Community Withdrawal

What do you do when discouragement comes? Do you seek distraction? Do you withdraw from those around you? Do you just want to be left alone? I tend to react in all of these ways. Trials and discouragement leave me depressed and mentally unable to think clearly about life. This tends to make seemingly normal tasks difficult and burdensome.

We all deal with these feelings in different ways, some healthier than others. I don't claim to be a certified counselor, but I have noticed a trend in our churches that has disturbed me and I want to write about what I think is a Biblical solution. What is this trend? I call it community withdrawal.

Over the years I've spent in church I've observed two stages people go through when discouragement enters their life. Perhaps you've seen these as well. The first stage is a withdrawal from service. People need time away from serving at church or participating in things like the music ministry or children's Sunday school to sort out their personal life. Their participation dwindles down to simply attending the service on Sunday. The second stage is complete community withdrawal. They stop coming all together, don't go to small group, and begin cutting off relationships with those that have had influence in their life. All of this is in the name of working through discouragement or trial. For some reason we all get it in our heads that by going through tough times alone it will be easier. Why?

Perhaps it's the old "misery loves company" routine, where we want to be around people that are just as discouraged as us. What feeds our discouragement more than being alone and listening to our own sinful hearts convince us of how hard our lives are? Maybe it is the supposed stress that comes from having to follow through with commitments to serve. Whatever it is, the result is the same, withdrawal from the community of the church.

Now, don't get me wrong. Sometimes we can get burnt out with too much service. Sometimes we do need a break from a particular ministry. But does that mean we take a break from obedience as well? Does that mean we can just put God's commands to fellowship and serve one another aside until we get our own private world in order?

I believe one of the roots of this problem is that we don't trust that God's way is the best. How has God called us to deal with discouragement and trial? Does He call us to do this on our own? As Paul says, "May it never be!" We are called to deal with our discouragement and trials in community with the church. Scripture calls us to "Bear one another's burdens." James calls us to pray for one another, and even to confess our sins to each other, done in the context of the church. The author of Hebrews calls us to meet together for encouragement and not neglect coming together. Ecclesiastes tells us, "...woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up." Community withdrawal is not something you'll find scripture encouraging us to do.

I could go on and on with passages that call us to serve and love, all in the context of the church. But I think this issue really comes down to faith. Do we believe that God will make good on His promises? He has told us in His Word that the Christian life is best lived in community. We cannot grow closer to Christ apart from the Church. Do we believe this? Will you believe this or will you listen to your own heart which wants you to withdraw? I urge you to trust in His Word and His way.

We all struggle at various times with various things. Being an introvert myself I really wrestle with this urge to withdraw. But those are the times when we need to pour ourselves into the church, not back away from it. If you feel discouraged, look for places to get involved. If stress is making you want to isolate yourself from the community of faith, go sing with the choir or take a shift in the nursery. Try dealing with discouragement while being obedient to what God has called us to. Maybe focusing on the community of faith will take your eyes off your discouragement and refocus you on the sustaining grace of God.

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