How to Cope With Feeling Like an Outsider at Church
I will never forget a conversation I had with a close friend. For the past several years he and his wife had been leading the Kid’s Ministry in his local church - a church of only 100 people. In that time, he said, his pastor had never spoken to him.
No friendly hellos. No spiritual check-ins. No conversations about the children’s ministry. Nothing.
I was flabbergasted.
How can a pastor - particularly one at a church this small - effectively pastor the church when he has absolutely zero involvement with the people in leadership positions within the church?
This friend’s pastor, for whatever reason, simply had trouble relating to him. As a consequence, he felt felt like his pastor didn't care.
Nearly two decades ago, I caught our youth pastor stealing from the youth funds. I brought it before the church board only to be told that we should look the other way because this man had donated so much of his time and money. At that moment, my heart fled the church and, a few weeks later, so did the rest of me. Once I left, I became even more disheartened because no one - not a single person - called me or dropped me a line to tell me they missed me. I felt like no one cared. No one noticed my pain. No one was asking, “What about Bob? What's wrong with Bob? Where had Bob gone?”
What should a Christian do when he feels abandoned by other Christians? What do you do when no one cares?
Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. - Jn 15:4
TURN YOUR EYES UPON JESUS. Remember, the church is not the building, not the pastor, not the doctrine, rather it is the people, and all people are fallible. Everyone, no matter how much you love them and no matter how closely they wish to follow Christ, they will stumble. When people fail you, just remember you have likely failed people, too. There is but One Who is perfect.
I HAVE DECIDED TO FOLLOW JESUS. Too often we forget to follow Jesus and Jesus alone. We become distracted by the charisma or character of a person or people, or we become enthralled by a doctrine or philosophy, and we - quite unintentionally - lose sight of our Lord. We are like Colonel Hathi’s company of elephants in Disney's Jungle Book. We march in line to the beat of an irrepressible mantra, and follow the the one to whom we are closest. We can only hope that the one we follow is following someone who is following someone who is following someone who follows Christ. Learn from others, if what they teach is biblical and true, make them prayer partners or accountability partners, but follow Christ alone.
I COME TO THE GARDEN ALONE. You already believe you are alone. You feel no one cares, but in your heart you know Christ still cares, so run to Him. Pray. Seek Him out like a frightened child seeks out her father. Spend your every waking moment in prayer until you find peace. Remain prayerful and you can be sure that He walks with you, and talks with you. What joy when He tells you that your are His own.
LIKE THE VINE IS TO THE BRANCHES SO MY LORD IS TO ME. Once in a while, when I see problems in others, I realize that the problem really rests in me. That is not to say that every time others do me wrong, the fault lies in me. That is not what I mean, at all. But, occasionally, I am to blame and occasionally I see that I have strayed. Check your own heart. Have you been resting in the live of God? We cannot find spiritual nourishment if we cut ourselves off from the Vine. Christ tells us, “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.” - Jn 15:4
LOVE WILL HOLD US TOGETHER / MAKE US A SHELTER, WEATHER THE STORM / AND I WILL BE MY BROTHERS KEEPER / SO THE WHOLE WORLD WILL KNOW THAT WE'RE NOT ALONE. When the church, pastor, or many in the church have mortally wounded your spirit, you may be the one compelled to reach out. Love them in the way that you wish they would love you. My mother always said if you want to have friends, you must be a friend. More than that, though, a close look at The Golden Rule demonstrates that it is not just about reciprocity, it is about taking the first step.
If you have truly taken that first step, then take it again. Continue to reach out to those who have hurt you attempting to heal. If healing cannot be found, then - and only then - should you look for a church that better demonstrates love.
My friend found healing in his church. I, on the other hand, found a new church, full of love, where I have remained - and still remain - for many years. We both, though, remain in a body of true believers, a part of the church.