The Parts We Don’t Discuss in Church

church-717830_640Does your church have graveyard seating?

That’s the phantom section, pews or chairs where people used to sit – before they fell away. Look hard enough and you can see their hazy outline when the worship team plays their old favorite song or when the pastor announces a need they used to fill.

Graveyard section isn’t for those who’ve gone to other churches, moved away, or died. No, this is for the believers who fell away –the parts of the body we don’t discuss anymore except in whispers usually reserved for words like “cancer” or “divorce.”

When we see the initial clues that a Jesus follower is pulling off to the side of the narrow road, we have hushed conversations among ourselves. Sometimes, in healthy churches, a handful of us visit the one to offer help, encouragement, correction, whatever they need to deter them from leaving the path.

But, some still leave.

And we don’t know what to do with that – because it’s real. Scary, unsettling real. Eviscerating real. How could they be among the living and then choose to wander with the dead? It’s unthinkable and a source of unspeakable disturbance. As if the road to glory is fraught with actual dangers – oh, wait, it is.

And being reminded of that is unpleasant but necessary. It’s curious, isn’t it, how knowing that an adventure promises to end well, doesn’t make the journey any easier?

We know the roller coaster ride has a safe conclusion but that doesn’t make the dips and turns any less terrifying to some. We know that Frodo makes it to Mordor with the ring and safely back to the Shire but we still hold our breath when he and the other hobbits hide beneath a tree from the Ringwraith.

And we know that Jesus will return and those of us who follow Him will find ourselves safely home to enjoy Him forever, but we still pull off to the side of the narrow road gasping sometimes. Fear, discouragement, temptation, trouble, boredom, and hard work threaten to derail our journeys even though we know the end is secure.

Friends, brothers, sisters in Christ will fall away and it will hurt like a knife wound to the neck. Worse because a loved one drives the point. And we should talk about it, because it’s real.

I have lost a handful of friends in this way. Lost to me, not because I put the distance between us but because they ran as far and as fast as they could from any vestige of their former life in Christ. I could see them for awhile, beckon to them from this other road, this narrow way, but soon the wide road turned or the narrow one dipped and we lost sight of one another completely,

Except when they appear in the graveyard section at church. There she is now, my sweet friend, eyes closed and hands raised as she praised the Lord at my side. I hear him, just there, sitting in the ottoman chair, leading our small group through a study of Romans. And him, on that short-term missions trip showing real leadership potential and zeal. No one speaks of them anymore. No one mentions their names. We don’t know what to do with those who once were with us but now are not. Like spiritual zombies they evoke a kind of horror we don’t dare express.

And to think we lost them over such common snares, such small-time traps set by the evil one – an unhappy marriage, a disagreement over a position of leadership, a sexual temptation, a busy season at work that never came to an end. It wasn’t even persecution or threat of death or great trial that sidelined these fellow travelers, but afflictions common to us all.

So this is why we whisper their names: our fear we may be next.

Frodo had his Boromir. How we wept when Boromir fell. We watched his descent into temptation and held our breaths, certain he would turn from destruction. We are still horrified that he did not.

From his lips, though, came the insidious truth of a danger more terrifying than persecution, imprisonment, or martyrdom: Boromir: [holding the ring after Frodo has lost it] It is a strange fate that we should suffer so much fear and doubt over so small a thing. Such a little thing.

self

While we cry our chicken little cries about the persecution to come or the risks of culture wars or the slippery slope of modern living, our greatest danger is caving in to our lesser selves and living in the small story instead of persevering to be part of the great one.

Hold out hope for your Boromirs. Intercede for them in prayer and ask Jesus to give you His love for those who wander or stall in the faith. And beware of thinking they are some kind of different sort of soul than you. It’s a long way from the ground to glory.  “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” I Corinthians 10:12 ESV

Knowing the adventure ends well doesn’t lessen the hardship of the journey. That is why we travel together, loved one.

Do you feel like pulling over? Let me know. I’ll sit with you awhile and we’ll find a way to help regain your strength for the narrow road.

Please reach out to me through the website, either comment or contact, if you need prayer or encouragement or a kick in the pants to keep walking, loved ones.


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9 Comments

    The Conversation

  1. Cyn Rogalski says:

    We left our last church 3 years ago, responding to the Holy Spirit’s leading. We had been at that church for 15 years, and were involved with much of the ministries there. When we told the Pastor we were leaving, and why, we were treated as red-headed step-children. (My apologies to all red-headed step-children)
    We were dropped in the most hurtful way–treated as if we no longer existed. My husband and I tried to be friends with the Pastor & his wife, knowing they needed people with whom they could be John* and Mary*, not Pastor and Mrs. Pastor. I visited a congregant in the hospital once, and was barraged with “Why did you leave us?” questions from the patient, & another visitor. The Pastor & his wife left the room.
    We are thankful for our new church, who are outreach based. Worship is real, God is there, and we don’t for a minute miss the old church. It’s slowly dying, the Pastor has been ousted, and the enemy has infiltrated.
    Time to wake up churches!

    • Lynette says:

      Cyn, I could have written most of your comment above, with some date changes and circumstances. It was one of the most difficult decisions we’ve made (4 years ago, leaving a church of 17 years), and we had the same reaction as you did. I’m glad you’re in a vibrant, healthy-sounding church now. Our former church is still going along, but as best I know not much has changed. God bless!

  2. Cyn Rogalski says:

    John* and Mary* are not their real names.

  3. Kathy U says:

    Sometimes we return to Christ after a hiatus from the followers of Christ. We may be less trusting, and less willing to be involved, but we’re back.

  4. Mark Landon says:

    Lori,
    As always, poignant and beautifully written. As I pondered on your thoughts, my mind was interrupted by this….”what about that other group?” You know the ones. The ones who are afraid to leave the church, but even more afraid to step onto that narrow path. They’ve contented themselves to pitching their tents at the trailhead, believing the enemy’s whisper that they need go no further. There is a bit of rhetoric here, for the answer is not much different than the one you offered for the “dearly departed”….I just felt compelled to share.

  5. I think so much of the problem is due to our preaching lacking reality. Where we are currently attending, there is never any mention of an enemy. We’ve been there since November ’13, both in our 50’s, and the majority of the small congregation keeps saying to us, “It’s so good to have some young people here!” They are a struggling flock, but only seem to see that in the small numbers of those in actual attendance. And while we place our gaze and focus on the Lord and not the enemy, we must realize at some point that we were saved and became a target. For me, living a more successful Christian life means resting in the Lord, but never putting my sword down, enjoying being His child, but standing in Kingdom authority. Thanks, Lori, for writing that disturbs!