One evening in 1984 at family worship, Janet and I prayed for our Lord to bring to our young family someone interested in knowing Jesus and studying the Bible. I was the personal ministries director for the Rocky Mountain Conference, which led us to be in a different church nearly every Sabbath, training members on how to reach out for Jesus. We knew we needed to be involved ourselves and to have our young son, Tyson, experience that joy, not just listen to his parents encourage everyone else to share their faith.
The very next day a friend called to say that her cousin Sal wanted to study the Word. So, as a family, we began to meet every week with Sal, and later with his girlfriend, Nancy, too. We studied the Word but also talked about various subjects and shared our lives together. Sal also helped us with needed repairs around the house. We became close friends.
More than a year later we received a call to move across the country to another conference. We had the wonderful joy of witnessing Sal and Nancy being baptized just before we moved. As they began to attend a local church, we realized how hard it was to connect them to someone in that church who would have nearly the same kind of love and concern to disciple them as we had. We tried to introduce them to several families, but nothing really developed to help assimilate them into the church family.
Within a year they had slipped out the back door of the church and away from their growing relationship with Jesus. We were brokenhearted. A couple of years later they asked me to come back and marry them. We had committed to keep our friendship going, and at least once a year, for about 20 years, when we came back to the area, we would always take them out to eat, worship with them at a church, introduce them to some members, and pray they would get involved again.
Then one year when I called Sal, he shared that the elders from the little church I had last encouraged him to try were coming to visit with him and Nancy about their upcoming rebaptism! They had attended the church, become involved in the Wednesday night study and prayer group, felt drawn into helping in some ministries of the church, and now they were back! When I told our family about Sal and Nancy, they all said, “Hallelujah, they are home!”
That was more than ten years ago, and Sal and Nancy are still deeply involved, helping the church in a number of ways, like Vacation Bible School, a small study group, and construction projects. Sal just preached his first sermon a few months ago. He shared his testimony of how he became offended over relationship issues and thought of quitting again, but the Lord helped him to see it was the enemy trying to draw him away. They are back to stay. What a joy it will be on that first day of eternity when our family and Sal and Nancy fall down at Jesus’ feet, praising Him for His grace as we begin forever and ever together!
“For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Is it not even you in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming? For you are our glory and joy” (1 Thess. 2:19, 20, NKJV).
One of the biggest challenges we face in churches around the world today is keeping in the church the precious people the Lord helps us bring to Him. This issue of Ministry has a very practical lead article by Dr. Alan Parker sharing the proven keys to locking the back door! As we think of the need for every member to be involved for their own spiritual growth and the good of the church (total member involvement), the ministries of going after the one lost sheep or helping love and nurture one who is in danger of getting lost are two of the most beautiful ministries we can do. If many church members just took on three or four people as their mission, what a difference it could make.
For pastors wondering how to engage church members practically in this, share the stories and testimonies of friends like Sal and Nancy to move members to action.
Also in Ministry this month are excellent articles for those of us who were excited and motivated by the call to ministry but have become burned out or discouraged, and are now facing the back door of ministry. Let’s all pray the Lord will help us shut the back door, keeping His loved ones closer to Him