In the book of Luke in the Bible, we read about the parables of the lost sheep, the piece of silver, and the prodigal son. The first is about a shepherd who has a hundred sheep, and when he loses one, leaves the 99 to find the lost one. The second is about a woman who has ten pieces of silver, and when she loses one, lights a candle and sweeps the floor to find it. The third one is about a man who willingly accepts his son back after going astray for so long.
These parables are centered on the principle that we must find those who are lost, bring and welcome them back to the fold. This is what we are counseled to do. Knowing that the worth of a soul is of great value in the eyes of God, we work hard to find those who left the church and give our best efforts in inviting them to come back. These efforts may include inviting them to church activities, fulfilling our visiting and home teaching assignments, referring them to the missionaries, and sending them letters and small gifts. But after all that, what if they are still not coming back to church? What do we do? We PAUSE. We pause and think about our intentions. Do we want them to come back out of responsibility? Or do we want them back because we love them?
Love is the key. Do not bring people back to church without love. As cliché as it may sound, loving them is what we must do—whether they come back to church or not. In their journey after leaving the church, they may have faced a lot of fears or struggles, such as losing friends, hurting family, being looked-down upon and judged, losing identity, etc. For some, these fears may have been the cause of their endless wave of emotions about leaving the church.
During this spiritual battle, trying to get them back to church will only hurt them more. What they need are friends and family who do not condemn their decisions and do not equate it as losing morals and faith in God. They need us to respect them when they request to not be contacted by the missionaries. They need our consideration to not preach to them that leaving the church was a mistake and they must repent. They need people who will listen to their reasons for leaving without judging them. They need friends who will not distance themselves once they become inactive. They need their families to stay together and not let the fear that their eternal family is no longer possible ruin their family relationship. They need us to stop doing things that reiterate the perception that “Mormons are God’s only people” because Mormons are not.
People leaving the church mostly need time to breathe. They need time to rediscover themselves and find for themselves their identity as a son or daughter of Heavenly Father. Some of them may return, some of them may leave for good. But regardless of their decision, the Lord wants us to love them all the same, the way He loves them. When we show our love to them, they will feel that our intentions are genuine and that they are not just another visiting teaching or home teaching “project” that we want to check off our list.
The fire to bring others back to church is good but it can sometimes consume our pure intentions. When someone leaves the church, our goal must be to continue to love them regardless of the status of their church activity. May we deliberately consider our intentions and actions so we do not push them further away. May love be at the center of all our missionary efforts to find those who are lost.