These who have erred need pity, they need help, they need sympathy. They suffer in their feelings and are frequently desponding and discouraged. Above everything else, they need free forgiveness.
Based on the parable of the prodigal son, let’s look at three things the older brother did not do to his younger family member that are common to dying churches:
1. He did not stop his brother from leaving.
Nowhere in the story do you see the younger brother pleading/talking/interceding with his younger sibling to get him to stay. He never calls him brother. Not once. He calls him names, he calls him “your son” but he never calls him brother. Dying churches have no problem letting people walk out. Here is a quote that should give us pause:
“In this century, the ratio of people lost versus new converts is 43 per 100.”
Thriving churches have the opposite attitude. They say: you may end up leaving, but you are someone I am willing to fight for.
2. He did not search for him while he was gone.
It is interesting that the older brother was pretty specific about the lifestyle that his brother was leading, which begs the question: How did he know?
It’s so much easier to judge from afar, than it is to get in the pig pen and rescue the lost. Ministry is messy. People don’t follow through; they let you down, make bad decisions and recant on their promises to you and God. In those cases, it is easier to judge than to engage in a recovery mission. Thriving churches understand that lost people matter to God and that it’s pretty hard to embrace someone you are pointing at.
3. He did not rejoice when he came back.
Here is the clincher. The bible says that the older, holier brother “came near” to the house. Interesting terminology. What he did not realize is that he too was far from the house. He too needed grace. He needed to understand that maybe he wasn’t “as bad”, but he was “bad enough”.
Let me illustrate:
Imagine Jesus shows up in and tells you that in order to go to heaven, you must swim from Florida to Portugal, a trip of around 4,000 miles. So, get in the water everyone. Some will swim one mile, and drown. Some will swim 100 miles and drown. Some will drown in 10 feet of water. At the end of the day, all drown. No one makes it to Portugal. Some are far, some are farther, some are furthest, but ALL are far enough to die. Therefore we need grace. We need someone to put us on a boat and take us there!
Grace is for all of us. For the one who has the intact marriage and the one who has failed. Twice. Grace is for the one who never tasted alcohol and for the one who can still feel its aftertaste after a rough night. For the one who is full of sin, and the one full of religion. The ditch on the right. The ditch on the left. They are different ditches, but ditches nevertheless. Grace is for them, AND us.
Three final questions for leaders:
- Are we willing to fight for them?
- Are we willing to get dirty to save them?
- Are we willing to celebrate when they return?
I have a longer PP presentation on this topic, if you want it, let me know. Also, any prayer requests? Write me: firstname.lastname@example.org