“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him. . .” – Luke 15:20
If you’ve been in church very long, you’ve probably seen more than one person leave your fellowship. And I don’t meant they left your church in order to go to another church, which happens a lot, but they simply stopped going to church completely.
What are you supposed to do when people leave and stop attending church? Not just your church, but any church? Do you call them up and ask them why? Do you quote Hebrews 10:25 at them as a proof text that we are not to “give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing”? Do you go to their house on Sunday morning and force them to go to church with a gun in one hand and a Bible in the other?
In Luke 15, often called the “Lost Chapter” because of all the things that get lost, we find some interesting reactions to those lost items. The shepherd left ninety-nine sheep to search for the one that was lost, and the woman lit a lamp and cleaned house to find the lost coin. However, we don’t read about the father leaving home to go find the son. Instead, we simply find the father waiting at home, anticipating the day the son would return, for he noticed his son “while he was still a long way off.”
Why didn’t the father go after the son? The shepherd and the woman both search for their lost items, but the father stays and home and waits. Why? Because the sheep and the coin were ignorant of being lost, while the son, “when he came to his senses” (Luke 15:17), knew the way home. This is why I don’t chase Christians: they know the way home.
As you read the Scriptures, you might find it interesting the people Jesus didn’t chase. He didn’t chase after the rich young man who couldn’t take Jesus at His word (Matt. 19:22). He never ran him down and said, “Well, let’s talk this over and see if you’ll come back.” Jesus never tried to talk Judas out of betraying Him or Peter out of denying Him. Then there is the multitude that walked out on Jesus in John 6:66, and all Jesus did was look at the Twelve and say, “You do not want to leave me too, do you?” (6:67).
Why is it, then, that we tend to worry and wring our hands over people who have left our fellowship? No one leaves by accident. Everyone leaves by choice, and I choose to honor that choice.
This doesn’t mean I no longer talk with those who have left our fellowship. I’ve had some great conversations with those who left, and I still do. I have lunch with people who no longer fellowship anywhere and mowed the lawn of a widow who left our fellowship and joined another. I just don’t chase them and invite them back, especially if they’ve found another fellowship. But even if they’re sitting at home on Sunday and watching football, I still don’t invite them to church. They are children of the Father, and they know the way home.
Because I don’t chase them, they feel free to be themselves in my presence. They know I’m not looking to pad the numbers at church. They know I respect their decisions without agreeing with it. I’m responsible to them, I’m not responsible for them. They know they are always welcome to fellowship with us any time they want. They know they are free to pursue God at their own pace, and I’m free from racking my brain trying to figure out how to keep everyone safe and happy in church. Even Jesus lost one out of twelve, so why shouldn’t I?
I don’t chase Christians who have left the church, but that doesn’t stop me from looking for them from a long way off. And when they do return, there is always time to have one more party.
Jim I like this article very much and agree with it 100%. Too many times we chase and are chased by someone only to start avoiding them and everything else. I believe with all my heart that as long as they know they are welcome back let the Lord and his word do their job. Sometimes the hardest thing for us to do is turn things over to God and let him handle it.
Yes Andy. They are God’s people. My job is to welcome them home. Thanks.
Loved this article too. I think of how the Lord must feel waiting to have a rebelling child return to Him. When I see Him as truly our Father, I can so relate by imagining how I would feel as a parent and my child, whom I love so much no matter what, returned to me after walking away.