There is perhaps nothing as discouraging as watching men and women walk away from the faith they once claimed. Jesus was betrayed by Judas. Paul was wounded by Demus. And, we are hurt by those whom we once consider our spiritual sisters and brothers.
Why Do People Leave The Church?
As a preschool and children’s pastor, I have read countless studies examining why people leave church. A host of reasons are offered to explain the exit of once faithful kids, youth, and adults, ranging from poor teaching to lack of organizational vision. I have even weighed into the discussion with several blogs: Sunday School is Broken?, Successful Failures, and Don’t Be Kid Focused. And while it’s good and healthy for us and for our churches to constantly evaluate what we are doing and what we are saying, we don’t have to employ a church strategist to figure our why people walk away from the gospel. The scriptures clearly tell us that men and women walk away from the people of God because they are unredeemed. Ultimately, the leave not because of our failure. They leave because of their failure to embrace the gospel.
In I John 2:19-20, we read
They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.
The scriptures are very clear. People are known by their actions. While actions do not save, they reveal the loves and desires of the heart. Those who do not love God will be greedy, will be overly focused on money, will lack self-control (esp. sexually,) will constantly stir up drama, and will be prideful, boasting in their goodness (2 Timothy 3:1-5). They may appear godly, showing up to church, serving on mission teams, and occasionally tithing, but their day-to-day actions reveal that they serve a master other than Jesus. As I John 2:4,6 says, “Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him…whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walled.” And when people leave the faith, they are have not taken a new path. They have simply revealed what path they have been on all along. Walking away from the faith is simply the most demonstrative step they can take. And now, they’ve taken it.
So what do we do? How do we respond to those who walk away?
What Do We Do?
We grieve, we rejoice, we love, and we pray.
First, we grieve. We mourn the fact that a soul is lost an under judgement. Sin is death. We should desire for all to be free from its damming power.
Next, we rejoice. Christ came to save sinners. Only those who realize that they are not saved and can realize that they need a savior. I would rather have a man leave the church, knowing he does not love Jesus than sit in the pew everyday thinking himself saved while he was speeding off to hell. Jesus came to save the sick and the hurting. The man who knows he is not saved is closer to this category, than the religious Pharisees who think their Sunday school pin impresses God.
Third, we loving present the gospel. If Mathew 18 makes anything clear, it is this: we are to patiently love those in sin. We are to go to them, we are to care for them, we are to tell them the gospel over and over again, hoping that they will believe.
And lastly, we pray. When people walk away from the gospel, things are gloomy. But while it is impossible for us to change people and impossible for us to reason them back to Jesus, nothing is impossible with God. He can and does often save the most unsavable persons. Pray.
While it is not surprising, it is distressing to watch people walk away from Jesus. But it is never hopeless.
Have you seen a friend leave the faith? How did you and/or your church handle it?