4 Keys to Relating to People Who Leave the Church
Posted by May 18, 2017on
Chances are we all know people who have left the Church. How can we have a relationship with people who have left the truth? Should we associate with them?
We know that experiencing loss is always difficult, especially losing someone you care about to a fatal accident or illness. But do we underestimate the trauma of losing someone to the world? How should we relate to them?
Key #1: Don’t assume you understand why someone left
One thing is for sure when it comes to the subject of people leaving the Church: Not everyone leaves for the same reasons.
People are different, and to try to categorize everyone who leaves the Church under one umbrella would be a mistake. We should not assume we know the reason for someone’s sudden absence from church services.
This is a big key to relating to people who have left the Church. They do not want to be treated as though you have their situation all figured out. Learn what you can about them without trying to pry. Understanding whether a person is bitter toward the Church or just slipped away is important.
Key #2: Who is being influenced?
Consider: Who is being an example to whom?
This is not only important to relationships outside the Church but also to relationships inside the Church! Discerning the direction of influence can prove to be helpful in evaluating a relationship to see if it squares with what God wants. In Luke 14:26 Jesus states, “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate [love less in comparison] his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple.”
If we truly are to follow Christ, we must compare every relationship we have with our relationship with Christ. Our relationship with God is No. 1! We should avoid any other relationship that harms (or could harm) our spiritual lives. So when someone leaves the Church, we must closely evaluate what kind of influence he or she will have on us.
Key #3: Be willing to accept those who return
The third key is to understand your duty to welcome the lost sheep who return. Luke 15 contains the parable of the prodigal son. In the account the son requested from his father the inheritance that fell to him. After squandering what he received and falling into a sinful lifestyle, he had to “come to himself” and repent (Luke 15:17). When he returned and repented, his father gladly received him and celebrated his return.
As you read on in the account, the man’s other son was not happy at all. He had just learned that his brother had repented, yet his thoughts were on the injustice done to him. He was very selfish in his approach!
This should not be our approach. When people stray and later return to the Church, we should be joyful. We should be there for those who are lost. Why would a person not hope for the return of the lost sheep?
As a Christian, our duty is to be a positive example both to those who have left the Church and to those within the Church (Matthew 5:14). Of course, if they are hostile or in a bad attitude, we may be forced to completely disassociate with them for a time.
Key #4: Speak to a minister
It is part of the purpose of the ministry to give counsel in difficult situations. We need to use their expertise and guidance.
When dealing with those who have left the Church, it is important to realize the seriousness of the situation. You do not want to come across as arrogant or judgmental to those outside the Church. You want to be kind, approachable and understanding, but you don’t want to be negatively influenced.
Speaking to a minister and explaining the situation will not only give you guidance in how to approach that person, but will also help in the difficult decision of whether to continue that relationship or not.
Represent God in all relationships
Whether with family, friends or strangers, we all have relationships with people outside the Church, and many of us know people who have left the Church. We have a duty to determine if that relationship is one that will affect our spiritual health. Then we must understand what that relationship should look like.
We are to act in such a way that we accurately represent God the Father and Jesus Christ! Because we represent God, we must strive to do our part as lights to those outside the Church, having the hope that they will one day return to God’s truth.