We’re probably familiar with this growing trend right now: church leavers. Many are leaving churches nowadays for various reasons. Sadly many in the church don’t know how to deal with it.
How do we respond to it?
Church leavers matter to God, period. There are some who, sadly, do the wrong things when someone leaves the church. Here are some of them, as I’ve seen, heard of, and read about:
• Speaking ill of church leavers;
• Labelling church leavers (or those who transfer to another church) with names such as “church hopper” or “backslider;”
• Not following them up or asking why they left.
These, and many other practices, are wrong. Anybody who’s ever been a real Christian and has left the church for some reason matters to God. Those who have been part of the flock but leave become “lost sheep” – lost children God will be looking for.
The Great Shepherd
In Luke 15:4-7, we read Jesus giving a parable,
“What man among you having a hundred sheep and losing one of them does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he places it on his shoulders, rejoicing. Then when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbours, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost.’ Likewise, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous men who need no repentance.”
From this passage we will learn what Christians should do when someone leaves the church.
1. Recognise That Person as Your Own and Be Concerned
We shouldn’t automatically disown and excommunicate a brother simply because he decides to leave the church. That brother or sister is yours, and you should remember to be their keeper in the Lord (see Genesis 4:9).
2. Go After Them Relentlessly
Here’s a sad fact: Many churches don’t go after the members who disappear. These members become easy prey for the devil, and God doesn’t want that. In Ezekiel 34, we read God expressing His anger at the shepherds (church leaders) who just let the sheep (Christians) wander around without protection.
“They were scattered because there was no shepherd. And they became meat to all the beasts of the field and were scattered,” God said. “I, even I, will search for My sheep and seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock in the day that he is among his sheep that are scattered, so I will seek out My sheep and will deliver them out of all the places where they have been scattered in a cloudy and dark day.” (see Ezekiel 34:5, 11-12)
If our Father has that heart, we should have that heart as well. Let’s be like the shepherd in the parable and relentlessly pray for and pursue our brother.
3. Rejoice In Their Return to God
Our goal here should be that they will return to the Lord, even if they go to another church. As long as he returns to God, even if that means going to another Christ-centred church, we should rejoice.