Reasons? He has many. As he passes several churches during his drive to the park for his Sunday run, he enjoys his solitude. In fact, he reflects on how he can connect with God just as easily—if not more so—on his own. But deep layers of pain, a multitude of rehearsed excuses, and complicated explanations mask a simple reality: Church has not been a safe place for him.

Some people, when offended, “sharpen their tongues like swords and aim their bitter words like arrows” (Psalm 64:3). But just as dangerous are those who attempt to remedy festering wounds with relational distance (Proverbs 18:19). Reaching those disconnected from the church requires an awareness of at least two exit doors: buried conflict and unmet expectations.

Unity with other believers in Jesus doesn’t mean conformity, and leaving conflict unaddressed only guarantees friction. Likewise, requiring agreement on nonessentials of the faith is nothing more than self-centered thinking, especially for a kingdom made of many tribes and many nations (Micah 4:2).

Equally as destructive is the mindset that says to the church, “You are here for me.” A temptation for those both inside and outside the church walls, this view can lead to cliques and consumer-like engagement. Instead, we’re called to “not neglect our meeting together . . . but encourage one another” (Hebrews 10:25).

God came close to us that we might connect with Him and to those He holds dear: His bride, the church (Hebrews 10:23-24). Ultimately, we can’t blame others if we choose distance. May we participate in God’s “life-giving way” as we follow the leading of the Holy Spirit—drawing close to Him and to other believers in Jesus (Hebrews 10:20,22,25).

NLT 365-day reading plan passage for today: Mark 7:1-37