Faith + Friendship

WHY WE STILL FEEL LONELY EVEN THOUGH WE BELONG TO A CHURCH COMMUNITY

     I am just going to come right out it and say it because I am big believer that ripping off the metaphorical bandaid is always the best way to go:

Going to a church is not going to guarantee you instant friendship.

It's not.

       It is very possible that you can attend a church for years and not feel like you have a single, true friendship. Many pastors will tell you that one of the biggest complaints they receive is that their church has to many "cliques" or is lacking a sense of "community". Bigger churches invest tons of money, time, and pastoral resources into developing a strong "small group ministry"... and still people will say, "I have no one to talk to after church on Sunday."

     A pastor friend once said to me, "We have to realize that the loneliest place to be sometimes is standing in the corner during coffee hour after a church service...hoping to find not just a friendly face....but a real friendship."

Folks are looking for more than a friendly face in a church logo t-shirt. They are looking for true friendship.
Why We Still Feel Lonely Even Though We Belong to a Church Community.png

Why do we still feel lonely even though we belong to a church community?

1. We have handed over the responsibility of "making friends" to our church leaders. 

     The only person that is responsible for making and maintaining friendship in our lives... is us. Church leaders are there to be helpful but they cannot be the "Match.com" of friendship in our lives... no matter how hard they try. And believe me, most pastors want the people they have the honor to serve to feel connected and cared for. This is why they work hard to try to meet everyone for coffee once in awhile.... or organize an effective small group ministry. Good pastors want people to feel like they belong. The problem is that  belonging is more than giving people something to attend. Belonging is a belief that people have accepted to be true in their lives.

2. We think that "Small Groups" will be where we find our people.

    I think small groups can be where we find our people but it doesn't always work out that way. There are two things that are fundamentals in friendship: Connection and Consistency. When you attend a small group, you need to have an organic connection with at least one member. It can be a small connection... but there has to be some kind of sense that "THIS PERSON GETS ME." The second thing is that you need to have consistent interaction with the people you feel there is a connection with.  Sometimes this happens in a "small group" and sometimes it doesn't. 

    A woman once told me a story about a time that she went to her pastor and said, "I am feeling lonely." The pastor replied, "Join a small group." She told him, "I did. I still feel lonely." The pastor shrugged his shoulders and walked away as if to say, "There is nothing else I can do for you then."

  Small groups are an opportunity for friendship but they aren't the only option for friendship... 

3. We believe our closest friends have to be apart of the church we personally attend.

   There are many of us who believe that our closest friendships must only be found in the church we attend. Not only is this belief untrue, it's unhealthy. The Kingdom of God is bigger than the local church we attend and we when we forget this, we can find ourselves in dangerous "isolating" waters. Deep, meaningful friendship can be cultivated outside the walls of our church... aaaaaaand dare I suggest... deep, meaningful friendships can even be cultivated with others who attend a different church.

    Our local church is a community we belong to BUT ultimately, we belong to the Kingdom of God... which offers an ample supply of wonderful souls we can build a connection with. This should encourage us!

4. We have friendship issues that we need to work through before we feel connected.

     As a person who has struggled with "friendship hurt" from my past, I can attest that until I dealt with my friendship issues...it was very difficult to have healthy friendships with others in my church. My perception of "community" was colored by my past experiences and I interpreted every encounter through the lens of rejection, betrayal, and spiritual abuse. I was not a fun person to try to be friends with.

   I remember being on staff at a church where the pastor called me into the office and said, "What happened at your last church? You seem so fearful to let people in." I immediately began to weep and share some of the hurt I had experienced. It was in that moment I realized the pain I was holding onto was shaping my perspective of the present. When I began to forgive... I began to find friendship in my new church community.

5. We have decided there is a "cool group" in church and those are the people we want to be friends with.

     Ugh. Even at church we can be tempted to see certain people as the "cool people". I once was at a women's retreat where a woman shared with me that she felt the church she was attending had a "hierarchy" of people who were considered the important folk you wanted to be friends with. When I asked her who were the "important people", she named all the members of the worship team and church staff. 

     It is easy to deem those who take "the stage" on Sunday morning as the "important people" or the "THE COOL TABLE OF CHURCH". There can be a temptation to revert to our 7th grade ways and want to be those "important people" to be our friends because some how it validates our own desire to be considered cool.

   Yet, we get hurt when these "important people"  are too busy to hang out or seem distant when they do. There are LOTS of reasons for that (which is an entirely another article I will write someday) but please...PLEASE listen to me:

THERE OTHER PEOPLE IN YOUR CHURCH YOU CAN BE FRIENDS WITH BESIDES THE CHURCH STAFF AND WORSHIP TEAM.

      It's SOOOOO true! Every single person who walks through your church doors is important and has something amazing that God has put inside of them that will impact the world in an IMPORTANT way. So, don't pass up amazing friendship with people just because you don't call them "pastor" or because they are not launching a worship album. There is no cool table at church. We are ALL  invited to sit at Jesus' table and I don't care if that sounds cheesy. I believe it with all my heart.

     Going to church is not going to guarantee instant friendship but it's not a bad place to start looking for friendship.

    Remember:

  1.  It's our responsibility to make and maintain friends... not our church leaders.
  2. Small group is not the only option for friendships...
  3. Our closest friends do not have to attend the same church as we do.
  4. We have to work through our  friendship issues before we can feel truly connected.
  5. There is no "cool table" at church. 

 

The bottom line is that God wants us have to have friends.  

It's never His plan that we are chronically lonely.

Always your friend,

Noelle

3 MYTHS OF CHRISTIAN FRIENDSHIP

      Have you ever stepped foot into a new church and your hearted started racing a million miles per minute as you looked for a friendly face to sit next too?  Has a friend from your bible study ever made you feel small or unimportant? Did you ever wonder if you could be doing more for your Christian friend besides simply telling them, "I'm praying for you" ? 

  Yup. Same here.

    I have come realize that I have believed three common myths of Christian friendship. Maybe you have too...

1.  The people in my church will automatically be my main source of friends.

       A young pastor wife pulled me aside at an event that I was hosting. I could tell that she was holding back the tears when she said, "I hear that your researching friendship and are writing a book about it." I didn't know what she was getting at but before I could ask she said, "I have no friends. It's hard to be vulnerable with the people in my husband's congregation. Everyone looks to me to be their leader and always having it all together. The last time I shared in a small group that I was feeling anxious about my children, someone went to the elder board about it. I have never opened up since. I feel so alone." 

   Another woman had been attending a church for three years and even had belonged to the same small group for those same three years. She said that people were friendly and always willing pray for her but no one ever had time for a coffee or to do anything outside of the church.  The friendship was simply limited to church-only activities.

    Church can be an excellent place to cultivate meaningful friendship and it also can be a very difficult place to cultivate meaningful friendship. It does not happen automatically just because we regularly attend. The young pastor's wife was able to find a local group of other pastor's wives that she became friends with. It was there that she was able to share her struggles and speaking honestly about her life.  The woman who been attending the church for three years and still felt friendless, still attends that same church but her expectations have changed. She found a group of Christian women who share a passion for writing. Each of the women come from a different church but they have been able to build a deep friendship with each other. 

2. My Christian friends will not hurt me.

    There is a misconception that Christian friendship is pain-free. We are Christians and because we love Jesus,  we always are loving each other, right? Ugh.  I wish this was true! If we are honest, we know that despite our common faith, we are incredibly capable of damaging each other with our words...our silence...our neglect...our control... our expectations...our abandonment....our jealousy... and well frankly,  the list could go on.

    I remember speaking with a woman on the phone who was sobbing because she had thrown a birthday party for her ten-year-old daughter. Recently, her and her husband and felt like God was moving them on to attend a different church but she had hoped to still maintain the friendships at her past church. She invited several of these friends and their children to attend her daughter's birthday party. Not one of them showed up. This woman was devastated. She called one of her friends from her past church and asked, "Why didn't you come? Is it because we go to a new church?" Her friend answered honestly, "Yes. I think it's best if we let our friendship go since we do not attend the same church." 

  I met another woman who shared that one of her friend's husband had sexually abused her child. When she confronted her friend, her friend accused her of being a pathological liar and for a season,  was able to turn many of her church friends against her. It wasn't until the authorities were able to prove the husband's guilt that people began to believe this woman's story. 

   The pain that is found in Christian friendship is deep. It can ache for a very long time. Though we know that people are not perfect, we often our surprised when others who share our faith, show their imperfections through hurting us.  I know, personally, I have hurt many of my Christian friends. It grieves me to think about it. 

3. The extent of my responsibility to my Christian friends is to pray for them when they need something.

We are required to do far more than just simply pray for our friends.  Beyond prayer, we are called to:

  • Encourage them in their dreams and calling
  • Serve them when there is a need 
  • Give generously when there is a lack
  • Practice hospitality by opening up our home
  • Remind them of the faithfulness of God
  • Keep them accountable to a godly way of life
  • Celebrate them in their victories and when they have experience goodness
  • Mourn with them when they are met with heartbreak and loss
  • Commit to living peacefully together and always working towards reconciliation when there is conflict
  • Speaking honestly to them and about them
  • Allow them to do all the above for us

Prayer is important but true Christian friendship requires a lot more than just saying those 5 easy words: "I will pray for you." 

 

     So, now what? What can we do?  Well, here are three ways we can address these myths...

 1. If we aren't finding friendship in our church we need to decide to be proactive. We either actively try to build relationships with those church people or we can look to find Christian friends outside of our church. It is not a sin to have Christian friends outside of your church.

2. If we have been hurt by Christian friends and are finding it difficult to heal, we need to honest about it. This is where we start. Forgiveness is a journey. and honesty is the starting point. A counselor can be an excellent support as we journey toward healing and forgiveness. Working through the pain will also make us better friends to others.

3. If our Christian friendship is simply limited to praying for each other, perhaps it's time to embrace the privilege of giving more. Starting with small steps, begin to practice ways that you can be more intentional in helping your friend walk out their God-given mission in life. In the same way, become willing to allow them to do the same for you.

   Wrong assumptions about Christian friendship, cause us to miss out on the beauty of truly walking with someone else who loves Jesus.