As a pastor, I frequently meet people who once had some connection with Jesus and his Church, but who for some reason have been out of touch for some time. In some circles these people are called backsliders. Other groups refer to people in this situation as “out of fellowship” or “lapsed”. In my experience there are a surprising number of such folks.
I suppose that people drop out of Christian faith, or at least the practice of it, for a variety of reasons. It is common these days for many people to have to work during the times when churches normally hold their services. When there are few opportunities for Christian fellowship, it is easy to see how people become sidelined. Other reasons for a cooling off of Christian practice could include personal difficulty, hurt feelings caused by other believers, a change of priorities, or just plain disillusionment and apathy.
Folks who find themselves adrift from their faith often experience guilt, embarrassment and despair. Some have been away from Christ for so long that they have given up hope of ever returning. Is there hope for such people? Certainly. Here are some ways to get back in step with Christ:
First, admit where you are. Face the fact that you have dropped out and need to return to the source of your true life. In Bible terminology this is called repentance. It doesn’t mean you have to promise never to stray again or to become a model Christian. Just tell God that you have been wrong and that you want to come back. But the first step is to face where you truly are without excuses.
Ask God for help. Prayer does make a difference. If it is a time issue, tell God about work schedule. Ask him to work on changing it or to provide opportunities for fellowship and growth in other ways. If broken relationships are behind the estrangement, appeal to God to smooth hurt feelings, forgive those who have wronged you, rearrange your priorities or give perspective. If you have found yourself in new and unfamiliar surroundings, ask him to direct you to a church or fellowship in which you can be nurtured and in which you can serve others effectively.
Make yourself accountable. Find another Christian who has personal integrity you can trust and who will have both courage and compassion to ask hard questions and expect straight answers. You may fool yourself with creative justifications of your attitudes and behavior, but it is more difficult to fool someone wise who knows you and cares about you.
Let bygones be gone! If dropping out resulted from someone’s wrongdoing, work through it and move on. Why should the past ruin your present joy? Why should someone’s sin hinder you from doing right? Do you think God is impressed with excuses which put blame on others for your own choice to abandon the God who has demonstrated his love for you by sending his Son to die on your behalf?
Serve. There is no better medicine for recovery and progress in spiritual growth than consistent Christian service in an area which you find fulfilling. Try some things until you find something that is regular, fits your talents and gifting and results in the kinds of goals you are energized by. Make sure that what you are doing benefits people and honors the Lord Christ, whom you serve.
Yes, there is indeed hope for those who have dropped out of active Christian faith. Reasons need not matter. Years don’t have to hold you back. Prodigals can come home. The point is, are you willing? An old Chinese proverb says, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Take that first homeward step and before long, the prodigal will see the Father’s welcoming smile.