From Pr. John Sias’s helpful book: 5 Things You Can Do to Witness Christ (You Can Do It!)
Christ never says, “The Church would be a great place, except for the sinners.” The Church is for sinners, for the forgiveness of sins. Yet we are often shocked and dismayed to find that the Church is full of them. (Well, full of us, to be perfectly honest—for who isn’t one?) You will likely find folks who say, when asked why they have separated themselves from the Church or why they aren’t interested in what the Church has to say, in effect, “The Church is full of hypocntes.” “How could Christians treat me the way they did?” “They never accepted me there.” “On Christmas Eve in 1978, Edith Buddinsky glared at my toddler and made him cry, and I never went back.” Okay, I made that last one up, but I’ve heard close to it.
Facts are one thing and statistics are another, but we all know people who have rotated in and out of churches or just wandered off. They’re a tough crowd for our witness. The author of Hebrews at first holds out slim hope for the return of those who have experienced the Gospel and then wandered away—”impossible,” in fact. They have considered and discarded as useless the things that would restore them (6:4-8).
Yet, “though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things—things that belong to salvation” (v. 9). With God all things are possible. The Sower sows the seed even on well-trodden ground, and some takes root, because the seed is good (Matthew 13:1-23). So we pray the Lord to strengthen our faith and to send us to witness also to these.
A lot of these folks are dealing with accumulations of disappointment or hurt, some legitimate, some overblown or even made up as an excuse to stay away. It’s hard to sort out, and tender feelings often surround these things. What is for sure is that they belong in the Church, not out on their own. A Christian witness does not have to be the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
You don’t have to sort all that out, or even get into it all. What you can do is get to the essence of what the Church is and is there for. Kindly and gently ask whom their staying away hurts. Remind them of who is there for them, regardless of who else happens to be in the pews. Remind them also what that Lord has for them, despite what hypocrites might be around or even despite what hypocrites each of us might by nature be. We might look at the Church and consider it a great place except for the sinners. Christ does not see it this way but welcomes us in—not to justify our sins, mind youbut He would justify us, all of us, by His blood. And there is plenty of that to go around.”