An Epidemic of Loneliness

 In Pastor Jeff's Blog

Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted. – Psalm 25:16

Last week Washington Post columnist, George F. Will, wrote an article entitled “We Have an Epidemic of Loneliness. How Can We Fix It?” You can read the full article here.

Will quotes Sen. Ben Sasse’s new book, saying that “Americans are richer, more informed and “connected” than ever – and unhappier, more isolated and less fulfilled.” He also refers to multiple studies that suggest that this epidemic of loneliness is perhaps America’ greatest health crisis, profoundly impacting brains, bodies and communities.

The Body of Christ should be an integral part of the solution. The Bible uses the Greek word “koinonia” to describe Christian community – a rich, intimate web of relationships that arises out of our common connection in Christ, built upon trust, acceptance, encouragement and unconditional love. Isn’t that what people hunger for?

But the painful truth is, that’s not what we’re known for. We’re known for judging others. We’re known for plastic smiles. We’re known for our refusal to show vulnerability, pretending we’ve got it all together.

A young woman in the congregation I serve once attended an AA meeting at which her friend was celebrating a significant anniversary of sobriety. She marveled at the vulnerability, transparency and non-judgment of the AA community. She ended by wistfully adding, “I wish church was more like that.” Indeed.

A whole generation of young adults are drawn to Starbucks, not the Church, on a Sunday morning. And studies show that it isn’t worship style, rock music, light shows, entertaining sermons or hip pastors in tattered jeans that they long for. It’s genuine community.

If we want to see our churches grow, perhaps we should start by taking a long, hard look at the culture of our congregations. Are we truly welcoming? Do we reach out beyond our own clique on a Sunday morning? Do we glare at or warmly welcome the young mom with a crying child or the young adult in distressed jeans and body art? When we see someone sitting alone do we invite them to sit with us?

Sometimes the loneliest place in town is a crowded pew on a Sunday morning.

We can do better. We must do better. For the sake of those who are lonely. For the sake of the Kingdom.

Jeff Marian serves as lead pastor at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Burnsville, MN

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