A youth leader had high hopes for a youth event she had planned with her volunteers. They worked intensely, prayed hard, and planned a creative teaching presentation around a theme. On the night of the event, teens packed the room. Afterwards, the leader overheard a conversation between a teen and his mom. She asked her son, “so how was it?” and he said, “I’m never coming back.” The youth pastor ran after the student to introduce herself. The student tried to keep moving but the pastor persisted, acknowledging she had heard what he said to his mom. She pressed him, asking him how they had messed up and what they could do differently. The student replied, “It wasn't what people did that was the problem. It was what they didn't do. My mom conned me into coming, and nobody acted like they gave a rip if I was here or not. Nobody talked to me; like I was invisible or something. I'd rather spend my time with people who at least pretend they're glad I showed up.”
I came across that story a few years ago and used it to begin my doctoral thesis on the attitudes and values of volunteers, but it demonstrates something else that’s on my mind today. All of us I think, not just teenagers, care more that those who matter to us include us than that they impress us. Without a sense that we belong, we are not likely to care much about events designed to attract us or impress us.
This reality may be more important than ever because there is something like an epidemic of loneliness. God made us to be together, but something about our society tempts us to go it alone. The gospel contains the solution to this problem, but sometimes those who embrace the gospel still wrestle with feelings of not belonging. This happens when we don’t understand the implications of the gospel, especially who we are in Christ, and so we hang back, terrified to risk reaching out to other people.
I’ve long believed that a primary strategy of Satan is to isolate us. Sin itself not only drives a wedge between God and us, but causes us to run from others as well. A significant part of the horror of hell is its complete aloneness. Hell is a lot worse than solitude, but it is not less. We are a culture where many require music, video, or something to read all the time because we can’t stand to be alone. At the same time we resist the sort of relationship with God that would fulfill our need for connection give us courage to move toward others.
As we increasingly embrace the gospel, God satisfies our need to belong through a stunning connection to him that prods us toward rich community with other believers. That’s fleshed out in Galatians 3:26-4:7 from where I’ll be preaching this Sunday. You can read the scripture, outline, and discussion questions here. I can’t wait to see you Sunday.
P.S. Kat wrote a post this week on this topic. You can read there here.