Ghosting, we’ve all experienced it at one time or another. It’s bad enough when it happens with a supposed friend or love interest. It’s even worse when it happens in church. Ghosting is when two people seem to have a relationship on some level deeper than mere acquaintance, and one person seems to vanish. There are no goodbyes, no replies to communication attempts, and no closure.
When it comes to church, relationships are meant to be more meaningful. Jesus talked about how true family is more than flesh and blood. It’s about our relationship with him and with each other through him. Whoever we are and wherever we come from, if we have Jesus, we have the Holy Spirit. We have God-in-us who unite us with others on a plane beyond what we can see. We are family bonded together into eternity.
This is why the Bible commands our unity as followers of Jesus. Even if we disagree about things that aren’t Gospel-essential (which is less than some people think, see: 1 Corinthians 15:1-11), we are to be brothers and sisters who treat each other with grace, love, kindness, and the benefit of the doubt. This is why betrayal in the church is so painful and tragic at any level and why we must not sweep sin under the rug.
These truths cause us to hurt so much when someone ghosts us in church. This could be someone in our small group who we thought cared deeply about us who pushed us aside. This could be the church leader who takes his family and leaves without ever saying a word about it to the pastor. This could be a church member who seemed faithful and just vanished.
(Note: In this, I’m not criticizing those who have been hurt by abusive members or leaders and have felt the way to heal is to put as much distance between themselves and the toxicity. The criticism here is for those who leave without good reason and in their leaving hurt others.)
Paul experienced a form of this in his life, as he told Timothy, “You know that all those in the province of Asia have deserted me, including Phygelus and Hermogenes” (2 Timothy 1:15). We don’t know everything Paul felt in response to this betrayal, but it stung enough for him to mention them to Timothy by name.
Yet, in the very next verse, Paul pivots to a man who proved to be a dear friend and brother amid trial. Onesiphorus was a blessing to Paul, and on a trip to Rome, the man even searched high and low until he found the apostle to spend a moment with Paul. N. T. Wright refers to friends such as Onesiphorus as “soul friends” (1&2 Timothy and Titus: 12 Studies for Individuals and Groups, IVPConenct, 2009). I think that’s a good description—a friend who knows you to the very depths and loves you deeply.
Ghosting happens, making the need for deep, lasting friendships even more important. We need more Onesiphoruses and Barnabases (sons of encouragement) in the church. We need those friends who stick closer than a brother or sister, those friends who can speak honestly to us about the good and bad in our lives while also encouraging us in Jesus. We need those friends we can rely on, friends who go out of the way to make time for us.
One way to develop such friendships is by being that kind of friend to others.
I am an introvert to the bones. I prefer a good book to almost any social occasion. Being alone rarely bothers me. Yet, I have other men in my life who we mutually count as among the best of friends. Most of these guys wouldn’t be a part of my life if I hadn’t stepped away from my books and made an effort to know them. (And, yes, there’s a risk here. I’ve been hurt by others, betrayed with gossip, and ghosted too. Bearing your soul to another always carries a risk, but you trust that Jesus is better.)
Care about others. Get to know them, and let them get to know you. Pray for them and with them. Share about what Jesus is doing in your life and ask what Jesus is doing in theirs. Be a friend. Be an Onesiphorus. And if you’ve been Phygelus and Hermogenes, if you have been the Ghost, then repent, make amends, and seek to bring some healing to the relationship you left.
Mike Bergman is the pastor of a very normative church in small-town America. He is passionate about the weather, his family, foster care, and Jesus.
Photo by Tim Foster on Unsplash