Following up on last week’s post, Shepherds False and True, I want to focus on one aspect of that piece. I want to talk about love that pursues.
In my previous post, I referenced the passage of Scripture that describes the man with one hundred sheep, the one who left the 99 to go after the one that was missing. This story ended in rejoicing that after a search, the sheep had been found. The man loved the sheep enough to go after it. He pursued it.
For many of us, the thought of being pursued in love, and I’m not talking about some sick control thing, by any church when there is a problem is beyond comprehension. These institutions are so used to having traffic go both ways on a regular basis that one more family out the door means nothing.
If a family is struggling with something at the church, it is far easier, a relief even, for these leaders to just wave good-bye than to actually face the issues at hand. Doing so might reveal deep problems, sin, real issues at the church, and “ain’t nobody got time for that.”
Love that pursues. Think of what these words below would mean when you are having to walk away in a seemingly unsolvable situation:
“Wait, would you come back? We value you. We love you and your family. You are important to us. Can we talk this over one more time? Please don’t leave yet.”
Think how healing these words, spoken in sincerity, would be! Think how beautiful to know that your presence, your family’s presence, matters. That all is not lost.
Imagine this scenario. A church has serious issues going on. Gossip is rampant, families are leaving in droves. Hearts are broken everywhere, as the environment deteriorates and families see no other choice but to drive away.
What if the pastor(s), rather than circling the wagons, meeting with lawyers, holding stern congregational meetings with threats about gossip and slander, stopped everything planned.
What if every meeting, every Bible class, every Sunday School class, every youth group event, every small group get-together, every single thing on the schedule came to a halt? And for as long as it took, they held prayer meetings inside the church sanctuary. Sackcloth and ashes time. A call to reconciliation and confession of pride and everything else. Pastors on their faces rather than lecturing against gossip. Imagine a congregation following the leadership’s model of humility and love.
What if apologies were sent out to pursue wronged and departed members, letters of contrition, letters of love and requested reconciliation to those families forced to leave by arrogance, pride and cold hearts at the top on down?
No slick “revivals”, no professional seminars, no programmatic anything. Just seeking the Jesus so often talked about, and yet so rarely present.
Would this change things? Yes, it would change everything if cold, unfeeling hearts were replaced by the Holy Spirit with new ones, tender and easily broken. It would change things very quickly if callous indifference were replaced with love, the love that pursues and doesn’t give up.
Maybe this has happened in our time, somewhere in America. I have never heard of it if it has. I do know of countless Christians who have been forced to leave churches they once loved, churches where they hoped to raise their families. This is the terrible reality many know. Meanwhile, the church show must go on.
On a related note, there is general concern expressed in many places about the departure of Millennials from churches. I’ve read countless articles from various Christian news sources about how this demographic is walking away from evangelical and fundamentalist churches.
I’ve also read all the suggested fixes for this, ranging from the usual “cool church” makeovers of formerly staid and conservative congregations to denying cardinal doctrine. It’s all a howling joke, people. It won’t work.
Some young people will leave church, because the message of the Gospel is offensive and they prefer the world. But who is to answer for the many others who have walked away, because they have never, ever seen any reality of Jesus in the professing Christians in the churches where they were raised, and theyhave ceased to believe Jesus even exists? Who will give an account for the church politics (I could tell so many stories about that one), the obsession with image over reality, the false fronts, the play acting, the egos, the fraud and the total absence of power in the lives of the “believers” they knew from earliest childhood? Absence of power? What power? The power of forgiveness and reconciliation from Jesus Christ as seen in relationships! The power that can cause a hard heart to grow soft — a miracle only God can achieve. The power that causes change, not just empty talk.
This is what young people need to see. It’s what all of us need to see, more than ever in these times when the “love of many has grown cold.” It’s what we need to show in our own lives.
We may have nobody who pursues us in love, especially from any institution calling itself church. But we must be the church and pursue others in love when there are problems. Pride shuts the door and locks it on those with whom there is a problem. Churches like this are citadels of pride. We can all be citadels of pride. But where pride reigns, it ruins. It ruins people, and it ruins churches as a result.
“Please don’t go. You and your family matter to us. Come back, won’t you? Let’s talk this out. We love you.”
Those beautiful words, so rarely spoken in sincerity. What wonders they could accomplish.