The Churches that Couldn’t Be Bothered

One of the saddest things in the world to watch is a plant that springs up with life and joy, only to wither and die before your eyes.  One moment there is hope; the next — death.  My heart is heavy as I think about someone I dearly love.  She seemed to be taking steps toward a new life in Christ, and then abruptly turned back to the world.

You see, I don’t live near her, and I knew that she did not have any Christian friends or a church to support and help her grow.  So I called three different churches in her area in a somewhat desperate attempt to find someone who would care.

At the first church, I talked to the associate pastor.  I told him about the situation, and he actually asked me what I wanted him to do.  Say what???  What do I want you to do???  I want you to go visit my friend.  I want you to introduce some Christian people to her.  I want you to personally invite her to your church.  I want you to reach out and care about her salvation!

The second church I called seemed more promising.  I told the two people I talked to there about the first church.  They both said that was appalling.  I felt encouraged.  This was a very large church, with lots of programs… maybe they would reach out!  But when the rubber met the road, they could send no one to meet her… they could send no one to give her a ride to church… they were apparently much too busy taking care of all those believers already gathered there to do… well… anything.*

The third church I called was very small and located extremely close to her.  The best I could get out of them is that they would call and leave a message on her phone inviting her to come to a ladies Christmas party.

That’s it.

One night, this friend called me.  She was sobbing uncontrollably, “If I follow God I’m going to lose all my friends, and I’m already so lonely!”  The anguish in her voice stuck in my chest like a rusty knife and CUT MY HEART OUT!

This little plant sprang up with joy.  I did all I could, from hundreds of miles away, to give it good roots.  I mailed wonderful Biblical materials, sermons, books, a study Bible… I even Skyped with her, trying as hard as I could to give her a foundation by reading the Bible with her.  But in the end, I watched the plant begin to wilt.  It had no deep roots — and so it withered and died.

“The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away.” ~ Matthew 13:20-21

The churches in her area couldn’t be bothered to expend time, effort, and energy to reach out to someone who is lost, desperately lonely, and sad to the marrow of her bones.

Am I bitter** toward those churches?

Yes, honestly, I am.

Now for the harder question:  Would I have behaved any differently?  If someone contacted me about a loved one that they had been sharing the gospel with, would I sit on my hands and find reasons to never go visit that person?  I hope to God not.  I hope to God that I would be stirred in my spirit to be active in fulfilling the Greatest Commission:

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” ~ Matthew 28:19-20

One final note… Do I know that salvation belongs to the Lord?  Am I aware that His will is never thwarted and that ALL whom He calls will come to Him?  Do I know that God will save this loved one if He chooses to save her — despite the acts of any number of human beings — including these churches.  Yes.  I am pointedly and powerfully aware of this fact.  Salvation–from start to finish–is a work of the Lord.

Knowing all that, do I still hold bitterness** toward those churches?

I can hardly help it… yes I do.

___________________
* After this post went live, I was contacted by one of the people from this church.  It seems that she did made attempts to make contact with my loved one through Facebook and has been keeping her in prayer.  That is something I am grateful for, and I wanted to make sure it was mentioned.

**As for my bitterness, it has been pointed out to me by one friend that these feelings might be better classified as “grief.”  But I’m not sure.  It certainly feels bitter.  If this is sin, then please pray that the Lord would reveal that to me and help me be rid of it.

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18 thoughts on “The Churches that Couldn’t Be Bothered

  1. As long as your friend is alive, there is hope. Today is the day of salvation! None for whom He died shall ultimately be lost. Be faithful in praying for her and sharing His love.

    I recall a Christian woman’s testimony about a trial she underwent with no one quite understanding her predicament. She was eventually grateful to God that HE ALONE was her hope & strength through it all.

    As important as the church is, your friend must ultimately count the cost for herself alone and calculate whether Jesus is worth losing all family and friends.

    • It is true that if God chooses to save her, nothing will keep her from leaving everything — friends, family, etc — to follow Him. This post was written mostly because I read a great post this morning about a woman who was in rebellion to God but was surrounded by loving Christian people… and little by little, God broke through her heart, using the love of Christians as one of His tools. My heart is bitterly broken over the fact that I could not find people living near this loved one who would reach out to her in a similar way. (Here’s that story: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2013/january-february/my-train-wreck-conversion.html)

  2. Hey!

    I just read this and I wanted to share my perspective as the pastor of a small church. I may be misreading a lot but I found myself empathizing more with the churches, than with your situation and your friend..

    First, I’m assuming none of the churches did ANYTHING. I agree that’s not good.

    Second, I don’t fault the assistant pastor for saying what he did (although it’s impossible for me to hear the tone with which he said it). His question is a fair question. As a Pastor, If someone calls me up with a story similar to yours, I’m probably going to be a little more clear, but I would ask a similar question. I would say it like this “Well, how do you think your friend might feel about a visit or a phone call.” Basically, you’re calling for a reason, and I want to know what exactly it is you expect me, and my church to do. Once I know that, I can tell you what it is we actually do, and how that may, or may not, be what you are looking for.

    There are a LOT of people who will never come to a church if you just drop in on them for a visit. Especially if the reason you’re dropping by is “because a friend of yours called and told me to.” That’s a little creepy. I don’t know if you’re really a friend, or if you’re mom or dad trying to get your wayward child back to church and you want me to “fix” the situation.

    I assume the assistant pastor was asking a similar question (I could be wrong) and to be fair, assistant pastors are assistants for a reason. I can say that because I was the assistant. As the assistant, he should have said “I’m not sure how we approach this but let me talk with the Pastor and get back to you.”

    Finally, and this is just a side note that you seem to understand but I want to reiterate it. The parable of the sower is a parable about hearts. If your friend’s reception of the Gospel didn’t “take root” It’s not because of a deficiency in the gospel, or in the people who shared it (or didn’t), it’s a deficiency in her heart. I’ve watched people I’ve baptized walk away. I’ve watched people I’ve discipled turn their back on church and go there own way. A while back I stopped beating myself, and others, up for this. The text makes it clear that their reception of the gospel, however genuine it may have seemed, was not the kind of reception that leads to bearing fruit, and eternal life.

    I’m not saying the churches weren’t wrong, I’m just saying their being wrong is not directly connected to the Gospel taking root in your friend’s heart. Keep preaching the Gospel to her, and tell HER to start looking for churches. Never forget that the church is a flawed place with flawed people who, too, are in the process of growing in the knowledge and grace of Jesus Christ.

    • Thanks for responding.

      Maybe it does feel awkward to try to go visit someone because you get a call from half-way across the country with someone asking you to do it. But this is something Churches should be about the business of doing. I honestly believe that all three of the churches I talked to had gotten so involved in caring for the sheep (a VITAL part of what the church is supposed to be doing) that they had no plan or mechanism in place for reaching out to the lost that don’t find their way into the church building.

      In my thinking, every church should have some kind of plan for reaching out to people that do not walk in their doors.

    • And I should also say that I know God is in charge of changing her heart. For whatever reason, He did not choose to give her spirit life yet. I pray he does. This post was written mostly to bring to light a deficiency in the churches that I called. I could not find anyone who cared about her salvation as much as I did… I could not find one single person who could go over and have a cup of coffee with her. That is beyond pitiable. It is a disgrace.

      • I agree. I don’t doubt that there are many churches out there that have no clue how to reach out and there are many in our area that I think would respond similarly to what you described. Most churches say they want to grow, but in reality, growth means change and I’ve yet to meet a church that says “I really want to change.” 😉 Also, some churches are struggling and are looking more for people to take over the work (of running the organization) and have lost sight of the true mission.

        I know exactly what I would do if you called our church. Likely, I would’ve called your friend, first, to see if she would be interested in meeting once a week with someone for four weeks and just reading the Bible together and answering some questions. The study is called “Who Needs Christ.” Then I’d invite her to church and tell her when she comes I’ll connect her with someone.

        If she said yes, I’d turn around and grab someone I trusted and say “Hey, I’ve got someone for you to disciple, you up for it?” So, when she came on Sunday, that person would be ready to introduce herself and invite her to meet.

        I’ve gotten some pretty strange calls over the years and I’ve run into quite a few pastors who have gotten jaded about these types of calls after finding themselves in the middle of a mess. That’s why I kind of empathize with them a bit. There’s a lot of messed up people who call churches trying to leverage them for all kinds of things (money, weddings, fix my idiot spouse, child, parent etc.).

        I think the best plan for a church when someone calls as you did is first figure out what you’re expecting, and second to explain whether or not the church does what it is you’re expecting them to do. I think, as you pointed out, most churches don’t know what it is, exactly, they are here to do.

  3. But, Jeremy, the churches described above DO sound an awful lot like the priest and the Levite of Luke 10:30ff. Just a little too holy to get their hands dirty?

    How much trouble is it to either phone or visit someone to share the gospel with them? Seems like too much for the folks described above.

    The Samaritan’s difference was compassion. If we’re too busy to share the gospel with someone, we’re not just too busy, we’re in the wrong line of work!

    • I understand what you’re saying, but it’s a little naive. I don’t intend to be harsh, just being honest. The kinds of calls churches get sometimes, and the expectations people have, are often so ridiculous.

      Keep in mind, it’s not as if these churches walked by a guy/gal who was beaten up on the side of the road and did nothing (Which is what ACTUALLY happened in the story you referenced). Someone randomly called them and told them there was a person who they thought might be beaten up on the side of the road and THEY should go and take care of them.

      Again, I’m not questioning the writer here (see comments above), I’m certain she was genuine. But understand I’ve taken some of these calls and followed up with some of this stuff and it’s certainly enough to make one dubious about ANYONE who calls. After people call 10x and say “Beaten up guy at house #10” and you show up and “beaten up guy” beats YOU up you have a good reason to be a little skeptical.

      I have people in our area who go through the phone book, alphabetically, and call church by church for food and money. I was the first to implement a benevolent policy at our church and I was shocked when, after 3 years, the first person who ever called and had paperwork filed under my policy, called up and gave me his name. I looked at my paperwork and he was calling with the EXACT SAME NEED!!!

      We went to this guys house and gave him diapers, creme, and I think some basic food items. At the time we had not put money in the benevolent fund so my deacon footed the $70-80 bill. We dropped the stuff off and started to share the Gospel and he said “I know all that stuff I’m not interested that.” A little offended i explained to him that if he wants help from our church, our new policy says the next step is getting on some sort of financial plan and joining our church. He blew me off and as we walked away, I kid you not, he says “Is there anyway we can get some steaks or meats.”

      I said No, and explained the policy again, and he was furious. 3 Years later he calls up, and I pull out his paperwork, having all but forgotten, and shook my head as I returned to the phone and said “Have we helped you before?” He says “yeah, it was few years ago though and…”. I stopped him, and explained the policy again and directed him to local food pantry’s and such.

      The point is, this one instance is illustrative of the MAJORITY of the types of calls we get at the church. I’m sorry if it’s bothersome to folks on the outside, but we’re not going to throw pearls to swine. I do wish that the folks that the writer called had been more discerning, but honestly I don’t think the outcome would’ve been much different even if those churches had visited, but who knows.

  4. …every church should have some kind of plan for reaching out to people that do not walk in their doors.

    Hear, hear, BJ!

    Else, they’re not exactly carrying out the great commission, are they?

  5. I can empathize with you AND answer on behalf of one of the churches sine I’m assuming I am one of the people you talked to (at least via FB). I, too, have loved ones who are unsaved that I’ve agonized over in intercession and witnessed to about Jesus. I was on maternity leave when I heard about your loved one and took her on in my prayers, contacted her via FB, gave her my number, and invited her to my house. Did I go visit her? No. Do I have a valid reason? It hardly matters now because you’ve already decided to be bitter and the more I contacted her, the less she responded. In fact, I have not stopped praying for her and I believe that God will answer. The Word and encouragement that you and I were able to share with her from a distance will hopefully take root in her heart. At the end of the day, there is nothing we can do in our own strength to convert a sinner’s heart. Thank God, who is rich in mercy… I will continue to pray and believe for her salvation and that you have peace in this journey It’s not over yet…

    Hugs!

  6. BJ,
    We’ll be praying for you, too. Thank you for sharing your experience about your friend as well as your struggles. It’s convicting. I do not want to bury my one talent, or pass by like a Levite or priest…
    Again, thanks.

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