Written By Andrea Chan, Singapore
I used to attend church regularly as a teenager. I loved how you could feel the presence of God when the congregation stood united in singing praises to the Lord. However, I didn’t completely understand the importance of community then. To me, community was merely about having a sense of camaraderie in worship.
When I was about 16 years old, I faced some personal struggles, and started to find reasons to avoid church and my church friends altogether. I was afraid that people would ask me what was wrong; I was afraid of the concern and attention that came with being part of a community.
Having spent a large part of my Christian life struggling alone, these are the challenges I faced when I chose to leave community.
1. It’s harder to grow outside of community.
Initially, I believed that I could learn about God without other people. But I soon realized there is a limit to what I can learn from simply reading Bible commentaries online. Even the lessons gleaned from writings by experienced theologians cannot replace the sweet fellowship and precious discussions with brothers and sisters in Christ.
Moreover, Christianity is not just about reading the Bible and doing quiet time. Sure, these moments of stillness before God are important. In fact, it was during these times that I realized what was missing in my walk with Him—community. Both personal devotions and body life work hand in hand. God gave us a community to grow and serve together with. Being surrounded by people who are passionate about God can be an immense support and positive influence through difficult times.
2. Without community, there is no accountability.
Without a community, there is no one to be accountable to, and to keep you in check. It becomes easier to skip church, quiet time, praying, etc. And the more you push aside these seemingly small acts of commitment to God, the more you’re likely to fall away from Him.
Soon after I started missing church, I found myself chasing personal achievements more than desiring to serve God. Life became more about practicality and less about spirituality. I found new reason for skipping church—I wanted to spend more time on my studies to get better grades. And not long after, I stopped attending cell group meetings too because I felt I could learn the same things on my own by watching sermons online and reading Christian articles. The more I rationalized my excuses, the more I believed in them, and the less guilty I felt about skipping church and avoiding the community.
But I knew I was wrong; I didn’t want to admit that I was caught up in the chase for temporal worldly achievements and neglecting what was truly important in eternity.
3. The longer you stay out, the more difficult it is to reintegrate.
By the time I realized it, I had stopped attending church for five years. Truth be told, I did try to return to Christian communities—whether it was Christian Fellowship in university or the Young Adults group in my church. But it was hard. I felt ashamed to return after disappearing, and I felt lost—everyone seemed to have built bonds over the years and I felt like I was disrupting their community. And so I chose the only way out I knew: to avoid the community again. It was a vicious cycle, and it probably pleased the devil a great deal.
During this journey, one verse that stood out to me was this: “Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” (Ecclesiastes 4:12)
To me, being independent and doing things on my own without having to ask others for help signified strength. But I realized that was equivalent to relying on my own strength and not God’s strength. When I was on a student exchange program in Canada this year, I spent a lot of time reading the Bible and praying to God, and I was reminded again and again that Christianity is not a solo journey of faith. Even in the past, the disciples spent a lot of time praying and learning together—who was I to think I could do this alone?
The desire to return to a Christian community has been on my heart for a long time, but I still have a few concerns. For one, people tend to have existing opinions of you, based on what they hear about why you disappeared from the community—and these impressions are hard to change. Community means being vulnerable, and that’s a scary thought to someone like me who likes to put on a strong front. But God reminded me that it takes courage to be vulnerable, and that in our vulnerability, we can help to build one another up and find strength in the family of Christ.
Community is about showing the love of God to others—it could be by serving in ministry or taking part in edifying conversations to strengthen a fellow Christian in his or her walk. It’s about volunteering to help the needy, and to share the grace of God with them. It’s about being there for another, whether as a mentor to someone younger or as a friend to someone struggling.
I’m still in the process of reintegrating. I don’t want to slip in and out of Sunday Service each week with my family. I want to be involved; I want to serve; I want to share with others. Deep inside, I’m excited yet extremely nervous to come home to a Christian community.
Every day, I pray for the courage not to back out, and to keep to my promise to come back to the community of Christ. If you are in this stage of your life, I want to let you know that I know how scary and difficult it feels. Some days you may feel angry that you didn’t have an easy Christian life where you grew up with the community. But everything happens for a reason. Maybe the years you spent struggling alone can be used for God’s glory. Whatever your situation, I pray that you may have the courage to take this leap of faith, and trust in God’s strength.
It’s time to come home to the family of Christ.
Editor’s Note: Read “5 Reason to Join a Christian Fellowship”.