But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into Him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love. – Ephesians 4:15-16
“Ghosting” the Body of Christ
Eli Wiesel said “The opposite of love isn’t hate, it’s indifference.” I suspect that indifference is often not so much a conscious decision that someone else doesn’t matter, as much as it is not taking into consideration the impact of our actions and words on others.
The term “ghosting” has crept into wider use in the past years. Originally a term used in dating when the other person suddenly “disappeared” with no communication or explanation, ghosting has become a common response in many spheres of life, from the workplace to friendships to church. News articles abound (including Bloomburg and USA Today) of ghosting in the workplace – people not showing up to jobs after accepting them, blowing off interviews, or simply disappearing from the workplace with no notice.
Ghosting is an issue of communication, emotional maturity, and lack of value for the other person or group. It is the practice of avoiding something potentially painful or conflictual by simply disappearing. Psychology Today, in an article published in November of 2015, writes that sometimes people “ghost” because they weren’t able to figure out their own feelings, or because it felt like the easiest way out.
We know that ghosting also happens in the church (all churches), and that it hurts. We invest time and care into others, we make ourselves vulnerable, and when that connection is severed without explanation, opportunity for closure, or recognition of the value we have seen in one another, it causes tremendous pain. Often, some people may know why a person has disconnected, but this too places a burden on those “in the know” to either protect confidentiality, or be the ones left behind to explain the absent person’s behavior. Many will never hear the reason, and will simply grieve and wonder. Worse, over time, the pain of ghosting can affect the willingness and ability to enter into the kind of connections where we are vulnerable. Avoiding pain or conflict in unhealthy ways just leads to more pain down the road.
But there’s a lower level of ghosting that isn’t about leaving the church, but about communicating, and this one, believe it or not, can be even more damaging to the health of the church. That’s the kind of ghosting where we just don’t respond back to attempts to communicate. Emails go unanswered. Voice mail never returned. Texts or Messages never replied to.
On one level, it’s understandable – we’re surrounded by ways in which people can attempt to communicate with us, and it can be overwhelming, particularly when we take on the assumption that if someone doesn’t reply immediately, there’s something wrong. That’s not what I’m referring to here; this is about not ever getting around to responding when people try to reach out and communicate.
Healthy communication is one of the core channels of demonstrating Christ-like love to others, and that’s a reality whether we’re talking about our families, our workplaces or schools, or within the church.
Along with leaders and volunteers, I’ve seen and experienced personally the frustration and pain caused by this kind of quasi-ghosting within the church in the process of seeking feedback and sharing information. Leaders I’ve spoken with have shared that even a “no thanks, I’m not interested” would be a helpful way of knowing that it’s ok to stop, refine or reframe what we’re doing.
When Paul writes about “speaking the truth in love”, he’s doing so in the context of growing into maturity together as followers of Jesus. It’s a commitment to living out our identity together as the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:12-13). It means finding ways of expressing what we’re thinking and feeling to one another, even if they cause some discomfort, while holding on to our love for one another and for Christ, who joins us together into one body. In other words, it’s trusting that what (Who) holds us together is stronger than the things we inevitably will need to work through.
The biggest problem with ghosting is that it doesn’t allow that opportunity to grow, learn or change things that need to change. We’re left guessing. Instead, may our words and actions reflect Jesus’ call to build one another up, honoring the connections we share.
Blessings on the Journey,