As prophesied in scripture concerning the 'last days', I am increasingly seeing long time fellow believers walk away from their posts. In this church and others, these folks have walked with Christ, fellowshipped with the saints, have "tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come" (Heb 6:5) and yet still they sooner or later "throw in the towel." Oh, I am not talking about an error of sin, but rather a conscious departure from the faith and the church! I have often wondered if there was an "M.O." with this behavior? Is there a pattern? And what is my pastoral role and the churches role in preventing this? Certainly we know the church is to support, educate, and encourage the flock...to go so far as to "lift up the downtrodden." But it is a fine line between 'support' and 'prop up!'
This is not a new issue. The apostle Paul also was no stranger to this phenomena. He wrote in 2 Corinthians 12:20 "...I am afraid that when I come I won’t like what I find, and you won’t like my response. I am afraid that I will find quarreling, jealousy, anger, selfishness, slander, gossip, arrogance, and disorderly behavior." Even Jesus knew this reality: "From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him." (John 6:66) Notice that it doesn't say "newbees" or baby believers, or young Christians, or any such vernacular. It says "disciples." These were folks who saw it, touched it, felt it, experienced it, spoke it, and yet...
If I knew where the 'leak' was that would eventually wash these folks away in a flood, I would try my best to fix it. But perhaps it is good that I do not know where it is, because perhaps I am really not supposed to fix it? In fact, when I read scripture...especially concerning the ministerial leadership style of Christ Himself, I never find Jesus running around trying to stomp out these little personal "brush-fires." He was available...and there were those who did indeed come to him for counsel, explanation, and even healing. He was there for the people, but He never 'chased anyone down.'
There was an established and overt air of personal responsibility. Each man or woman was called to stand strong. The Holy Spirit was there to empower to do what they and we could not do on our own, as long as we still had the passionate heart to do it, be it, or see it. But God never makes us follow Him! Technically, this is an "all-volunteer" army, and the troops can in effect 'go home' any time they want. Yet what would make some folks then give up everything to charge repeatedly into the enemies territory...never quitting...never stopping, ultimately dying with a sword in one hand and a Bible in the other? And then others...well, they grow tired, uncomfortable, grumbly about their post position, and seethe over the words of those who lead them into battle?
When questioned, these folks themselves never seem to have a real viable answer! They are just mad about the 'way things are', even when they are willing to acknowledge that those who are leading are indeed leading precisely according to the "orders from the general." So it's not like they're upset that the officers are in a warm ivory tower someplace sipping champagne while they are out 'on the line' in the cold rain and a hail of bullets. It's just that they don't want to fight the battle anymore. They don't want to feel guilty either, so they decide that the spiritual friends and family that loved them for years...fought beside them, corrected, counseled and prayed with them, supported them through hard times and good, ...that these are suddenly bad people...so we "twitter" our displeasure, post our opinions on our facebook wall, 'de-friend' everyone and then we pack up our bags and "head on back."
Jesus said that the "way is narrow" and "few shall find it." Paul prayed that he might "finish well"...perhaps because he had seen so many who had not.
We are called as a church to evangelize, educate, and disciple. We are instructed to love, support, correct, and serve each other. But never in my entire spiritual lifetime have I ever successfully "propped up" a person for Christ. Because in the end, it is our personal call...our personal responsibility to "work out our own salvation with fear and trembling." That's what Paul told the Philippian believers. "Work it out boys!" Because where we are in Christ...from the spiritual intangibles to the physical church we attend, are our personal "orders from the general." Whether it is laziness...boredom, a dissatisfied heart and mind, pride, or whatever the reason...there can be no blame placed upon your church. As far as JFB is concerned, it is the same evangelizing, discipling , loving, correcting, serving church that it has always been. Nothing has changed as to our doctrine or our priorities. Little has changed in 20 years even concerning our methodologies! We're the same. Albeit a little older and a little wiser! It's not the church. It's you. When a person goes A.W.A.L., they do so on their own... Acts 20:31 "Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears."
Heb 6: 7-8 When the ground soaks up the falling rain and bears a good crop for the farmer, it has God’s blessing. But if a field bears thorns and thistles, it is useless. The farmer will soon condemn that field and burn it.