Restoration is a ministry initiative that is often neglected. Due to brokenness, miscommunication, and disconnection, restoration needs to occur in many dimensions of human relationships: Between spouses, between parents and children, between siblings, between colleagues, between classmates, between team members and between neighbors.
Galatians 6:1 says, “If someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently.” In the popular translation, The Message, the verse is rendered like this: “Live creatively friends. If someone falls into sin, forgivingly restore him, saving your critical comments for yourself.”
While this text focuses on those who have “fallen into sin,” this ministry of restoration might also apply to those who have fallen away from faithful participation in the life of the church.
There are many strategies for restoration. Some strategies are abrasive and confrontational. I want to focus on some simple strategies for gently restoring someone to the fellowship of the church.
Begin praying specifically for the person you want to see restored. You may feel a burden for someone you know who has fallen away. There may be someone who once participated in your Sunday school class, or someone who sat near you in worship and you have missed them for a while. You may want to begin by praying specifically for that person. Or, you may coincidentally bump into someone at the ball field or the grocery store, and you are moved to begin praying for them.
Cultivate a social contact with a ministry motive. Plan a coffee break or a dinner outing with the individual or family with whom you are concerned. Placing a phone call is a starting point but one phone call doesn’t do the trick. Try a series of calls or notes. Restoration takes time. Be patient.
Listen non-judgmentally to their pain or hurt. Many individuals who leave the fellowship of the church have had negative encounters or overlooked feelings. I have conducted my own “exit interviews,” inquiring of specific individuals as to why they left the church. The reasons varied. Here is a summary of the usual responses: 1) I no longer believe the same things the church believes. 2) My feelings were hurt. 3) A need wasn’t met. 4) I was embarrassed by my behavior. 5) The minister I liked left. 6) I drifted away. 7) No one seemed to care about me and my family.
Invite them to attend worship, Sunday school or Wednesday night with you. Don’t just invite them. Invite them to come with you or to sit with you. Provide a natural connection for them. Help make them feel comfortable.
Encourage their return participation to faithfulness in church life somewhere. Hopefully, individuals who have not affiliated with another church will be open to returning to “our” church. But our ultimate goal should be to see the family or individual restored to participation in “a” church. When individuals return the fellowship of our church, we will rejoice. If individuals are led of the Spirit to affiliate with another fellowship, we will rejoice. But when individuals remain disconnected, we will continue to be burdened for them.
Restoration is one of the challenging ministries in which you can invest yourself. Do you know someone who needs to be restored? Would you begin praying for them today?
Barry Howard is senior minister at Brookwood Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala.
Pastor at the Wieuca Road Baptist Church in Atlanta. He also serves as a leadership coach and columnist for the Center for Healthy Churches.