The Three Temptations of Isolation

Isolation is often very attractive, and it is on the rise with no signs of slowing down. Over 20 years ago, Robert Putnam wrote a landmark article that became a book about the rise of isolation in America. He called the book Bowling Alone because his research revealed that bowling leagues and other opportunities for connection and relationships were declining. Yet bowling was not declining. In fact, the number of bowlers increased over a twenty-year period of time while the number of people in bowling leagues greatly decreased. Instead of bowling in community, people were bowling alone. Putnam wisely warned that the move toward isolation would ultimately hurt people and communities.

This was before restaurant booths filled with people staring at their phones instead of connecting with each other and before binge watching on Netflix. The move to isolation is only easier and easier, and thus more common. Yet it remains destructive. Isolation pulls us away from encouragement and from accountability.

Leaders are the ones who encourage community, who want their teams to work together well and support and encourage one another. Ministry leaders preach on the importance of biblical community. Yet leaders, the ones rightly warning against isolation, can easily be lured into isolation for three reasons:

1. No new burdens

Leading in a world that is filled with struggles and brokenness is burdensome, so there is a constant temptation to run away from it all. When overwhelmed with the burdens of today, avoiding people gives the perception that no more burdens are added.

2. No new wounds

We can easily reason that being alone can help us avoid pain and pressure and people that cause both. Though community is what heals, we can reason that isolation will hurt less.

3. No more betrayal

The longer you lead, the more likely you will be betrayed by someone you trust. When betrayed and hurting, being vulnerable in community feels dangerous and being alone feels safe.

Burdens, wounds, and betrayal are real and they make community and vulnerability risky. We will be hurt. We will be let down. Community is risky. But isolation is more so. Community is where we find encouragement and are protected from our hearts being hardened by sin’s deceit (Hebrews 3:13).

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Eric Geiger

Eric Geiger serves as the Vice President of the Church Resource Division at LifeWay Christian Resources. Eric received his doctorate in leadership and church ministry from Southern Seminary. He is also a teaching pastor and a frequent speaker and consultant on church mission and strategy. Eric authored or co-authored several books including the best selling church leadership book, Simple Church. Eric is married to Kaye, and they have two daughters: Eden and Evie. During his free time, Eric enjoys dating his wife, playing with his daughters, and shooting basketball.

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I like it Mac and do agree with your opinions on the matter. Thanks much
— winston
In this era, we have the opportunity of professional church staff today who utilize their gifting to shape the image and atmosphere of the church organization. But the 100% real impact on the church visitors is genuine evidence of changed lives by the gospel and the active growing discipleship (just as it was in the first century church). One demonstration is financially rich believers ministering equally together with poor believers (how odd, and incredibly miraculous; all humble and bow at the foot of the cross.). It is the awesome contrast of church members vocations, race, gender, age, maturity, gifting, humility that demonstrates to visitors "there is a Spirit in the place". That first-time guest list of 10 are "physical excuses", not spiritual excuses. Those don't tell the story. The condition of facilities and publicly greeting people have zero to do with it. The power of God in and through believers lives dedicated to impact other people with their relationship bridge-building of acceptance of the lost around them. Empowered believers are infectious, loving, helpful, giving, self-less, dynamic, compelling, bold, Christ-filled. As I have been in many church settings domestically and internationally, the facilities can be poor, and yet the fellowship can still be rich. We need to operate with first church humility. People come to Christ on His terms, not on our human abilities of hospitality. A huge catastrophe in a community, disaster relief brings lots of people into churches – many come to the church in those terrible conditions no matter the physical condition of the local church. Off the condition of facility, and onto the condition of God's people (living stones).... and everything else will grow.... and the other physical issues will be corrected by the staff.
— Russ Wright
"While I understand the intent behind this phrase" Expound please. What do you understand to be the intent behind that phrase?
— Ken

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