“I will heal their backsliding. I will love them freely,” Hosea 14:4.
Christ spent a good share of His ministry here on Earth trying to reach and reclaim the backsliders of His day. In Luke 15, He gave three parables that he intended to teach a needed lesson to the religious leaders, who taught that God rejoiced when a sinner or backslider was destroyed. Christ showed by the three parables that God is waiting for missing people to be found and reclaimed. He said that there is rejoicing in Heaven when one lost sinner is found and rescued.
In Luke 15, Christ talks about three different types of lost, backslidden, and missing people:
- Those who, like the sheep, know they are lost but don’t know how to find their way back. Someone has to go and search for them and bring them back.
- Those who, like the coin, don’t realize they are lost, so they are unable to do anything about their condition.
- Those who, like the prodigal son, know they are lost, know their way back, but are afraid they will not be received back and forgiven.
Most of the missing from our 290,000 members of the Southern Union will fit into the last category. We need to find creative ways to convey to them positive, accepting messages that our heavenly Father loves them dearly, is longing to forgive them, and that He eagerly is waiting for their return.
Some of the most effective pastors and pastoral evangelists have recognized that lost, backslidden, and missing members who have been recovered are often the best prospects for future leaders in our churches. As a pastor of tiny, mid-sized, and very large congregations of thousands of members, I’ve experienced recovered missing members of the Church to be the most receptive people with whom I’ve worked.
There are at least five reasons why we should not neglect lost, backslidden, and missing people:
- With their knowledge, backsliders will have the most to give an account of in the judgment day.
- They know, and most sincerely believe, the Bible messages of truth that we have to share with the world.
- When truly converted, the backslider will be one of the most enthusiastic and dedicated Christians in the Church.
- In most cases, these individuals will not easily be discouraged or need the care that a new convert without their background will need. They have been out in the cold world, and they know that doesn’t satisfy.
- With very little instruction, the missing member who has been recovered can accept the whole message of salvation, and in a short time be a powerful help to the cause of God.
Finally, gaining the confidence of lost, backslidden, and missing people is a great contemplation to embrace at the outset of their recovery. Allow them to freely talk about their family and their lives. Instead of condemning or agreeing with the charges or excuses offered by the missing, lost, or backslidden person, listen and be sympathetic to what he/she is saying. You must be neutral because you do not know if what he/she is saying is fact or opinion. You may wish to use two phrases that I have found helpful in response to criticism or bitterness:
- “I’m sorry to hear that,” or
- “That’s too bad.”
It’s important to not judge the person talking, or to defend the people he/she is criticizing. Let the lost, backslidden, or missing person know that you’d like to become his friend before you start talking about his relationship with the Lord or the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
Southern Union | February 2017