Eighteen months ago, my husband and I were co-teachers of an adult Sunday school class full of people we considered friends. The eight couples who regularly attended were people with whom we shared our lives—the good and the bad—and they did the same. We studied God’s Word together, we prayed for one another, and we spent time outside of church just hanging out. Those couples were the next closest thing to family to us. Eighteen months ago, I could not have written this post.
Then everything changed. There was a misunderstanding that, despite my best efforts, wasn’t handled the way the Bible would have us handle problems—the way friends handle problems. At the end of the day, relationships were shattered. I went from looking forward to church as a time to see friends and share my burdens to feeling vaguely ill on Saturday nights because the next day I might run into these people and have to ignore their awkward attempts to avoid eye contact lest they have to say good morning to me.
Now my husband and I sit at the back of the sanctuary, slipping in after we drop off our kids at Sunday school, and sneaking out as soon as the service is over. Every Sunday my heart hurts. I miss feeling like I’m a connected, desired part of the body of Christ. I look around the sanctuary during the service when most of the adult Sunday school classes meet, and I wonder if the other people in there also consider themselves the undesired walking wounded.
A couple of people have suggested finding another small group and getting involved there. But my heart shrinks at the thought of experiencing another betrayal.
Sometimes I listen to the pastor entreat us to reach out to the community around us and invite our neighbors to church or to this outreach program or the other, and I want to raise my hand and ask, “Why?” Because what happens after we get them to church? After we help them come to know Jesus? Are we going to abandon them in the pew and move to the next person who isn’t a regular attendee? Or are we going to open our eyes and see that we need to be reaching in, too?
There’s an old saying that “Christians shoot their wounded.” I wish I could say it wasn’t true, but my experience certainly says it is. I’m already a believer, so no one pursues me anymore. Sure, there’s a halfhearted effort here, and there’s the standard reminder from the pulpit that if you want to get connected, you should seek out a small group. But I’m not at a place where I can be the one to take the initiative. Not yet. I need someone to pursue me.
In John 13:35, Jesus tells his disciples that the world will know they’re Christians by their love for one another. This isn’t love for people outside the body, but love for the people in the pews with us. Love that goes beyond a smile and a handshake. Love that seeks out the hurting and chases them endlessly, pursuing them with the same fervor we usually reserve for the lost.
When was the last time you sought out someone at church and invited them to your small group? Have you invited the stranger whose hand you shake during the two-minute greet-your-neighbor time to your class? Have you asked again and again, like you do with the unsaved neighbor down the street?
Are you reaching in?
Elizabeth Maddrey is an author of several contemporary Christian romance novels. She is also a wife, mother of two amazing boys, Awana Commander, and beloved daughter of the King. Though her PhD in Computer Science does little to help her succeed in any of those tasks, she owns her nerddom just the same. She blogs at elizabethmaddrey.com.
Photograph © Anggie, used with permission