Reclaiming Former Members
ONE of our churches has appointed four days a year known as Good Shepherd Days. On these special days the members of the church are invited to make a special effort to seek the wanderers from the fold and encourage them to return and share the fellowship of the church and the inspiration of the evangelistic program.
The members go out two by two, not only once but twice, thrice, and more times if necessary. Later, others are encouraged to visit the straying members until the warmth of love and fellowship helps them to know that the church really cares for them.
Sheep are the most helpless of all animals when lost; they cannot find their way back to the fold. The shepherd in the story that Christ told of the lost sheep could have stood in the doorway and shouted or blown a horn, and said to himself, "Surely, when that lost sheep out there realizes the hard time he is having, he will come back to the fold. When he does I will graciously open the door." But that is not what the shepherd did. With an anxious heart he left the comforts of the fold, and although it cost him much in time and suffering, he found the lost one. The shepherd did not scold, condemn, or abuse the sheep. He bound up its wounds, placed it close to his heart, and tenderly carried it home.
It might be a good plan, on a particular Sabbath day, to place in the hand of each member a blank card upon which he may write the names of former church members. The following information should be obtained: The address and approximate age of the person; how long it has been since he left the church; why he left; how long he had been a member; what his present attitude is; whether he left the message because of Sabbath problems, differences in the home, doctrinal confusion, or church misunderstanding; whether he feels he was treated unfairly or was hurt by someone in the church.
All this information will be of value in determining who shall make the initial visit to reclaim him. Study should be given to the specific problems so that those calling will be well prepared to lead skillfully and tactfully in the reclaiming. This is a delicate work. Be assured that the Master Shepherd will grant the undershepherd a full measure of His power to heal, to persuade, and to bring the wandering one back into the fold.
Many have fainted and become discouraged in the great struggle of life, whom one word of kindly cheer and courage would have strengthened to overcome. Never, never become heartless, cold, unsympathetic, and censorious. Never lose an opportunity to say a word to encourage and inspire hope. We cannot tell how far-reaching may be our tender words of kindness, our Christlike efforts to lighten some burden. The erring can be restored in no other way than in the spirit of meekness, gentleness, and tender love.—Testimonies, vol. 5, pp. 612, 613.
Here are several suggestions in reclaiming former members:
1. Be long-suffering in your patience.
2. Be understanding and tender.
3. Let the wanderer unburden his heart.
4. Sympathetic listening is a ministry of the highest order—be a good listener.
5. Never appear shocked or hurt, no matter what you hear.
6. Do not minimize the problem—it may actually be small but it usually grows large in the thinking of the sufferer.
7. Do not condemn yesterday's failures.
8. Speak of faith, courage, and joy in fellowship with the Saviour.
9. Never break a confidence.
10. Pray together.
11. Arrange when necessary for transportation to the church.
12. Plan a warm welcome and an invitation to Sabbath dinner.
May no drifting member or former member ever be able to say, "No man cared for my soul" (Pss. 142:4). a. c. f.
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