Every pastor knows the heart break of watching the sheep go astray– he never gets used to it. He pours his soul into their lives trying to help them mature spiritually, then suddenly they’re gone. In many instances he believes they are well-grounded in the faith and he feels he has succeeded, then they drop out. And it happens in more ways than one.
When you talk about people going astray most people think of them quitting church and/or reverting back to their worldly ways, but those aren’t the only ones who go astray. There are others, usually never thought of as having gone astray, who are just as guilty. They still attend some church or a para-church organization, and are even involved in some ministry. They sit on a church pew rather than a bar-stool and sing religious songs rather than honkytonk music, but they are astray nevertheless— miles away from where they ought to be and what they were taught.
One of the most aggravating things about this is that they now do things that would have caused them to ask for their former pastor’s resignation had he done them. They now condone what they once rightly condemned. Here’s some examples— They were taught that the K.J.V. is the best and most reliable version of the Bible, but now they use a modern version that clearly disagrees with it—both can’t be right! They were taught that a church should be independent and unaffiliated with man-made organizations, but now they are affiliated with some fellowship, convention, association that has no God-given authority. They were taught that missionaries are to be sponsored by a local church, as in the new Testament pattern, but now they are involved in ministries that are not under church authority. They were taught that “Christians should/ should not- – – -, but now they – – -“. Well you get the picture. The list could go on and on. If they were right before they are wrong now. If they were wrong before they ought to go back and apologize to a lot of people that they misled. If they don’t know what’s right they need to find out!
The point is that you don’t have to go back to the lifestyle of a drunk or druggie to have gone astray. When we depart, in any direction, from what the Bible teaches we are astray— regardless of what religious and helpful activities we are engaged in. These people might be very nice, hardworking, helpful people but they are astray. The sinner’s “far country” is not something you can measure in miles, nor determine by direction– it is being out of the will of God period! You are not better than another person because your sin is different than his. All sin is horrible and harmful. And hiding your sin by sitting in a church pew won’t make you holy or keep you safe.
To make matters worse, these people are usually more difficult to reach than those in the bars, etc. The religious nature of their activities comforts them in their rebellion. They soothe their conscience by doing religious things, considering themselves better than the worldly drop-outs who never attend church. Their favorite phrase seems to be, I used to believe – – , but now – -“. And they highly resent an article like this or any suggestion that they might be wrong. Unlike the guy on the bar stool who knows he shouldn’t be there, these folks feel they are fine and they are not about to examine themselves. Some of them, probably more than you think, believe their former pastor is just too old- fashion, out of date, not in touch with the times and they have moved on. Others have simply been misled by another preacher and convinced that you are wrong. And the list of reasons goes on and on.
So what’s a pastor to do? Shall we just watch them leave and let them go without a word concern or counsel? Should we never protest or warn them? Should we decide that it is none of our business and never bring it to their attention? What should we do? While every case is different, we ought to do something—starting with prayer. Beyond that we should love them unconditionally, set a good example, and seek an opportunity to guide them in the right direction. Ranting and railing against them will never bring them back. The truth is they might never come back, but doing as we should gives us and them the best chance.
Don’t give- in and compromise to appease them. Don’t give- up as though they are a hopeless case or a worthless cause. Don’t give- out in your efforts to help them—“your labor is not in vain”. Give it all you’ve got to reach them and help them, then give it all over to God. Do what you can and trust God to do what you can’t. We are “our brother’s keeper” and we ought to be deeply concerned about those who have gone astray. We should do our best to bring them back into sweet communion with Christ. We dare not give up on those for whom Jesus gave all. Think about it!