I saw you leave right after last Sunday’s service. You mumbled a polite excuse when some members invited you to stay for lunch, but I saw the tension and unease in your face.
You’ve often confided in me about how you feel worse in church than outside—more lonely, more misunderstood, more different than ever. Everyone in church already has his own group of friends, you said, or grew up there because of his parents, so they all know one another. You’re not from the same background and you feel like an outsider. They are nice to you but it feels so fake; every week, it’s the same “how-are-you” conversation—over-friendly and yet superficial. You get tired of it, and you don’t feel that anyone really knows you. You don’t feel that you belong, yet you worry that there’s something wrong with you for feeling this way.
Would it surprise you to hear that I can relate to that? Back when I was living on your turf, my friends didn’t really understand who I was, and even the few people who shared my interests—the religious teachers and leaders—rejected me. Most of my life didn’t feel like the big Son-of-God deal it was supposed to be. So I just want you to know: I can empathise.
The church is gathered around me, its Head. My death on the cross brings people back into a relationship with God (Colossians 1:18-22). People tend to think of a church as a building, institution or social organisation to which they belong or not, by exercising their own will and choice. But the Bible describes how we fit together, using the picture of a body joined by me and to me, a single unit comprising many parts, “but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.” (1 Corinthians 12:12)
You see, believing in me automatically makes you part of my body, the church. Denying it doesn’t change the fact. “If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body.” (1 Corinthians 12:15) Can you see how there is no doubt that you fit in, even if you don’t always feel it—a fact is a fact!
In other words, it’s a group living together as a single domestic unit—a family! You don’t get to pick your own family members in the same way that you might pick your friends, but God in His wisdom has designed the church in this way. Otherwise we would pick only those like us or those we like.
In fact, there isn’t one specific “church”-type Christian. Sure, there are stereotypes, but look closer and you’ll see that believers come from all walks and stages of life. If you feel out of place, it’s usually because even church isn’t perfect yet, and sometimes Christians still disappoint or hurt one another.
But you don’t have to be like anyone else, or conform to anything, except me. You can be yourself—the person saved by me, because I saved you for me and my family. God put the church together so that every unique member has something to offer to others.
Outside the church, the world treats each person according to worldly standards, celebrating the rich, strong, beautiful and successful, and despising the rest. But the church is the family that God gives Christians, to live by His standards instead of the world’s and to care for one another without bias. “God has put the body together . . . so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other” (1 Corinthians 12:24-25).
It’s hard to genuinely care for one another without even being there, isn’t it? You have a role to play, in getting to know others and letting them get to know you. Sure, these things take time, but you’ve got until I return, right?