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  • Writer's pictureAdelee Russell

Things that Keep Us from Living a Fervent Life Part 4: Isolation from the Church

Let’s be honest, church can be messy. Get a bunch of saved but hurting people at all different stages of sanctification into the same building and it can feel very much like a barn full of feral cats. Soft meows turn to hissing and scratching. Sometimes there’s bleeding. Other times they’re all happily sipping from the same milk dish.

It can be hilarious and confusing. It can also be dark and intensely painful. Sometimes God calls us to flee from a church because of twisted teaching and abuse. But His plan isn’t for us to spend the rest of our days wasting away alone in a wasteland. Community has always been a part of His plan.

Reconciliation, peace, and unity. Jesus died so that all three of these things could become a reality. Ephesians 2:16 says, "Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death" (NLT). And in John 17:21-22 Jesus Himself prayed, "I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me. I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one. "(NLT).

Sometimes the church feels like one of the very best things about Christianity. But sometimes it feels like the very worst. Sometimes we just want to scream “Why God? WHY??”

I honestly didn’t want to write this post. I kept asking God “Are you sure? Can’t I just… skip it?... pretty please?” Because the topic of church can become explosive and confusing. There are so many different aspects and opinions. It’s an incredibly broad topic about which people have very passionate convictions.

But God wouldn’t let me skip it. Because unity and fellowship with the body of believers is absolutely vital to living a fervent life for Christ.

If church is so good, then why does it seem so bad sometimes? Why do we often want to isolate ourselves from it?

Three Things that Keep us Isolated From the Church:

1. Church hurt. The range is broad. I know churches who’ve kicked people out of the service because they weren’t wearing nice enough clothes. I know churches whose leaders have squandered the resources and stolen from the church family. I know churches where sexual abuse—sometimes by leaders in the church—was committed and justice was never found. No one stepped in to help the oppressed. And in some cases, the abuser was intentionally protected.

Like I said before, sometimes God calls us to flee from an unhealthy church because of twisted doctrine and abuse. And in cases like these it can be incredibly difficult to heal. It can be extremely hard to trust again; to risk investing in other people’s lives and allow them to invest in ours.

There’s a book I absolutely love by Lina Abujamra called “Fractured Faith,” and I definitely recommend it as a resource to anyone dealing with intense church hurt. The author weaves hope and healing into the narrative by sharing her own story of betrayal from a church family. She shares how the experience was so deeply painful and disorienting that it caused her to deconstruct her faith and question whether she really wanted to be a Christian. She also shares what God did in the journey of healing and how He gave her hope and helped her to find treasured community once again.

2. Lies. The enemy loves to use lies to get us to isolate ourselves from the body of believers. In my experience, and the experiences of many of my friends, Satan uses lies to get us lost in our own heads. Sometimes he makes us hyper suspicious about people and influences us to put up walls. Other times he attacks our self-esteem so we spend every church event huddled in the corner unable to find the courage to join the group and participate. Other times he’ll turn the tables and feed us lies that cause us to be so co-dependent on the people in our church that we end up suffocating our brothers and sisters in Christ by placing them on a pedestal they were never supposed to be on. We put them in a place in our hearts that only Jesus is supposed to be. This causes our relationships to self-sabotage and a vicious cycle ensures.

I wanna share four lies the enemy has used in my own life to get me to isolate myself from my brothers and sisters in Christ in the past:

Lie #1. I NEED (person’s name). You’ve heard the saying before, “No man is an island” and that’s true to a certain extent. The relationships in our lives can benefit us immensely, and we’ve just been talking about how vital the church is in our lives. But maybe not for the reasons we might think. It’s when I got to the point where I thought “I need (so and so) to be happy, to feel satisfied, to be whole” that the danger started. Since then I’ve found that God is the only one who can bring me lasting joy. He’s the only one who can satisfy me, and He is the ONLY one in this universe who can make me whole.

Lie #2. If (so and so) loves me, then I have worth. This is perhaps one of the easiest lies we can fall into. When someone said “I love you” or “I care about you” my spirits soared. When they complemented or encouraged me my self-esteem got a boost. It’s natural to react that way. The trouble came when I began to hang my worth on every word people said instead of anchoring it in God’s love. Which brings me to the next one.

Lie #3. If (so and so) doesn’t do what I think he/she should to demonstrate their love, then I must be worthless. Actions speak louder than words. The things people do affects us. But people aren’t perfect. When people initiated kindness and love I felt ecstatic. But on the days when they were busy or forgot or were—perhaps—simply human, my self-esteem pummeled.

People aren’t God. They don’t know exactly what we need when we need it. But God does. Matthew 6:8 tells us “your Father knows exactly what you need even before you ask him!” (NLT). And Philippians 4:19 assures us that “this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus” (NLT). God eventually led me to the revelation that my worth did not depend on whether someone noticed me or initiated kindness to me in the moment. My worth stands on Jesus and Jesus alone.

Lie #4. God brought these people into my life to fulfill me. This was perhaps the most dangerous lie I allowed into my heart. I thought “this is what I need. This is what will finally fulfill me.” I thought the people God had brought into my life were the answer. I thought I would finally be satisfied.

This line of thinking gradually shifted my relationship with God. I started clinging more to the people He’d put in my life than to Him. Imagine my confusion and heartache when I found myself empty again. These people were supposed to fill me, but I still felt empty. They were supposed to satisfy me, but I still craved more. They were supposed to give me peace, but I still felt restless and unsettled.

It wasn’t until I came to the point where I realized: “These people can’t make me whole,” that I began to see. God was the only one who could fill my emptiness. God was the only one who could satisfy my longings. God was the only one who could give me peace. But in order for Him to do those things I had to let go of what I’d been holding onto so tightly. I confessed to God that I’d allowed the people He’d placed in my life to become idols.

I told Him I knew they weren’t the answer I was looking for. I told Him that He was the answer. He was the beauty from my ashes. My relationship with Him was the great gift that made up for every one of my sorrows. I was afraid letting go would make me distance myself from everyone else and slip into isolation. It didn’t. The funny thing is it freed me to love others better. It made it possible for me to enjoy the people God had put in my life, instead of sitting there, desperate and anxious; feeding off of every action—every word that made me feel loved.

I don’t know what lies you’re wrestling with right now, but I do know that the antidote to every lie is found in one place: God’s Word. When we’re struggling with lies it is so vital to saturate ourselves in God’s truth penned for us in the Scriptures. Only by immersing ourselves in His truth and choosing to believe it can we find victory over lies.

3. Exalting anything or anyone above God and the Gospel. This can manifest itself in a multitude of ways. It can mean holding one leader or camp above the other, or obsessing about obscure areas of theology more than the Gospel itself. These things destroy unity and therefore cause people to isolate.

These problems are not new. Paul himself had to address them in his letters to the churches. For instance, concerning our predisposition for being ardently loyal to certain leaders in the church (and viciously opposed to others) Paul told the believers in Corinth in 1 Corinthians chapter three, “…You are jealous of one another and quarrel with each other. Doesn’t that prove you are controlled by your sinful nature? Aren’t you living like people of the world? When one of you says, ‘I am a follower of Paul,’ and another says, ‘I follow Apollos,’ aren’t you acting just like people of the world?

After all, who is Apollos? Who is Paul? We are only God’s servants through whom you believed the Good News. Each of us did the work the Lord gave us. I planted the seed in your hearts, and Apollos watered it, but it was God who made it grow. It’s not important who does the planting, or who does the watering. What’s important is that God makes the seed grow. The one who plants and the one who waters work together with the same purpose. And both will be rewarded for their own hard work. For we are both God’s workers. And you are God’s field. You are God’s building” (vs. 3-9 NLT).

No human is inerrant. And no human is as reliable or powerful as God. We can get so enamored by someone’s charisma or way of speaking that we don’t even realize the moment they become an idol in our hearts. We were never called to become miniature versions of our favorite spiritual leaders. We were only ever called to become miniature versions of Christ. And we are only called to imitate leaders in the church as they imitate Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1).

This means that even as we listen to teachers and leaders in the church, we have our Bibles right next to us the entire time. It means we never accept a word they say unless it lines up with the Scriptures. It means that though we may open our hearts to receive encouragement and correction we do so with alertness, double checking the things they say with the infallible Word of God. This means we celebrate the good, and hold the bad accountable. And this is why we should never EVER take a human being’s words to be perfect and infallible.

I hear Christians in groups all the time say things like “Well if (name of famous leader) said it, I believe it!” This is a dangerous thing to say. Just because a mature Christian leader says something doesn’t mean we should believe it right away. Because people are people. And even the most mature Christians have bad days and weary seasons. They can get off track. They can become disillusioned. They can get lost. That is why we must always test the words they say against what God says.

However on the flip side, because people are people and we all have struggles, this also means that even if someone messes up occasionally or says something that’s not quite right during a weary season, we should have grace and not be quick to attack them (or anyone who follows them). We should not rant on social media or in groups of people labeling them as blasphemous. Blasphemy is an incredibly serious term and we should never toss it around casually in a conversation. And if we ever dare to use that word we’d better have done ALL our research and gotten detailed accounts from BOTH sides of the story. Clips on You-tube do not give the full story. Quotes without context are meaningless as evidence. And the rant of an angry, bitter person is rarely 100 % accurate. It’s hard to keep our emotions from taking control of us. I myself struggle with this. It is a continual aspect of the sanctifying process to become more like Christ in the way I debate and dialogue with other believers.

Even if we’re right in what we say, we are still called to speak the truth in love. And firing off our mouths in a degrading way towards others, and bashing the people who listen to those leaders is most certainly NOT speaking the truth in love. This kind of behavior is what causes us to appear to the watching world like an unruly, loudmouthed group of petty four-year-olds. And that’s NOT the image we—who are ambassadors of Christ Himself—want to give to the world we’re supposed to be reaching with the Gospel. Bring up your concerns. Talk it out. But do so knowing that the person in front of you—and yes, even that famous leader on the screen—is a human being who is passionately, dearly, loved by God.

Lastly, our obsession with obscure doctrine vs. our focus on the Gospel. I myself am passionate about several obscure aspects of doctrine. And I can get fiery about it. But before I go off on a tangent or disrupt the flow of a Bible study or small group discussion I need to ask myself: Is it beneficial to go off on this tangent with this specific group of people? Is it likely to start an argument and cause the rest of our time in the Word of God to become an aggressive debate? Are there any new believers—who are still wrapping their minds around the concept of the Gospel—who might be confused, concerned, or scared by what I say? What did we come here to talk about? Is my compulsion to debate going to hinder the Words God has already placed on someone else’s heart to say? And lastly, what are my motives? Do I really want to edify and encourage the believers around me by what I say? Or am I just getting hot under the collar and acting compulsively because I want to win an argument and prove something?

I’m not saying we shouldn’t discuss obscure bits of doctrine and theology. I think it can be an extremely important discussion to have. But I also believe we must be surrendered to Jesus and listening closely for when and how He wants us to have those discussions. 1 Corinthians is an great resource for this type of thing. In it Paul addresses differing convictions and showing love for those in the body of Christ who might believe differently than us about things not pertaining to the Gospel. He sums it up perfectly in 1 Corinthians 8:1 when he says, “Yes, we know that ‘we all have knowledge’ about this issue. But while knowledge makes us feel important, it is love that strengthens the church” (NLT).

So we’ve discussed some things that can isolate us from the body of believers. We’ve talked about the bad things. But what about the good things? Why does God want us to be united with the body of believers so badly? What are we missing out on if we don’t?

Three Reasons to Choose Church:

1. Spiritual growth. Whether we like it or not, the church is vital to our spiritual growth. We grow in the knowledge of the Gospel and the Scriptures by listening to teachers and preachers. We learn about God's love and grace by listening to the testimonies of our brothers and sisters. We strengthen our spiritual gifts by serving and ministering to others in the church. All of these things are important, and all of these things are difficult, if not impossible, to do without the body of believers.

As much as we might love to think we’d be just fine learning about God on our own without ever interacting with another person, God disagrees. Although learning from the Holy Spirit Himself through our intimate relationship with Him is of the utmost importance, (John 14:26), it is still God’s desire for us to learn in a group setting from other believers. 2 Timothy 3:16 says, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (ESV). And Acts 2:42 says, “And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (ESV).

Our knowledge of God is fleshed out as we watch others actively live out the truths expressed in the Scriptures. God delights in using our testimonies to encourage others and bring to life Scripture passages that may have seemed vague or lifeless to them before. 2 Corinthians 1:4 says, “He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us” (NLT).

As for serving, this one truly is impossible to do alone. How can you ever help serve someone if there’s no one around to serve? How can we cultivate our spiritual gifts into ministering tools if there’s no one to minister to? Ephesians 4:6 says, “From whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (ESV). A healthy church body helps its members grow in their spiritual walk, and equips them to live out the Christian life to the fullest.

2. Encouragement and support. God did not create us to live this life alone. Yes, Jesus and Jesus alone fulfills us. And yes, Jesus and Jesus alone can give us the strength to endure anything this world throws at us. But it is not God’s desire for us to get into the habit of isolating ourselves from other Christians.

We are God’s family. He has created us to crave fellowship and unity because He does. And we bring joy to His heart when we live the way He wants us to live: loving and supporting one another. 1 Thessalonians 5:11 says, “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up…” (ESV). And 1 Corinthians 12:7 also says, “A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other” (NLT).

The Church family is a gift from God. We could try to endure the ups and downs of this life on our own but we don’t have to. We could suffer in silence and isolation and try to survive on our own, but we don’t have to. We could crawl in agony under the weight of our painful burdens in our own strength, but we don’t have to. And God doesn’t want us to. Galatians 6:2 says we should, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (NIV).

Prayer is another way the body of Christ encourages and supports one another. James 5:16b says, “Pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results” (NLT). Ephesians 6:18 also says, “Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere” (NLT). Prayer changes things. And God calls us to pray both for and with each other. And He promises the results will be powerful and transforming.

God created the church to love, encourage, support, and protect. And when we live in surrender to God and in mutual submission to each other, beautiful things happen. Our hearts are comforted. Our spirits our lifted. Through the church God desires for us to experience His love and support in a tangible way.

3. Staying on mission. This one is perhaps the most obvious ultimatum God gives us to live and labor with a body of believers. We have a purpose that’s greater than ourselves. We are called to do more than just learn and grow and persevere in our own stories. We are also called to share God’s story with the world. And that requires living life with other people.

Matthew 28:19-20 says, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (ESV). We cannot make disciples if there is no one to disciple. And we cannot be discipled if there’s no one to disciple us. We cannot accomplish the great commission God has given us to “make disciples of all nations” effectively unless we work together as a team.

John 13:35 says, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (ESV). We cannot accomplish this unless we are actively showing love to the family of believers. And we cannot do that if we’re never around any believers to show love to.

Proverbs 27:17 says, “As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend” (NLT). God also wants us to keep each other accountable on our spiritual walks. This involves all kinds of things that have a single goal: to keep us on the path God has for us. To keep us on mission. It’s easy to get lost when we’re wandering around the wilderness alone. God has set a system in place to help keep us from stumbling off the beaten path. And the system He’s created involves being personally vulnerable with Jesus-loving brothers and sisters in Christ so we might help each other stay on track. So we might lovingly point out each other’s blind spots, and speak truth to areas of each other’s lives that might be hindering our ability to carry out the mission God has given us.

The Ultimate Reason for Church

Hebrews 10:25 sums it up pretty well. It says, “And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near” (NLT). At the end of the day our all-surpassing reason for living life in unity with the body of Christ is this: God wants us to. He wants us to live life with a community of believers. And if we truly want to bring joy to our Heavenly Father, then at some point we have to take a risk and jump in.

And we can do so knowing that no matter what might happen or what challenges may arise He will be with us. He will help us maneuver through the delicate situations and occasional misunderstandings. And if hurts arise He will help us heal. And as we take step of faith after tiny step of faith He will use the church to encourage, and support, and grow us. He will use the body of believers to help us discover our calling and purpose, and He will equip us to live out the Great Commission He’s given us.

I’ve been going to church since I was a baby. Sometimes there was hurt. Sometimes there were misunderstandings and awkwardness. But I don’t regret a moment of it. As a child I learned so much about Jesus through the church. And in my teen years I grew even more in the knowledge of God’s love and grace. In my early twenties the church showed me what my Heavenly Father’s love looked like. And where I’m at now has encouraged me so much through the fervency of the saints; it has set my heart on fire for God once again with each ministering opportunity that arises. I am so grateful for the church. And as hard as it can be to work through the emotions, and the challenges, and the awkwardness, I know deep in my heart that it is worth it.

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