FROM THE PASTOR
on leaving church (to help, not hinder)
A question that plagues me from time to time (as a pastor) comes from worshippers who often wonder why their child, son, daughter, or family member do not go to worship anymore; especially when they were ‘raised’ in the church. What sometimes plagues me even more is that there really is no answer that can suffice. As it gets closer to Christmas, one often thinks the numbers in church around this time of year swell, generally speaking, they do, but numbers don’t mean squat. Numbers don’t reflect the reason for a person being in church, or not going to church whether that be Christmas, Easter, or not. So, I write this that it may help, not hinder the question you may have grappled with too, that being: why does my loved on not worship anymore? And more generally, why are so many leaving church.
As you and I know there no easy answer to this. Our Christian faith-life is both simple and complex; the issues surrounding a person not worshipping are complex; some people feel marginalized; in other words, they feel as though, they simply don’t fit in. Someone coined the phrase there are the “Dones” and the “Nones”; the attitude that says, “I’m done away with church”, and if you dig deeper, they’ve also done away with this or that, or some other thing too. In other words, the “Dones” are the ones who have simply had enough, and for whatever reason have moved on – this does not mean a person nolonger believes. When asked on a Census form like we had recently, there is a question asking a person what religion, or Christian denomination are you? And the check box choice in “none”, they prefer not to say for whatever reason, again this does not indicate a person’s belief.
Other reasons for a loved one not worshipping, or not going to church, are many and complex, some people are indifferent, meaning they are just that; indifferent to one thing or another not just their Christian faith. People don’t go to church, or are leaving the church for all kinds of reasons; but what does that in fact mean? Are they leaving Jesus? Or are they leaving the building, or because they picked up the term, the church is too “institutionalised”. Has the person fallen away, intending to “get back into it one day”? I’m still working through the following myself: what does, “I’m spiritual, but not religious” really mean? However, there is a whole myriad of reasons and I haven’t even touched on being hurt by another, left because they are frustrated and disillusioned? Left in anger? Other? Here’s a couple of things we can reflect on when a loved one has been away for some time, or has left altogether and my aim here is to bring healing and hope:
Forgiveness – we see the best and worst in each other; whether that be in our church family or your own family, etc. Forgiveness is the heart of our Christian faith – God forgives us through Christ’s sacrifice – remind yourself and others what Jesus has done for them, and you.
Patience – remember the story of the Two Prodigal Sons? Both strayed. Both were in need of love and forgiveness. Standby them with patience, forgiveness, love, believing and praying for the ones who you love.
Prayer – nothing can happen without prayer. Constant prayer. Pray about the concerns you have for your loved one. Pray for the Holy Spirit to prepare the soil of their hearts. Prayer for your own faith to be like salt and light toward them. Pray for them coming to faith. Pray for their forgiveness and your forgiveness. So, what prayer does is really handing your loved one over to God. In prayer be honest to God, and tell God how you feel toward your loved one who at the moment doesn’t share your faith, or practice it. God grieves too you know. God is a grieving parent, who grieves over his lost children. It breaks God’s heart to see a person walk away. Name your loved one in your prayer.
Watch – Yourself. Yes yourself, not them. Look after and watch your own faith – life. Make sure you are living in the light of Christ, and reflect that light yourself. The best way to watch your own faith life, is to live by Grace. How can you reflect Christ’s light, unless you are living in the light? Live in God’s forgiveness each day; not in fear and guilt. If you are hard on yourself and if you are hard on others around you, it won’t be much of a witness to God’s grace will it now?
However, if you live by the grace that you have in your baptism, that can stand as a powerful witness to God’s forgiveness and unconditional love; plus, the fact that it shows how we can make a new start; all because of Jesus. Don’t give up your own life of worship, otherwise what would this reflect? If you always COMPLAIN about the church, what impression could that leave a person who has left the church? Draw them closer to Christ, by painting the church as a bunch of saved sinners. Bring them to God in prayer in church if they don’t come along to church.
Humble expectation. I think this one says a lot and it’s one that I keep coming back to, and that is, meet a person where they are at, not where you’d like them to be! In other words, try and understand; get in their shoes so to speak. Explore their questions, not yours! What are the obstacles and hinderances to believing and living the Christian faith? Keep the door open, enter a faith conversation, from a position of humility not superiority.
Love. Again, and again. The heart of our faith (as forgiveness) is the love of God that moved to give up his one and only Son to die for us. God does not force; God loves and wants a person to overcome that resistance. God offers love to everyone in Jesus, but gives freedom to reject that love; as difficult as it is, rejection, is a cross we may have to bear for Christ. Our faith is lived out not for self but for others, to win another over; we are here to share the love of Christ with others; but first they need to see the love of Christ, in you. There is nothing new here when I say love expects nothing in return; it has no strings attached a gift from God to you to give to others.
Dear friends, there is no quick fix solution as to why people are leaving the church, or why your loved one may not be so passionate about the Christian faith as you. This devotion too is not meant to be a result-based message, or a kind of problem – solution approach. It is something that we grapple with from time to time, this side of heaven.
We live by grace; the grace shown to us, and to the world, by God our Heavenly Father, in the mercy of Jesus Christ, at the manger in Bethlehem, at the cross of Calvary, and the empty tomb, who promises to be with us right to the very end.
God bless you this Christmas and beyond.