There’s a phenomenon in Christian communities that seems very disturbing, even if people think they’re doing it for the right reason: it’s called ghosting.
Over at the his blog, Benjamin L. Corey describes ghosting as the “destructive Christian practice we don’t talk about.”
While he points out that “ghosting” can happen in any kind of social group, he suggests that Christians have “perfected” it. Here’s how he defines it:
…Ghosting is when someone abruptly ends a friendship with limited or no explanation, and when they proceed to quickly disappear from your life.
Sometimes, ghosting happens, as in Corey’s case, when one challenges the beliefs of others and they react by shunning you rather than trying to have real, level-headed discussions. Sometimes, it can happen when you change churches and find that all of the “friends” you thought you had at your last church suddenly disappear.
In any case, that’s not how “friends” treat each other.
Is there a Biblical reason to justify ghosting?
I suppose that in a sense, one could argue that there are times when ghosting someone within a church context might actually have some Biblical instruction behind it.
In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul warns against associating with anyone who is “guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler.” You should not even eat with that person, he says.
But often there’s not that kind of “evil” involved in the person who winds up being deserted.
In fact, I’ve always believed that from a ministry standpoint, it makes absolutely no sense. Look at it this way: by definition, all of us are imperfect. One of the basic tenets of Christianity, after all, is that we all sin, even the Godliest among us, and but for the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, we would all be doomed to the sentence of our various sins, minor and major for all eternity. But because Christ was willing to die on a cross to absolve all of us who confess our sins and accept Him as our savior, we are granted the gift of grace.
That’s the most basic nutshell of Christ’s sacrifice and its impact on our life.
But unless we’re confessing our sins every second, we all, at different points along our own personal timelines, are “unclean” by sin.
If pastors openly practiced ghosting those who had sinned (and presumably had not repented), they’d either have to set up a repentance stand right outside the door of their church, or they wouldn’t let people in to begin with. (And there’s a decent chance that those they did let in might have to repent at least once before they left.)
Not all ghosting is an intentional act of cruelty.
A few years back, I belonged to a church where I was more involved than I’d ever been before. There’s no good to be served by going into details about why that changed, other than to say a significant part of the change was not by my choice: decisions were made for me (and without me) that I happened to disagree with.
When I ended up pulling back from being involved, then ultimately leaving a few weeks later after finding that attending was beginning to feel like a reminder of what I perceived as a rather significant slight, all of the friends I’d had at the church ultimately vanished. I still hear from a handful of them once in a while, and I freely acknowledge that as an introvert to the Nth degree, I found it very difficult to meet up with them very often outside of church. Still, if someone is only a friend or is only a valued member of a family when they happen to be in the room, they’re neither a friend or a valued member of a family.
In my case, the “ghosting” I felt wasn’t necessarily intentional. Everyone has their priorities and demands on their time. We can’t expect everyone in our circles to keep track of everyone else in the same circles. I did a lousy job of keeping up with them as well, truth be told, but at the same time, I felt I was the one who was, to one degree or another, pushed away.
For everything there is a season.
In a recent Facebook post, pastor Chris Kratzer provided an important reminder that there’s such a thing as a “one and done” kind of person.
“The one time you say something they don’t like, do something they don’t approve, confront them with an issue, or disappoint them in some way, they are essentially ‘done’ with you,” he wrote. “All it takes is one time rubbing them the wrong way for whatever reason, and all bets are off and significant relational disconnect ensues. Even if you keep pursuing them for resolution, clarity and healing usually never results.”
Kratzer said the relationships involved can be ones you thought were deep, “but in reality were disposable.”
I’m blessed to have some very close friends who are in the for-a-lifetime category.
Of the other two types, from a Christian perspective, the “friends for a reason” come into our lives to help us achieve some kind of specific goal or goals; the “friends for a season” are in our lives for only a finite amount of time. I’ve had plenty of the latter, even when I’ve made the mistake of assuming those friends would be of the “for a lifetime” category.
It’s always difficult to feel that you’ve lost friends. It’s even more difficult when you realize you are suddenly without close relationships that formed inside and through your church community.
But it’s important to remember that not all of the people you feel closeness to will stay forever. That’s true of everyone, not just believers.
In the grand scheme of things, I suppose that’s largely how the world is supposed to work.
If you’ve experienced ghosting in a Christian setting, you know what that pain feels like. If you’re experiencing it now, remind yourself that the people who you feel have abandoned you might just have been the kind of friends who were only ever meant to be of the temporary variety.
It may have nothing to do with you. When you can accept that, it’s a lot easier to take the pleasant memories with you and allow yourself to get past the pain of the broken relationships.
Have you ever experienced ghosting, whether in a church community or in other social circles? How did you get past it?
Patrick is a Christian with more than 26 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.