When You Feel Left Out at Church
It is a miserable thing to feel invisible in a crowd of Christians. There is nothing more lonely. It seems like you are the only one who doesn’t fit in. Jesus promised you a family in Christ and yet you struggle to be connected to anyone. You are never meant to be isolated like this in God’s family…and I know it hurts. It doesn’t have to be this way.
I used to attend a church of thousands. I would come to the same service every week and sit in the same seats with my family. The atmosphere seemed friendly and exciting. It felt like there was great fellowship. I shared the room with so many people it appeared like we were bonded. The problem was it was just that, an appearance. It was an illusion carefully created through the design of the service and building. They had crafted a friendly looking staff, a casual coffee bar, a relaxed ambiance, and exciting music to draw you into a lie. It was not family of God, it was a production designed to deceive you. You come each week and “feel” connected without the burdens of being bonded in Christ.
This was not Christian love expressed. It was cheap consumer Christianity.
I was a new believer at the time. I had just discovered the joy of Jesus and His Word. I excitedly read the Bible about being part of the Body of Christ. I had just given up my old life in order to join the wonderful fellowship of Christians described in the Scriptures. I envisioned the love and companionship of the early church. I would have settled for a friend to talk to and learn from. Yet, my brothers and sisters in Christ themselves seemed not to care I was in church. No one seemed to notice or take the time to even say “Hello”. These were believers who were supposed to encourage one another, weep with each other, and be one…and none of them cared a bit for me. They were too busy and too overbooked. They were content with the feelings provided by counterfeit Christianity.
I yearned for close relationships with others in loving Jesus. I made an effort week after week to show up at church looking for fellowship. I hoped to be included and loved. I left feeling rejected and more confused. It is terrible to be rejected. It is worse when you are a believer and it is the church you feel left out of. Feeling invisible at church is an awful thing. This is Christianity without a full understanding of the love of Jesus.
I adore the church. I love God’s people but, honestly, I can understand the deconstruction wave that is sweeping some parts of Christianity today based on this time in my walk. If your only experience of church are these empty entertainment models, it makes sense that you are questioning, confused, and without foundation.
I prayed in pain, sorrow and anger. I asked God to answer me why this was happening.
“Why aren’t people reaching out, loving and discipling like I see in the Bible? ”
He answered in a way I was not expecting:
“Why aren’t you, Tom? I see you. I love you. I am with you. You feel the pain. You know the isolation. I have shown you the problem for a reason. Go and be the person you wish someone would be to you.
Be like Barnabas!”
My disappointment had caused me to focus on others and despair. I was not wrong in my seeing the problem and my disappointment. They were understandable but God never stops there. He doesn’t waste anything, particularly the pain of those who love Him. I was lost in my pain and anger. I was lost in self – my focus on me and what I felt rather than on God and His plan. God cared about my hurt. He was pained by the situation as well. Jesus did not die for His church to be a glorified corporate training retreat! He also wanted to teach me so much more through the pain. He pointed me to a better way – His way. God called me to follow Him and “be like Barnabas”. What does that mean?
It is being willing to follow Jesus when no one else does. It is the calling to reach out to the disciples around you in love, even when no one else will. It is ignoring the world and following Jesus…even if that means leaving your comfort, entertainment, and ease behind.
Are you willing? It is hard but it is worth it.
Are You Willing to Be Uncomfortable?
The Apostle Paul faced a huge problem. He was newly saved and tried to join the church at Jerusalem. Sounds good, right? Who would not like Paul as a new member? The sticking point was Paul had just recently jailed them, had them killed, and in some cases forced them to blaspheme the name of Jesus. The church wanted nothing to do with him as a result. The Christians in that city were all afraid of him.
Can you imagine how difficult that was for Paul? It was the city that was the Jewish center of the world and where Jesus Himself preached. It was also the city where Saul tore apart the church and killed the saints. How hard it must have been for Saul to see the place where he had taken part in Stephen’s stoning. The church turns him away out of fear. Paul had met the Risen Lord, and they thought he was faking it. How painful this must have been!
The church of Jerusalem also faced an important issue. They chose to reject a believer based on his past. They did not welcome a blood bought believer in Christ based on their own judgment. You can certainly understand their fear and caution. But if they continued this way, it would have terrible results. Who would be good enough to be included? Who would be in charge of deciding who was ‘In” and “Out”. Paul was excluded from the church based on something other than the Cross of Jesus. One of God’s sheep was left out of the flock. This is never God’s intention, no matter the justification. It is pure disobedience not to love another Christian. They trusted their own senses more than the Gospel of Jesus.
This is where God’s called Barnabas to step up and bring healing to these wounds. This is what God meant when He called me. He may be calling you as well. Barnabas’ love for Jesus, for the church, and for Paul covered over a multitude of other people’s sins. It brought glory to the Lord through the communion of the saints.
The man’s real name was Joseph. The Apostles gave him the nickname “Barnabas”. He is one of the underrated great men of the Bible. Barnabas means “Son of Consolation” or “Son of Exhortation” or “Son of Encouragement“.
Consolation is something that helps you feel better after a loss or disappointment. It is synonymous with solace, sympathy, compassion or empathy. It is someone who hugs you when you are mourning a loss. It is loving someone gently as they are in pain.
Exhortation means to call to your side. It involves developing deep relationships with people to encourage them in their spiritual walks. The picture is of a father pulling his small child in to his side and them walking together arm in arm. It is loving someone consistently and teaching them gently as you walk with them through life.
Encouragement means the action of giving someone support, confidence, or hope. It is of pointing those who are down to the hope of Jesus Christ. It is loving someone when they are struggling and pointing to the Lord.
What an awesome nickname for a Christian! What an example of Christ!
You see these virtues in action dealing with Paul’s rejection. The church culture acted out of fear and excluded Paul. They protected themselves first. They stuck with the safe people and ones that met their standards. The Son of Encouragement pushed through and lived out his nickname:
“Then Barnabas brought him to the apostles and told them how Saul had seen the Lord on the way to Damascus and how the Lord had spoken to Saul. He also told them that Saul had preached boldly in the name of Jesus in Damascus. So Saul stayed with the apostles and went all around Jerusalem with them, preaching boldly in the name of the Lord.” Acts 9
Barnabas sought out the lost sheep. He went to the hurt Christian and established a relationship. Look at the verses above and read what is implied: Barnabas had to have asked questions and found out Paul’s story in order to speak it to others. He saw Paul as a hurting person and listened to him. Barnabas spent his time going after the one the rest of the church thought was not worth the risk. This is the agape love Jesus calls you to as a Christian. It is loving another person solely for their benefit – with no expectation of any return.
Isn’t it wonderful? It is also very simple. Barnabas only did what Jesus did for him. He went to one without strength and loved him. Jesus commanded that we love like He did – friends, enemies, and everyone in between.
If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them.
Was Barnabas afraid of Paul? Most likely, Paul was a terrifying figure. Did Barnabas have other easier ways to serve? Again, almost certainly! The other Christians did not seek out Paul. Was Barnabas taking a chance and out of his comfort zone? Of course, he sought out a man who had killed his friends.
He did it anyway because Jesus did it for him and told to do the same to others. Barnabas trusted God more than man and his own discomfort.
It makes perfect sense that Barnabas was at the forefront with Paul’s return to Jerusalem. The the man characterized by consolation and exhortation stepped in. He brought Paul alongside him and offered encouragement. He bridged the divide and made the way for Paul’s conversion to define him. He focused on the Jesus in Paul, not the past. He repaired the fractures that formed among the believers.
Perfect Love Casts Out Fear
Barnabas took a chance on Paul. Yet, this was not a stretch for him, it seems. It was who he was – the one who comforts, empathizes, encourages. He was an imitator of Christ so he forgave, he kept no record of wrongs and searched for the Lost Sheep. Barnabas was a great reflection of Master he served.
I was just a flawed Christian who felt invisible at church. I was lonely and felt left out. You may be here right now. Yet, God called me to change my attitude and be like Barnabas – full of consolation, encouragement, and exhortation. He called me to love like He did – to look outward and be His solution. I could be the hands and feet of Jesus and offer love and acceptance to even the scariest people in the Body of Christ. I could make a way for them as well as the shy, the introverted, the awkward, and the angry into the Body of Christ.
The people of that I was church were indeed self involved, self centered and overly busy. Yet, I was forgetting I was one of the people of the church. I struggled with all those same things. Jesus loved me despite my failures. It was unreasonable and ungrateful of me to expect people to be perfect before I would love them.
I accepted God’s direction and started reaching across divides. Sometimes it worked and lifelong friendships were formed. Other times, it didn’t and the person I reached out rejected my offer of fellowship. I ultimately left that church. Their model worked against the seeking of real fellowship. It fed the flesh so much the Spirit had no chance to lead. You may have to leave as well. It will be worth it.
The funny thing is I have never felt invisible, lonely, or left out since. I have been rejected and alone, at times, but I am doing the Lord’s work. I desperately need Him to carry out His will and break through my own discomfort. He is so clearly with me every step of the way I cannot help but feel part of Him.
Even alone in a crowd with Jesus doesn’t feel lonely.
I have been blessed to see the fruit of responding to Jesus’ call. My church now is smaller than the one of thousands I used to attend. Yet, it is a church of love, encouragement, friendship, and exhortation. It is a church filled with Barnabas’ and those in training to be Barnabas…and it is wonderful.
I refuse to be ok with someone not being offered the love of Jesus when they walk through our doors.
Take heart if you are a lonely Christian today. Be encouraged if you are feeling invisible in your church. The Lord has given you insight and wisdom about a problem. Bring your pain to the Lord and lay it before Him. Be honest with the issues you are facing and seeing. Then ask Him whether you are the answer to your own prayer.
Are you being called to be Barnabas to your church, family, friends or workplace? Are you willing to push past the fear and earn the nickname Son or Daughter of Encouragement, Exhortation, and Consolation? Do you want others to see you and immediately think of Barnabas?
Barnabas earned his nickname from the men who walked with Jesus. His life was defined by reaching out and consoling, encouraging, and exhorting in the Lord. He was be the one weeping with those who weep, rejoicing with those who rejoice and suffer with those who suffered in the church. He spent many hours loving all of the church – not just the easy ones. His service to the Lord so defined him that Peter and the Apostles named him for it.
When people observe your Christian walk, what do they see?
What might your nickname be?