It is inevitable that a church will see people falling away from their church and from God. People get discouraged, hurt, lose faith, and fall into temptation. We must be equipped with wisdom and compassion to receive our “prodigals” who are wounded and hurt, seeking reconciliation with God. We should look to God for direction on how to approach and love them as we welcome them back into the body of Christ.
There are several qualities and skills that a church needs to restore the fallen:
First, it is imperative to recognize a fear that backsliders possess. Their number one fear revolves around questions. Questions from saints that make them feel bad for coming and may even drive them away. They fear the church asking, “Where have you been?”, “What happened?” and comments such as “It’s been so long since we’ve seen you”. Hearing questions and remarks such as this is off-putting and hurtful. Such verbiage is not redemptive, and we must avoid it. Instead, the church should say something along the lines of “it’s great to see you” and “we love you”. Such comments cultivate the feeling of acceptance. In the story of the prodigal son, the father welcomed his son unconditionally and did not ask questions. Instead, he blessed his son. On the other hand, the prodigal sons brother was the one that had a problem with his return. In 1 Peter 4:8 the bible admonishes us to have fervent love for each other because “love covers a multitude of sin”. This is what the father in the story of the Prodigal Son did – he did not ask his son questions, he simply “covered” his son’s sins by giving him a robe. The church should respond to backsliders in this manner as opposed to the manner of the other son who was critical, inconsiderate, judgmental and caustic. How many backsliders get away from us because of the attitudes of the “other son”?
It is vital that the church creates a culture of love. The church should be ready to welcome the fallen with open arms. Colossians 3:14 says “And above all these things put on charity (love), which is the bond of perfectness.” Let’s pull two words from this scripture. Perfectness means maturity or completeness. A bond is a joint or a ligament in the body made of connective tissue that links two or more structures together. To be connected means to have a bond. So, the church should have a bonding of love or connection of love amongst each other and that bond of love should also reach out towards the fallen.
Demonstrating love is one of the ways we can show “tender mercies”, just as God shows us (in Luke chapter 1). The phrase “tender mercies” is used several times in the old testament but only twice in the new testament. This demonstrates that God showed tender mercies even under the law of Moses. Therefore, churches should show tender mercies. The word “tender” in the Greek means: emotions, compassion, sympathy, inward affection, and the capacity to feel deep emotions; this is how the church must feel toward backsliders, just as Jesus would. He was tender, warm, gentle, sympathetic, and forgiving.
A Nurturing Spirit
Another quality churches need to restore the fallen is the spirit of nurturing. Saints of God should be nurturing. We should take care of and walking alongside the backslider as they seek restoration, no matter how long it may take. Mature Christians needs to “come along side” to facilitate healing while serving with patience and tenderness. Nurturing is an art form. In Luke 10, Jesus tells the story of a man who encountered thieves, was beaten, crippled, stripped of his clothing and left for dead. A priest and Levite at different times walked past him but did not help him. Then, a Samaritan came to him and showed him compassion by tending to his wounds, bringing him to shelter and staying with him. He nurtured him back to health by showing compassion. Compassion means to have concern for the suffering or misfortune of others. How many of the saints of God are like the priest or Levite, walking away from those who are broken? And how many saints of God are like the Samaritan, tending to the wounds of others and showing compassion? Do we have a right to ignore the broken and the fallen? Are we not “labourers together with God” (1 Corinthians 3:9) for His kingdom’s sake?
Encouragement is another quality churches need to have to restore the fallen. Encouragement is defined as the action of giving someone support, confidence, or hope. The fallen have lost confidence in themselves and they have damaged faith that God will restore. Satan, the liar, will attack their fledgling faith. This battle can be won by a passionate, loving, encouraging church. Therefore, we must give them confidence through encouragement so that they can overcome obstacles and the challenges of gaining ground in the kingdom. Encouragement is a gift. Gift your love through encouragement.
Nobility is exuded by the restoring of the fallen. The compassion of Jesus will flow through you and be a co-worker which will be echoed in eternity. Imagine the joy of seeing a fallen brother or sister restored and in heaven because of you! God is waiting for you to enter the field of brokenness; to help the fallen get up again. Through positive communication, unconditional love, a nurturing spirit, and encouragement we welcome the prodigals with open arms. Will you allow yourself to be a conduit of God’s forgiveness in this hurting world?