Dangerous Assumptions

There are people, in every church, who seem like they have always been there.

These people are the first thing I notice, in fact, when I attend a new church.  They know everyone.  They have “their seat”: a particular pew or chair or section that belongs to them, and from which they often hold merry court.  Their interactions with others are a slew of talks and hugs and “oh hi how are you” and “how is that beautiful baby” and “did Jane see you about that lesson?”  They are always in the middle of thirty-two different things.

You can tell that these people form the core of the church.  And it is easy to assume, as I often do, that they are at the very least strong believers, if not longtime ones.  They seem to belong in the natural sort of way and with the natural sort of ease that leads me to assume that they have probably been Christians since before I was born.

Sometimes that’s true.  Sometimes it isn’t.

I have an unfortunate tendency – and I don’t think I am alone in this – to conflate “church involvement” with “relationship with God.”  It’s a habit.  When I meet those believers I mentioned above – the ones who are involved in everything and who do everything and generally fill their lives with ministry work – I generally assume that they’re committed, fervent Christians.

I make these assumptions because, in many cases in the past, it’s proven to be true.  My mother is a church-activity dervish, with a living and active relationship with God.  So are many of the other believers I know now or have known over the years.  These believers fulfill James’ dictate: “Show me your faith without deeds; I will show you my faith by my deeds” (2:18).  In this case, their works within the church are a natural manifestation of an active relationship with and belief in God.  That’s good!

But I have also known those who all but live in the church and have no relationship with God to speak of.  Those who believe that being really good is what will get you in heaven’s door; those who have a sort of “inherited” Christianity from their parents and grandparents but who have never pursued a relationship with God themselves; those who consider themselves in good spiritual shape because of an altar moment fourteen years ago but who have not pursued an iota of a relationship with God since then; those who go to church because it’s “right” but have no interest in a spiritual life beyond that.

A pastor I knew once, in his invitations, would encourage his congregation to “come to Jesus, even if you’ve been here for a long time without knowing Him.”  I thought that was silly – who would attend church so long and do so much without knowing Him?  But then, after some long and heavy conversations with people I had pegged as longtime believers, I realized that those in need of Christ aren’t just waiting outside in the secular world.

They’re sitting in our pews.  And they have been there for ages.

It’s easy to think of “ministry” as something we leave the church to do.  As something that we must do in the wilderness of the larger world where all the non-believers seem to hang out.  A lot of the time, we’re inured to the condition of the people in our own congregations and communities because we think we know them, when we really don’t.  We see them coming to Bible studies and attending sermons and volunteering for events, and we assume that means they know who Jesus is and that they have a functional relationship with Him.

Often they do.  But sometimes a few conversations will lead you to see otherwise.  And when we conflate Christian works with godly relationship, we’re in danger of missing that – in danger of overlooking those in our midst who are starving at a feast.

Keep your eyes open to the people around you.  Don’t let assumptions rule your interactions.  And don’t be afraid to talk to people, to hear out their feelings on God and prayer and their spiritual walk and faith.  The answers will tell you a lot.  And they just might surprise you, too.




10 thoughts on “Dangerous Assumptions

  1. Yes, the gospel is so important. It should be preached and mentioned in studies often, even if we think everyone present is a Christian. Even genuine Christians with a solid relationship with God need to be reminded of the gospel. It helps keep us humble and gives us perspective. And if some of the “Christians” have missed it, they may finally realize it and come to know HIM. Good post!


    1. Absolutely! I think it’s also a good argument for Christians actually *talking* about their spiritual lives and their relationships with Christ, which somehow we seem to be doing less and less of. A strange thing.

      Glad you liked it!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. More rambles. When I was a kid/teen I so often remember the adults discussing spiritual things – not just at church – but when “socializing” outside church, the conversation was often spiritual. Talk about their spiritual lives, but also biblical concerns and issues. Sometimes friendly debate. Etc. I crave this – spiritual and biblical discussion – but it seems hard to find. Really hard. You almost have to “force” the discussion toward more spiritual things – and *I AM* talking about being with other Christians. I feel isolated, and the internet helps fill the void. What is going on??


    1. Yeah, same here.

      I think our culture in general has become more uncomfortable with discussions of the “personal spiritual” nature, and it’s extended to the church. Most Christian groups I’ve been a part of stuck to either lesson discussion or prayer request with little mention of individual experiences or learning… It’s a shame, and I notice it and wish for something deeper, too.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. One way to measure the difference is to ask, “Whose church is it?” The Christian will say, “It’s Christ’s church, of course.” The long-standing member who doesn’t get it will say, “It’s my church, and we’re going to do things my way here.” J.


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