Many of us fail to experience true heart connection with a church community. Those with chronic illness can struggle to get to services or stay in touch with friends. Even regular attendees can experience a sense of dislocation and isolation. But there’s a place there for us all. You belong.
Two years ago, my husband and I finally made it out to a service at our church. Our attendance has been erratic for years due to chronic health problems, so the Pastor took advantage of our unexpected presence to suggest we participate in the sermon Illustration he was giving.
We didn’t even need to leave our seats because he brought the microphone over to us. It so happens (in God’s perfect timing) that the sermon was on aspects of marriage and faithfulness. He felt we were suitably qualified to offer an opinion, especially as it was our 40th wedding anniversary that day.
My husband demurred, preferring me to answer instead. I prayed, took a deep breath and spoke from the heart, praising God and expressing deep gratitude for the man He had chosen to place by my side throughout life.
It was lovely to reconnect with friends and be of use again. But the service and fellowship we experienced that day gave me a pang of regret that church—as defined by being in a building on a specific day and time—was largely lost to me because of having chronic illness.
Thankfully, “church” means more than a gathering of people being taught, singing hymns, saying prayers, sharing communion and praising God together. The Bible defines church as the Body of Christ world-wide.
It is unrestricted by difference over theology and practice and unfettered by physical proximity or ease of access. I believe that church is a hospital for the hurting. A home for lost souls. A welcoming committee for the isolated and lonely.
It’s composed of Christ followers, His Body, through whom God carries out His Kingdom work, despite the seeming drawback of the disparate physical churches that exist and their differing doctrinal emphasis.
“Together you are the body of Christ. Each one of you is part of his body.”
1 Corinthians 12:27
Although church itself doesn’t always console us, in the silence and stillness of our hearts we are still able to meet powerfully with God.
As an institution, the official Church has caused much unintentional harm and offense over the years to its reputation and members, often driving away potential seekers after Jesus.
We can forget church is full of imperfect, broken and wounded people, just like you and me. We should bear these things in mind, while not being quick to judge or harbour resentment and unforgiveness.
“So in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others” – Romans 12: 5 (NIV)
Church should look less like a cliquey, elite social club and more like a unique hub of trust, friendship and love. Because we are Christ’s ambassadors on earth, the world-wide family of God, His loving welcoming committee to those in need.
“We are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making His appeal through us; we [as Christ’s representatives] plead with you on behalf of Christ to be reconciled to God.” – 2 Corinthians 5:20 (Amplified)
Maybe church is a place where you no longer feel safe or want to belong? I’d like to reassure you that you are not, and never will be, invisible to God. Whether you’re a keen churchgoer, a wanderer, a jaundiced believer, a lost soul, or an earnest spiritual seeker who hasn’t quite found their spiritual home yet, God’s arms stand ready to welcome you to Himself.
You don’t have to be in a specific building, dress a certain way, sign up to anything or speak Christianese. Only to be searching. Only to be aware you have needs which nothing else can satiate, and a longing to find your heart’s true Home and safe place.
Church as a community may have failed you in some way but God never will. Doctrinal disputes might have tripped you up in the past but God invites you now to lay those things aside and simply come.
God is interested in you first and foremost. He wants to shower you with His unconditional love. You can return to God whenever you want to. You belong. He sees you, my friend.