He Called Me 8 Years after He Left My Church
OK, I’m about to say something uncomfortable.
Over the years, I have no clue how many people have left my church… just dropped through the cracks.
And much of that is my fault. I’m the pastor, the “buck stops here.” Sometimes, it wasn’t their fault, I just let someone slip away. It would be emotionally easier to blame them, to transfer it to their shoulders -- “they just didn’t want it enough.”
But I think deep down we know that’s often a cop-out.
For years, I didn’t have a great plan to make sure they stayed connected and were discipled well. Most people I know from smaller churches can relate. If I focused on that, it would feel rather discouraging -- and nobody can stay in the ministry forever when they feel discouraged and drained.
But there are flashes of hope through that kind of gloom.
So, the other day I got a message on Facebook from a young man who attended some years ago. He was a teenager at the time, and his family was occasionally attending my church. You know how it is. Some of them moved away, some just got distracted, and he got swept along with the current.
He wound up in the Marines, moved across the country. When he got out, he got a good job and a girlfriend… and then, out of the blue, reached out on Facebook a few days ago. He said he was struggling with some life transitions and depression and was wondering if I could direct him to some Bible verses to help. He said he wanted to read the Bible, but he started in Genesis and kind of “got stuck.”
I sent him my mobile number, and we spent about a half hour on the phone. I listened for a while. It was pretty obvious God was working in his heart, helping him feel his need for something more than he had. Thank God for prevenient grace, right? The grace that changes everything had made a real change in his heart.
But more than one thing had changed since last time he was here. This time, I had a plan, because I had developed one - the NewStart Discipleship Journal. I sent him one by email and told him that the 50-Day Bible reading plan would help him get a feel for the “highlights,” the big strategy of the story God was telling.
Where does it go from here? Who knows? He’ll have some big decisions to make, but at least he’ll be making them while having a clear Bible reading plan and tools to help him seek to know Jesus. I told him to reach out and ask me questions like the Journal encouraged him to write down each day, and that I’d serve as his “mentor.”
That's encouraging for a small church pastor.
I hung up the phone and grinned at my wife. It felt pretty good to know that I was still someone he felt he could trust.
He texted me a little while ago, and now his girlfriend is going through the NewStart Journal with him. He said, "...and she loves it! She [hasn't been very involved in church] her whole life and the way you put things into a better perspective really helps her."
It feels amazing watching God’s grace strongly at work in someone’s life. It also felt good to be ready to give him a clear pathway forward at a crucial moment.
Here are 3 takeaways for me:
1. Be encouraged. You never know how God is working in someone’s life, even years after you last had a voice in their life!
2. Be faithful. Preach the Word, stay engaged, and be consistent. Be that person that they know they can trust with a question when the Holy Spirit brings them around.
3. Be ready. I was grateful that this time I had a plan that was ready to go. No “winging it,” just a clear pathway forward toward becoming a disciple of Christ.
Now, I know it’s all about God’s grace. I can’t bring spiritual life out of nothing! Neither can you.
But here’s what we know: God is always at work. You have never locked eyes with a person that God didn’t love, you have never walked by a person in whom grace was not active.
Since that’s true, then we ought to remember the principle of the garden: It takes God’s life-giving power to grow plants, but it takes God’s power plus our planning and hard work to grow a beautiful garden!
That’s the tension of God’s work & our responsibility, isn’t it? Beating ourselves up over someone leaving the church isn’t helpful. But neither is blaming them and absolving ourselves.
I think it’s more spiritually and emotionally healthy to say, “God’s grace is always active. I’m going to be faithful -- and that means having a plan.”
Disciples aren’t made accidentally.
Go make a plan to make disciples.
Darrell Stetler II has been pastor of the Bible Methodist Church in Oklahoma City since 2003. If you are interested in discipling others, download a free copy of the NewStart Discipleship Journal at http://email.newstartdiscipleship.com.