Walking With Those Who Walk Away from Your Church

There are few things that are more disconcerting to me as a pastor as those folks who, for whatever reason, decide that they no longer want to walk with and worship with the rest of the congregation.

Sometimes they make a big fuss about one thing or another and leave damage in their wake. At other times they leave civilly with love in their hearts and kindness toward those with whom they disagree.

My question today is this. How do we walk with those who walk away? How do we show both the truth of the written Word (Bible) AND  the love, intent, and spirit of the living Word (Jesus)?

As I have thought on these things over the past week these are the conclusions to which I have come:

1. Jesus taught us to love everyone regardless of their kindness toward us and agreement with us. 

We are even to love our enemies. Having said that, I do hope that we do not allow our relationships with those who walk away from our local congregations to become an “enemy” situation. That is what satan wants.

Luke 6:27  But I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you,

2. We are to “do good” even to those who hate us. 

Read this verse:   If thine enemy be hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he be thirsty, give him water to drink:  For thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head, and the LORD shall reward thee. Proverbs 25:21-22

So, even if the situation with those who have walked away has devolved to the point where either they see us as enemies or we see them as enemies the command of God is simple: Love and Serve (do good).

3. We are to walk together.

What about the verse that says, “Can two walk together, except they be agreed?” (Amos 3:3)

This verse has often been the “go to” verse for those who want to absolve themselves of responsibility for deteriorating and difficult relationships. They say, “Well, we don’t agree on __________ so we cannot walk together.” What they usually mean by this is that “I can’t handle that they won’t admit that I am right. I refuse to talk with them about anything except our disagreement. Therefore we have nothing to talk about. We don’t agree and cannot walk together. I’m cutting them out of my life.”

Let’s look at this:

Look at the context of Amos 3:3 instead of just using it to justify cutting people out of your life. In Amos 3:3 God is speaking to the children of Israel. They had disobeyed again, and He had to punish them again (note: punishment is not our job as individuals, but God’s job). In this context God gives them a list of common sense situations in which effect follows cause to show that consequences follow sin.

For example: Two people can’t walk together (they will part ways) unless they agree on where they are headed and what road to take, a lion roars because it catches food, and if there is no trap, a bird does not fall to the ground. — cause and effect scenarios

In Amos 3:3 God is not telling the children of Israel, “You don’t agree with me on every little thing therefore I am ending this relationship.” In fact, the opposite is true. God walked with the children of Israel, loved them, cared for them, and helped them despite their many disagreements and rebellions. He walked through the deep water and difficult times of sin and rebellion with them (without partaking in their sin) until they came to the place where they repented and were restored. So what was God telling them in Amos 3:3. It is simple. He was telling them that there is a cause and effect relationship with sin. He was telling them, “You sinned and I am going to have to punish you.”

So, how does Amos 3:3 play out for us? “How can two walk together except they be agreed?” Simply this. In order to walk in Christian fellowship with someone who is walking away from the local congregation that I happen to attend we have to agree on two things.

  1. Where are we going? (destination: Heaven)
  2. How do we get there? (Jesus: by grace through faith).

We make a great mistake and lose the opportunity to be a positive influence in the lives of those who walk away from our congregations when we pridefully think that they must agree with us on everything in order to “walk together” (read this, “be my friend”). Why is this attitude prideful? Simple. It assumes that we are right in everything and therefore they (those who walk away) must agree with us in every little thing in order to earn our love and friendship. Doesn’t sound so “godly” when we put it that way does it?

4. We are to still walk with those that have sinned and remain in rebellion – but that walk is different. 

Yes, unfortunately there are those who leave the local church because they have sinned and do not want to make those things right before God and others. It is terribly sad, but it happens. So what then? How can we walk with those who have either left the congregation to avoid church discipline or because the congregation has rightly enacted (and “rightly enacted” is important) church discipline in an effort to help the person realize their wrong and return to a right relationship with God and with those who they have injured with their sin?

While walking with a person in sin and rebellion does not look the same as walking with someone who has simply left our congregation in favor of another, it is still a relationship that cannot be tossed away because it is tough and messy.

Look at these three verses;

Matthew 18:17  And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.

Jesus tells us to treat those who have sinned and refuse to respond properly to the correction of church discipline as “a heathen man and a publican.” We take note here that our example in this is to be Jesus himself. So, how did he treat the heathen (unsaved) man? How did he treat the publican? It is apparent from the gospels that He treated them with love, respect, charity, kindness, and a hope for their reconciliation with the Father.

Colossians 4:5  Walk in wisdom toward them that are without, redeeming the time. Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man.

Here’s a good verse for this topic. We can walk with those who are “without” (the heathen man, the publican, the unsaved, the Christian who is in rebellion). According to this verse we are to walk “in wisdom” and with speech that is tempered with grace.

Galatians 6:1  Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.

Restoration is a process. It takes time for people to get beyond their sin, and pride and be willing to admit that they are wrong. It is disturbing to me that there are those good Christians who go for coffee just once with someone walking in sin against God, make their case for the repentance of that individual, and then cut that individual off from their lives because they didn’t repent right away. I am so glad that God doesn’t operate this way. Restoration is a work of God in the heart of an individual over a process of time. You can be used in that process, but only if you wisely are willing to maintain a loving and serving relationship with that individual that God loves (despite their rebellion). 

In conclusion: 

There are three groups that walk away from the local congregation:

  1. People that walk away for good reasons. (like a move to another town)
  2. People that walk away for their reasons. (like a shift in their thinking in regard to some teaching or church practice)
  3. People that walk away for sinful and rebellious reasons. They have sinned and do not want to deal with it.

Although our walk with these three situations does differ somewhat according to the situation, it is clear that civility and loving action and speech must be the guiding truth of our interaction with others as we walk with those who walk away. We cannot ourselves be carried away with any error, but we can be mature in our walk toward others.

Ephesians 4:14-15  That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love…

Here’s the point. In order to speak the truth in love you must be on speaking terms. Before anyone will listen to what you know they have to know that you care.

Before the box