studying the Word of God to­
gether links Christians to one
another. A home study group
(ideally ten to fourteen persons)
makes it easy for folks to discuss
their insights or questions con­
cerning Scripture. It gives them
an opportunity to share experi­
ences, needs, hopes, and prob­
lems.   It facilitates  praying for
one another.

In the hands of a capable leader, fellowship in such a group can be exciting. If the church lacks capable leadership, what better investment could a pastor make than to train some­one to lead the group?

•  Unobtrusively encourage our
less-well-accepted members to
read helpful literature on per­
sonality   development  and   the
attainment of spiritual maturity.
An emotionally nealthy person is
not looking for someone to love
him; he is looking for someone
to love.

Christ commands us to love one another (John 15:12). As you obey, you may well be surprised at the results. One California woman wrote: "Realiz­ing that we are commanded to love, my husband and I deter­mined to be genuinely friendly to all in our church—regulars and newcomers. In the few weeks we have been doing this, the response has been heart­warming and rewarding." □



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