The water level at Lake Hartwell was down four feet, and I now found a good walking beach. On my hike I noticed how deeply some banks had been eroded by high stormy waters, Tree roots lay exposed. Then I saw a tall, thick-boled pine tree blocking my way. Its top disappeared far out in the water; only one brown-needled branch could be seen. Looking at its exposed roots, I saw the red clay on them had hardened like a little dish I once made.
Smaller trees pulled down by the big one still showed life, because they were still partly rooted. As I climbed over the pine tree, I saw a remarkable thing. A rhododendron bush covered with pink blossoms sat on a big piece of ground that had been dislodged by the falling pine.
Its beauty touched me with sadness; for that lovely bush would be covered with water when the lake level rose. And the busy and young trees would suffer because the big tree's roots had been undermined by stormy waters during years gone by As I looked closer, I noticed that one of the rhododendron's branches had rooted, making a new plant. With a stick, I dug out that little plant. I thought, "This bush may die, but its offspring may live in my back yard."
As I continued walking, I thought of five backslidden professing Christian campers I had met and talked to about the Lord that week. "They have been undermined by the trials and temptations of this life," thought, "just as that pine tree was undermined by stormy water."
Those of us who serve the Lord in Christian education or pulpit have often felt discouraged as various people have dropped out. We may send them cards, call, or visit them, but for one reason or another we may never discover why they no longer come.
I drew those five campers out, however, and discovered why they had fallen away, Knowing these reasons may give us insight to help restore others and reduce the most frequent causes of missing members in our classes and churches. With the Lord's help, we may bring back some of these straying ones, just as I saw a way to perhaps save something of that beautiful rhododendron. Also, by being aware of these pitfalls, we may be able to prevent some from falling into dangerous places.
Galatians 6:1 says, "Brethren, if a man he overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness, considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted" (KJV). We who serve in Christian education or pulpit are in the best positions possible to know and minister to others and understand their problems. Christians usually look up to their teachers and pastors and respond readily to their concern for them.
Let's look at why those campers dropped out of church.
Looking at People
Roy had come to the campgrounds ahead of his family and I had helped him hack his large RV through the pine trees. As we chatted, I learned he was a Christian, but no longer itending church. What had caused Roy to fall away?
He had stumbled over a fellow Christian. "The Lord saved my cousin out of a bad life," he told me. "But then he zealously condemned everyone who didn't measure up to his new standards. I got tired of it, so I dropped out of church. Figured I could be just as good a Christian without going."
Faulty reasoning of course. But many Christians do stop worshiping and serving the Lord because they look at people or their actions and get offended by them instead of keeping their eyes on the Lord. Had Roy's Bible teacher visited Roy in his home, he might have learned of this cause and offered to have a friendly talk with his cousin about his overzealous attitude. Though Roy may have fallen short as a Christian in some areas, as long as he was coming to church, the Holy Spirit could have dealt with him through the preaching and teaching of God's Word and in answer to his teacher's prayers.
Susan and Robert fell away from church because of circumstances. When they mai ried, they moved to a distant town. They tried several churches but didn't get attached.
I've known a number of people who have fallen away from serving the Lord after moving to a new location or taking a job requiring night shift work or Sunday work. Others have been washed away by weekend pleasure trips.
Hebrews 10:24, 25 says, "And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the day approaching"(NIV).
When the members of our class or church move away, our influence on them may be limited. On the other hand, we could contact a church in the area to which they have moved and ask that they be visited and invited to church. Furthermore, in our mobile society, people regularly move into our church's neighborhood. By visiting such people, we can encourage them to come to our church. Non-Christians need to be reached for Christ; fellow Christians need our concern and care (Galatians 6:10).
Dorothy and John fell away from the Lord because of circumstances, but they also had a problem that may have undermined the musical ministry they once had.
When I asked Dorothy if she was a Christian, she said she wasn't sure. So I asked her if she had received Christ as her Savior.
"Oh, yes, I have," she declared, "but you can see, I smoke!" She waved her cigarette in the air to emphasize her point.
Being enslaved by cigarettes, alcohol, or something else is only one aspect of worldliness. Pride is even worse, for it causes many to hold grudges, refuse to forgive other people, seethe with bitterness and resentment. So they may either drop out of the fellowship—or tear it apart.
How Can We Help
How can we reach people who have fallen away from the Lord and the church? By consistent love and consistent prayer, As we pray for them, the Lord will work in their lives to draw them back to Himself, through trials, through sending messengers to them, through speaking to their hearts.
James wrote, "My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins" (James 5:19, 20, NIV).
Just as I tried to save a remnant of that beautiful bush doomed to die, so we can help brothers and sisters coming back to the Lord. We can do this by showing them love, by following the leading of the Spirit in speaking to them, by praying for them. And we can retain people in our classes and churches by being friendly with godly love and Christ-like spirits. A friendly church draws people to its heart, just as Jesus drew us to His.