There's a dirty little secret in the church, and it's one that we cannot afford to continue to ignore. It's one that is rarely talked about, one that many church-goers would not automatically assume is their biggest problem, although most are also acutely feeling it themselves. And yet, it goes back to the very heart of who God has called us to be as a people and so, it strikes at the very core of our identity as Christians.
Ask anyone what the problem is with the church, and you're bound to get an answer. Everyone's got an idea, whether they are inside the church or outside of it. The problem is that the church is too judgmental. Or it's full of hypocrites. Or it picks and chooses which sin it cares about and which it doesn't, and it commits too many of those sins itself. Or, if you're inside the church, the music is too loud, the preacher's jeans are too old, or the color of the carpet isn't holy enough.
There is no shortage of opinions on what is wrong with the church.
But this dirty little secret that we're not talking about is, well, one of the things we don't talk about enough. And it is the heart of everything that the church is supposed to be.
So what is it? What skeleton do we need to pull out of our closet? What issue do we need to bring to light?
Loneliness is the dirty little secret of the church. At least, the American/western church.
We, who are called to be a people, whose number two commandment is to "one another" one another, who are called to community and to doing this life together, who are covenantal in nature and who have a special obligation to the other members of the body...are struggling under a weight of loneliness in our churches.
We are supposed to be a people who love each other, and yet, if you take a poll of church-goers, a poll in which they can be honest about what's going on, most of them feel isolated, disconnected, and downright lonely even in the context of their church.
Our gut reaction to this is to say that, well, they should just plug in more. Most of our churches are having programs and events and opportunities. Even if it's just a Sunday morning, if someone is lonely, then they should just step out and sit with someone new in the pew. If you're lonely in our church, we say, then it's because you choose to be. All you have to do is plug in somewhere.
But loneliness is far more complicated than that. By a mile. And this kind of trite, simplistic, condescending answer only intensifies the problem; it does not alleviate it.
So let's talk about loneliness in the church this week. As a people who are called to do better, yes, but in full recognition that we are, most of us, lonely ourselves.