Welcome to the Invisible Church

Listen to Nichole read her piece by clicking below:

“The best church conversations,” she messaged,

“happen in the halls—while the sermon’s going on.”

I smiled as this surfaced in a text thread with Sarah Guerrero (watch for her piece later this month).

She’s not wrong.

This isn’t to discount the “goings on” inside. Worship leaders, sermon sayers, AV players—your blood, sweat, and tears are a sacred offering. (Nicole T. Walters: You’re preaching this week. Forgive me!)

But, maybe, even you agree.

That’s where it happened for me, anyway: In a four-way foyer conversation that unveiled what was hiding in plain sight. There in the hallways, I met the Invisible Church.

There in the hallways, I met the Invisible Church.

My friend and I played hooky from the service, and sank into oversized couches planted right outside the sanctuary. You know them. The ones that cradle 20 years of dust, visitor cards scribbled over with stick bodies, and remnants of Sunday school crafts. So vast, are they, that you think twice before descending into their depths. But we risked it, just so we could sit in a solitary space.

The brick wall separating us from the inside was as much a metaphorical barrier as it was a literal one. Years ago, hard felt and heartfelt differences in Biblical interpretation caused collision and division in our congregation. There were casualties and loss. My friend still smarted from the whiplash of it all.  I could see it in her eyes.

Why do we turn away when our brother is bleeding?

Why do we build the wall and then call it freedom?

If we’re free
Tell me why
I can’t look in my brother’s eye?
-From the Broadway musical, Hadestown.

The couch coughed up another raisin. I brushed it aside as we chatted over the sermon’s hum. Before we knew it, another woman sunk in bedside us. My friends—and especially my husband—will testify that I’m seldom short on words. But this time was different.

A casual “How are you?” wouldn’t do.

Not for her.

Not for this woman who waited at her husband’s bedside for years. His disease took it’s time—but no prisoners. Even as she mourned his death, she struggled to embrace a new life that meant caring for her disabled son alone.

She deserved more than that.

More than

“Bless your heart.”

or

“I don’t know how you do it!”

or

“God must have a greater plan.”

No random verses wielded out of context or platitudes would do. So, we sat instead. Leaned in, listened, and looked as she spoke of things we could barely fathom.

We almost missed the other woman—paused at the sanctuary door, looking back at us as she grasped its bronze handle.

Almost.

“My marriage is hanging by a thread,” she answered to the “How’s it going?” we lobbed at her.

It fell like a ton of bricks in front of us—as if the foyer wall had instantly crumbled to the ground. Like Jericho only without the fanfare. So, we held her words and her gaze for a few moments. Then she tiptoed over the ruble and slipped silently back to her sanctuary seat.

We’d practically missed her. And the woman that came before. And each other. Card-carrying-members, all, of the Invisible Church.

***

 “Jesus turned and saw her. ‘Take heart, daughter,’ he said, ‘your faith has healed you.’ And the woman was healed at that moment.”

Matthew 9:22

***

“The God Who Sees”1

She bled for over a decade. In desperation she reached out to Jesus. “If I only touch his cloak,” she thought, “I will be healed.”

She wasn’t wrong.

In an instant, He delivered her from it all. It’s not surprising that we linger on the beauty of this moment, on Jesus’ compassion, His healing power, and the woman’s bold, brash faith.

But let’s not brush by the beginning of this story:

“Jesus turned,” Matthew writes,

“and saw her.”

He saw her. Not just another face in the crowd pressing in on Him, but a broken, and beloved image-bearer of Himself.  It wasn’t the first time Jesus lifted His eyes to the seemingly unseen. It certainly wasn’t—and isn’t—the last.

Google it.

Here are just a few:

“Some men brought to him a paralyzed man, lying on a mat,” Mathew reports. “When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the man, ‘Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.’” (Matthew 9:2)

Just a few verses later, Mathew adds his own life-changing encounter with his Lord: “As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. ‘Follow me,’ he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him.” (Matthew 9:9)

The other Gospels apply similar brushstrokes that paint a seeing Savior:

In Mark, Jesus saw the “sheep without a shepherd” and then fed the hungry crowds on the banks of Galilee’s sea. Then he feed more than 5,000 of them with 5 loaves and 2 fish. (Mark 6:34)

Luke tells us how Jesus saw a crippled woman in the temple; bent over and unable to straighten herself until He healed her on that Sabbath day. (Luke 13:10-13) Likewise, He saw the poor widow’s offering at the temple treasury—and turned giving on its head. (Luke 21:1-3)

The Apostle John, too, remembers the God who sees:

How Jesus saw the blind man who couldn’t see Him back until that day. (John 9:1-5)

How He saw Mary weeping for her dead brother, wept too, and then brought him back to life. (John 11:33-35)

How, hanging from the cross, Jesus saw his mother and arranged for her care. (John 19:25-27)

And the list goes on.

From roadsides, boat hulls, and a well to pool sides and temple courtyards, even as he hung on a cross— Jesus saw them: tax collectors, adulteresses, the disease-ridden, demon-possessed, vulnerable, hungry, and poor. Most lived on the fringes of society’s fabric. All were image-bearers of a King.

The King saw them, and they were never the same.

***

As the sermon ended, so did our hallway conversations.

We didn’t agree—my friend and I—when it all came down years ago. Like the brick wall that separated the foyer from the sanctuary, we stood on opposite sides of a disputed doctrine.

But not seeing eye to eye with someone doesn’t mean you can’t see them.

Walls—as Joshua and Rahab will tell you—don’t stand forever. Freedom often rises from their rubble, if we will only look.

Next to you, pew-side or couch-side, are members of the Invisible Church:

The man who sat beside his wife for twenty years, and suddenly sits alone.

The depressed college student who barely made it out of bed.

The couple who, after Covid, is running out of reasons to return.

The women who hears the music of a baby’s coos in the row behind her, and wonders if she will ever hear her own sing.

The autistic grade-schooler who winces when the praise chorus makes her ears ring.

Lord Jesus, will you lift the veil

so that we can see them, too?

Your Church in all of its glory.

And may we never be the same.

 

1 Genesis 16:13

Header Image: Josh Applegate on Unsplash.

Background Music: Zakhar Valaha from Pixabay.

Nichole Woo
Latest posts by Nichole Woo (see all)

8 thoughts on “Welcome to the Invisible Church

  1. Wonderful words and thought imperfect and too proud image-bearers like me who complicate relationships with our pride and perfectionism.

    • Russ – thank you for spending time here. It’s a journey that I’m on, too. Grateful we have a Savior that course corrects us with His love. Keep on, brother.

    • Thank you for this beautiful space you created that has allowed us to see each other and Jesus in deeper ways. Thank you for being faithful to His call on your life. We will never be the same because of it.

  2. I love this idea of a safety net around the edges of church, a circle of women who might catch the cries of the lost and broken who somehow didn’t have their voices heard or needs met in the inner sanctuary somehow, who drifted out. A place for the crushed raisins to sit together and pray! Thank you Nikki. I love how our pieces both speak of redeeming the broken.

    • Yes, Keren, yes! I am so thankful for your voice and for your willingness to reveal your heart in this space. You words inspire me and so does your life. Lord Jesus, I know you see us. May we ever place our hope in you – who makes all things new.

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