“For perhaps he therefore departed for a season, that thou shouldest receive him for ever;”
There will be many times in your life when you will have someone in your church leave. Some of these who leave depart from us for the world or because of a disagreement with your church. Your attitude towards these who depart could likely be the determining factor as to whether they will come back and serve the LORD.
Paul understood this truth when he addressed Philemon about Onesimus. Though Onesimus was not a Christian when he left, Philemon’s attitude towards him was important to the LORD using him. Thankfully, Philemon was a spiritual enough Christian that he was willing to forgive the hurt that Onesimus caused, and his willingness to forgive allowed him to become an integral part in the church and Paul’s ministry. There are five attitudes Philemon had towards Onesimus that you must have towards those who depart from the church.
First, don’t blame the church or its program. Philemon never blamed the church for Onesimus leaving, and he never demanded the church to change its program to entice him to come back. Too many times people want to blame the church standards or the boldness of the preaching for the reason of people leaving. Always remember that people are going to leave, but you don’t change what is right to try to attract them to come back. Stop blaming the standards and preaching and realize that sin could be the cause.
Second, don’t talk bad about the individual. Philemon seemed to move on after Onesimus left, and you must do the same when people leave the church. Don’t think that you have to tell everyone why they left. The truth is, nobody really needs to know why someone left. If you don’t talk bad about the fallen or the departed, they always have an open door to return when they get right with the LORD.
Third, be kind to them when you see them. Be careful about carrying a grudge towards someone because you never know when you will see them on the street. If you lay aside your grudges, you will find it easy to be kind to people who have left under adverse circumstances. Being kind to the departed when you see them will be a great help to getting them to come back to church.
Fourth, pray that they will return. If you want to talk about the fallen or departed, talk to the LORD about them and ask Him to bring them back. Our attitude should be one of prayer towards the backslidden instead of one of spite. Stop desiring for bad to happen to them and start desiring that the LORD will bring them back. The church doesn’t need fewer people in the harvest, but it needs every hand in the harvest, even those who may have departed can help if they return.
Fifth, forgive them when they do return. Forgiveness was the theme Paul stressed to Philemon. The fallen will never be able to be used again if the church isn’t willing to forgive. Always remember that God has the power to change their heart, but you must have the willingness to forgive if they are going to be used again.
Many people who God used in the past at some point strayed from the LORD. My friend, don’t be a Pharisee thinking you are better than they. Keeping your attitude right towards the backslidden and departed will help you to rejoice when they return to the LORD.