Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Indifference Within the Church

Recently, having gotten together for fellowship over a coffee and a tea, a brother in Christ caught me by surprise when, in the midst of our conversation, he suddenly apologized to me for his indifference toward me. He confessed that it is I who frequently makes the effort through contact to maintain our brotherly relationship, and that this has weighed heavily on his heart. He offered no excuses, saying that there were not any that were valid or justifiable—not even busyness or family.

If I am honest, this is not the only relationship in my life, or within the church, past or present, where I am the sole initiator toward fellowship and/or maintaining that relationship. Whether in person, by phone, or by e-mail, 99% of the relationships in my life exist only because I reach out and attempt to maintain them. Even within my own family! If I did not make the effort to see them, I would never see any of them for months if not years!

If I am brutally honest, which tends to offend people for some reason, I could die in my apartment at the beginning of one month and nobody would even know I had died until the next month's rent was well past due—and they were likely to read about it in the newspaper. That is how many people come to visit me of their own accord; that is how many people call me by phone; that is how many e-mails I receive from others; and that is how many invitations I receive for anything. Sad, but true.

There exists only one relationship in my life where the other person reaches out to me as frequently as I reach out to him, and that is my friend, Jerry Sheppard, whom I have not seen in person since graduating from Bible College in 2005—and he lives out East! In the past, he has shared with me his frustration with friends inside and outside of the church whom never reach out to him for fellowship and such. Any time they get together it is because he is the one who initiates it. As he points out in one of his own blogs, such things are no wonder why people leave the church. If nobody shows that they care about you or that they are interested in you or that you are worth investing in, how do you suppose that makes a person feel about themselves? Do you suppose they feel welcome in your church? Or do they feel like strangers and aliens within their own church? We can make all the excuses we want, but none of them are valid or justifiable for not investing in another person's life and/or soul. This is the church's biggest problem when it comes to new converts as well. There exists no discipleship of these individuals because of the church's indifference. Indifference is apathy. Apathy is the opposite of love. Indifference within the church is a result of lovelessness—growing cold. Sorry, but it is true. Indifference is also a result of selfishness and self-centeredness.

Please do not misunderstand me. I do not write this to complain (seeing as how I have forgiven those who are indifferent toward me), but instead to open people's eyes. Imagine these relationships as if they were a marriage. If only one spouse is ever pursuing and initiating the other, what kind of relationship do they actually have? If the spouse that is pursuing and initiating were to suddenly stop, would there actually be any real relationship between them? Would the other spouse care one way or the other? Did they even care to begin with? I could ask far more profound questions and get into the psychology behind it, but I am not going to. Simply put, relationships are supposed to be two-way streets. When they are not, you can either sever yourself from that relationship entirely or you can continue investing in it because you genuinely love the other individual from the heart. True, a one-way relationship is not much of a relationship at all, but what would Jesus want us to do?
In such situations, if you were to suddenly stop initiating contact with those who do not reciprocate, months or years could go by before one day you suddenly bump into those people somewhere out in the world and they are like, "Hey! How're you doing? Haven't heard from you in forever." My thoughts would be, "If you were that concerned with not having heard from me for so long, then why didn't you pick up the phone and give me a call? You've got two hands and a mouth." But such concern is feigned. If they actually cared whether or not they had heard from you, they would have picked up a phone and called. The excuses they offer for why they did not are not acceptable.

Paul has a great method for combating indifference:
"Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others." Philippians 2:3-4
Lord God, may we repent from our ungodly attitudes of indifference.
"Whoever has the world's goods, and beholds his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?" 1 John 3:17

"The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love." 1 John 4:8

"...the one who loves God should love his brother also." 1 John 4:21b
As the above passages imply, when your heart conveys an attitude of indifference toward the plight of your brothers and sisters in Christ, not offering to help them in their time of need, not giving of your abundance to help with their poverty, not reaching out to them because they are not part of your clique (inner circle of friends), then perhaps you might want to examine yourself to see if you are truly a Christian because your claim to love God is contradicted by the lack of love you show for and toward your brothers and sisters in Christ.
"Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do, and does not do it, to him it is sin." James 4:17

"Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it." Proverbs 3:27