Bp. Dan Edwards wrote a blog post back in December that’s been getting wide circulation recently. It deals with the experience of folks who have stopped going to church (for whatever reason), then show up again, with less than hospitable results. He gives several examples of church returnees who are passive-aggressively chastised or hazed as they re-enter the fold…only to decide never to enter that particular lion’s den again.
His hypothesis for why this happens:
Our gatekeepers know the people who used to worship with us, so they are better prepared with solid techniques to drive them away. A new person comes in the door. We don’t know him. It may take us awhile to find his vulnerabilities and drive him out. But the folks we know, we can kick out the door in a New York minute. Something else may be going on consciously. Maybe the church folks just don’t know good manners. Maybe there is some personal pathology at work – but it looks to me as if the church system that tries to keep everything the way it is, knows that to keep things stable you have to keep the outsiders outside – even the ones who used to be inside – maybe especially the ones who used to be inside.
That systemic pathology can always be trumped by Grace and Gospel. That’s the good news. So maybe some of us want to live the Gospel graciously. If we truly want to offer spiritual support and nurture to the people who used to worship with us, and if we want to receive the spiritual support and nurture they may be bringing for us, here are a few simple suggestions:
First basic suggestion:
Instead of going out and trying to persuade all our ex-members to come back, we could just stop being jerks to the ones who come on their own.
The entire post is excellent, and is here for further perusal.
Is this a phenomenon you’ve experienced in the church or seen occur?
As we seek to become a more Spirit-led, open and welcoming Body of Christ, what is the role of those who have lapsed (and how can we avoid jerk-like behavior towards them?)