We’re slowly going back to pre-pandemic normal. Malls, dine-in restaurants, and other indoor establishments are now allowed to operate for larger capacity and even those below eighteen years old are freely moving around. Also, one of the most fantastic news this 2021 is that most of us no longer need to use our face shields! 

This also means that our worship services can now accommodate more people onsite. As we go back to our pre-pandemic way of living (with face masks on), we should also think about those who’ve already adjusted to the “pandemic normal”—those who are now comfortable in their homes, and enjoy and thrive on the online platform more than face-to-face. How can we help those who are struggling to go back to onsite fellowship?

There are multiple factors to consider in determining why others have a hard time adjusting. Maybe, they’ve seenzoned many of their friends or they’ve been kept off from all social media platforms. Maybe, they’re afraid or shy to go back. Or perhaps they believe that there’s no one to go back to. Whatever the cause, here are some tips on helping them ease back to connecting onsite again.

1. Help them process. 

Transitions are vital in any change of season in our lives. It is crucial that we don’t force anyone to change what they’re used to. One thing that you can offer is to help them process their situations. 

Help them process and navigate through their feelings and thoughts about what’s happening (whether that’s anxiety or fear) by asking questions. This way, you’re helping them transition gradually and carefully. Transitions can be messy, but it’s the only way for us to embrace our new reality and season as we move forward.

Help them process the present reality through the lens of future hope: One day, every tribe, nation, and tongue will confess and worship our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, as one family (Revelation 7:9–10). And that in His presence, for eternity, there is no more sickness or pain, no more COVID or any of its variants, no more sin and shame. What will remain is only eternal fellowship with God and with everyone who eagerly awaits His coming.

2. Invite them to an organic gathering for fellowship.

No matter how many times they’ve seenzoned us, we can invite them to a face-to-face meetup or a small, organic gathering, because they’re always welcome. As we fellowship, we encourage one another to share lives and testimonies. And so we gather, even in small numbers because fellowship happens when we walk together, eat together, laugh together, cry together, believe together, and hope together. 

Communion also happens when we gather together in a fellowship. We don’t usually use communion in a sentence, but communion amplifies our experience and gives meaning in our fellowship. Oxford defines communion this way: the sharing or exchanging of intimate thoughts and feelings, especially when the exchange is on a mental or spiritual level.

As a church community, we don’t just do fellowship and communion, but ultimately celebrate it. Communion reminds us of the gospel (1 Corinthians 11:23–26), and at the same time, we partake with the story of Jesus and His disciples in the Bible. And just like how we invite people to parties or events, we invite them to fellowship because we want to celebrate God’s faithfulness and grace in our lives through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. 

3. Pray for them.

The pandemic forced us to distance ourselves from one another physically, and sadly, many were tempted to isolate and stay distant from church community for good. Perhaps some have even done the very things they swore not to do—went back to their old lives.

Our job is not just to invite them but be a spiritual companion for them who’s willing to fight their unseen battles through prayer. We may never know what is happening to them entirely, but we trust that God was and is with them always. The apostle Paul knew that when all is said and done, prayer is still the best option (Colossians 1:9). 

Lasty, don’t give up on them.

If Jesus didn’t give up on us, let’s not give up on others, too. God’s perfect patience was displayed through our past, present, and even in our future. There’s nothing too small that we can do as we walk with someone—whether we help them process, invite them to an organic fellowship, or pray for them. 

They may have felt that God has abandoned them, or that we have abandoned them for a season, but that doesn’t mean God isn’t with them. We can be comforted with this truth and we can comfort others as well:

Even when we turn away from God, His love never changes and His presence remains available for them anytime they choose to turn back.

When you open social media right now, you’ll be debilitated by the chaotic rambles of people taking sides in different areas of life. From political biases to the GOAT K-pop group to the next NBA champion to the topic of “Is kissing before marriage a sin?”

Disagreement and debates are everywhere these days. People in and out of social media have different opinions and viewpoints. Hence, it is normal to have disagreements even with people in church. But because we find it hard to settle our differences, disunity arises, disagreement turns into discrimination of beliefs, people are taking sides, and we resort to tribalism.

We often see this when disagreement turns into quarrels that lead to accusations and discrimination. Some debates end up with resolutions, but sadly, most of what we find in and out of social media are broken friendships and relationships due to unresolved or mishandled debates and arguments.

With all these, we can’t help but wonder, how can we walk with someone we disagree with?

1. Embrace disagreements.

The church throughout history have had various disagreements. Take, for example, the council at Jerusalem.

While Paul and Barnabas were at Antioch of Syria, some men from Judea arrived and began to teach the believers: “Unless you are circumcised as required by the law of Moses, you cannot be saved.” Paul and Barnabas disagreed with them, arguing vehemently. Finally, the church decided to send Paul and Barnabas to Jerusalem, accompanied by some local believers, to talk to the apostles and elders about this question.

Acts 15:1–2 (NLT)

Disagreement doesn’t automatically mean disunity. We can have a healthy disagreement, even to the point of arguing vehemently, and still be in unity with one another.

We have to accept the fact that God designed each of us in unique ways. At the same time, we have different backgrounds and experiences. Thus, we have different opinions and perspectives on things. And yet, the truth remains that no matter how different we are, we can still walk in unity.

Disagreements can be daunting, but we can have unity in diversity when we have something greater that unites us. 

2. Seek clarity and maturity.

Disagreement is an opportunity for conversation and learning.

The beauty of disagreement is learning other views that you don’t usually see. It is by opening our eyes to the possibility that perhaps we’re wrong or that we haven’t explored all possibilities and explanations, while lovingly and intentionally explaining our viewpoint to others.

Open disagreement rallies maturity.

So the apostles and elders met together to resolve this issue . . . Everyone listened quietly as Barnabas and Paul told about the miraculous signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles. When they had finished, James stood and said, “Brothers, listen to me. Peter has told you about the time God first visited the Gentiles to take from them a people for himself. And this conversion of Gentiles is exactly what the prophets predicted . . .”

Acts 15:6, 12–15 (NLT)

Disagreements can also be a gateway for clarity.

As Paul and Barnabas argued with the men from Judea, both parties agreed and decided to have clarity on the issue by seeking help from others. As they explained their side, the apostles listened quietly. So, to agree on different opinions and points of view, both have to listen and mutually understand each perspective attentively. The last thing you want to do is defend your personal beliefs and opinions but lose your friends or a family member in the process.

Maturity comes when you decide to solve the issue rather than desire to win the argument.

3. Accept differences with love and forgiveness.

Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.

Ephesians 4:15–16 (NLT)

Paul was passionate about building unity in the church. As he described the church as Christ’s body, he was reminding us that each body part has a different function and role. The same goes for our different beliefs and views.

Paul continued,

Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.

Ephesians 4:31–32 (NLT)

In a disagreement or a debate, you will often end up hurting in the process. Take time to reflect on why you are hurting, and, if you can, try to release forgiveness. As Paul says, get rid of unnecessary bitterness and forgive one another, just as God has forgiven you. And that’s the truth that we all can agree on—the truth of the gospel, our reconciliation with God and with one another.

Reconciliation with people is an essential part of living out the truth of the gospel and can only be sustained in light of God’s grace and love. Although reconciliation may not always happen, it is still possible to love others in light of the gospel from afar. Differences of opinion and viewpoints cannot be resolved without intentionally listening to one another with the perspective of the gospel.

Disagreement can signify maturity, but it is impossible to grow out of that without love. We can only walk with those we disagree with when we first choose and agree to love them, just as God loves us.

The common ground that we can all stand upon is the gospel.

The gospel is not just good news of salvation and reconciliation. The gospel should create in us a kingdom culture. This culture helps us live our lives under one authority, and that authority is King Jesus. The gospel unites us with God, and at the same time, gives us the power to follow and obey Him in loving others.

“Why am I still here if I’m being neglected? They always ignore me.”

“The people I look up to are the same people who hurt me.”

“People who’ve sworn to love me tend to hurt me a lot. I think I’ve had enough!”

Have you heard these words before? These may be the words of someone who experienced church trauma.

It may seem like an oxymoron. How is it possible for a Christ-centered community to hurt somebody?

I never believed that church trauma was possible until I experienced it myself. Pain and shame were my constant companions; insecurity and anxiety held me in their clutches. I became afraid to speak up. I felt like I was not enough and I didn’t belong. My trust in people was broken. 

Yes, church trauma can happen and it can come from a series of unaddressed wounds through the years. 

Two things are usually at play when someone experiences church trauma:

  1. Most of the time, the one who caused the hurt is unaware of the pain they have caused. They don’t know that they’ve neglected, marginalized, or alienated someone, likely because no one has confronted them with it.
  2. The one who is hurt carries on wounds that affect their relationship with other people. When things get too painful, leaving the church community may seem like the right thing to do.

Yet God’s design for church community is beautiful. It’s meant to be a source of great joy for those who are part of it and a channel of blessing to the communities touched by it. Part of its blessing to the world is the experience of forgiveness and reconciliation—that despite our imperfections which lead to breaks in our relationships, our experience with God’s unconditional love and unlimited forgiveness can lead to a beautiful testimony of healing and restoration.

So what do you do when someone opens up about an offense, a hurt, or a traumatic experience with church community?

1. Acknowledge their pain. 

When someone is hurt and offended, they need a listening ear and an open heart. They need to know that we want to hear their side without any judgment. We should also recognize that they may not need solutions or offers to facilitate reconciliation from us. They just need someone to listen and to show care.

Hurt and offense come from a pain point in the person’s life. It may not be about the one who caused the hurt, but the offender may be a reminder of a painful experience in the past. God desires that wound to be brought to the light so that healing can happen. As you listen to their story, pray for wisdom from the Holy Spirit if you need to say or do anything.  

The enemy may intend for the hurt to bring division, but God can accomplish His purpose in a person’s life even in the most painful moments. There are always two possible responses to offense: allow the root of bitterness to grow or look to Jesus Christ. It is only when we respond in the latter can we be free from the bitter root that destroys our relationships. We can’t choose for a hurting friend, but we can point them back to the gospel.

2. Point them to Jesus Christ.

Overcoming church trauma is only possible by looking to Jesus Christ.

He experienced a massive wound. He was wounded by His own people and betrayed by His closest friends, the people He called to follow Him, those He healed, delivered, and provided for, those He called brothers and sisters. At the lowest point of His life, they ran away. Even Peter, one of His closest friends, who swore to protect Him to the end, denied Him three times.

Yet Jesus prayed for them and forgave them, and He endured the cross because of the joy that was set before Him, paving the way for our reconciliation with the Father and for His redemption of the world through the church. The enemy intended to harm Him, but God intended it for good to accomplish a greater mission.

. . . looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross . . . 

Hebrews 12:2

Jesus Christ knows our pain and hurt. He is not a passive onlooker. In our lowest moments, He stays. Because of what He has done on the cross, we have victory over sin and death—including offense, unforgiveness, and bitterness.

Jesus loves both the offended and the offender, because He loves the Church. He called the Church His bride. In His grace and love, Jesus chose to stay and die for each of our sins. His grace is sufficient in our weakness, in our worst.

It’s okay to feel hurt, but it is only the Holy Spirit that can bring true healing. Remember that grieving for that wound or pain is normal. However, when we choose to follow the pain and live with bitterness, we’ll miss out on the fullness of relationships He has gifted us with.

3. Invite them to relational discipleship.

Pointing others to Jesus Christ is only possible through relationships that are centered on Him. Invite your friend back to relational discipleship—a safe space where they can express their pain and wounds and be continually pointed back to God and His word, where they can find unconditional love, acceptance, and healing. 

Discipleship is more than just a mandate. It is a lifetime of following Christ and communing with others who follow Him. It is through discipleship that we— the Church — reflect God’s character to the world, imperfect as each of us are. 

There will be conflicts in every relationship. It’s a guarantee. A lot of times, there will be disappointment and miscommunication, but we must let the relationship win.

The Church is full of broken people whose only hope for wholeness is in Jesus Christ. Relational discipleship helps us move an inch closer to a future hope without pain and suffering. 

Relationships are complicated and can sometimes get messy, but it’s possible to overcome the pain and hurt we cause each other only by the grace of God. 

It may be hard to forget the offense or overcome relational breaks, but the good news is freedom from the pain, the shame, and the bitterness can be found in Christ.