If current trends hold, church attendance may continue to decline. Which raises the question of how we see those who are not with us in church. Are they them, or are they us?

Perhaps more important, how does Jesus see them? What is Jesus’ attitude toward those who have turned their backs on the church?

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem,” says Jesus, “you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing” (Matt. 23:37).

In other words, “You keep turning your backs on God. But I still love you, and I want you to know that. What do I have to do to help you see that?”

All of humanity had turned their backs on God. Then Jesus came down from his glorious position in the presence of God and became human, identifying with human wants and needs, participating in the struggles of human existence.

Sure enough, when people sensed that Jesus genuinely cared for them, that he did not come to judge them but to help them see God in a different light than what they had heard from their religious leaders, crowds began to gather.

And when Jesus was seen in the company of prostitutes and tax collectors, eating and drinking with those who had failed to meet the approval of the religious leaders and hanging out with those who did not usually attend services at the synagogue, Jesus further tarnished his reputation among the religious establishment.

On at least one such occasion, the crowd was so enthralled with Jesus that they lost track of time. When suppertime came, they were nowhere near any source of food. The disciples urged Jesus to send the people away to buy food in a nearby town.

But Jesus said to his disciples: “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.” (Matt. 14:16).

What if we too found ways to come alongside those who have turned their backs on the church? To be present with them. Not judge them. Eat with them. And show them love and compassion. Recognize that they are us, and we are them. And serve them. Not send them away, but give them something to eat. What might that look like in 2017 and beyond?

What if, when Jesus said, “I will be with you always,” he meant “I, Jesus, embodied in my followers, will be with you, you crowds of aimless wanderers. Whether you follow me or turn your back on me, I will be with you always.”

Could it be?

About the Author

John Van Donk is a former Christian Reformed pastor who, after multiple careers in construction, as a truck driver, software salesperson, and dairy farm manager, now happily makes his living repairing pool and spa equipment.

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Comments

I am one who has left the crc.  But I have not left the people of God.  I left the crc because I became disillusioned with it.  I lost my appreciation for it, because the atmosphere tended to be more about the organization than about the people, more about the rules and orders and hierarchy than about Jesus.  I found myself also caught up in these rules and orders and hierarchy, and found that the church was often speaking out of both sides of its mouth.  It's much more complicated than what I can note here in a few sentences.  

Now I am attending the closest church to my home, which is a small community church with Mennonite background.  These people were already known to us, and have been very accepting and supportive.  Surprisingly, we have been on the worship teams, sunday school teachers, finance committee, and I've even been asked to give a Sunday message on ocassion, even though I am not a seminarian, nor even an official member.  

None of my children attend the crc, but they all attend other churches regularly.  Sometimes I think it is not that people have left the crc, but that the crc is slowly abandoning its committment to following Christ and living in faithfulness.  For many christians who desire to make Jesus top priority, they have left to attend Alliance or Baptist churches, and others who see the CRC becoming worldly and careless of committment and daily renewal, they have left to attend more orthodox and traditional churches.  

In the midst of this, there are also many who have left the church entirely, thinking that their membership papers might still entitle them to some connection in the distant future.... but who live as if Christ had nothing to do with their lives.