I never skipped school once.
I mean, don't get me wrong, I faked sick plenty of times... but I never told my parents that I was going to school and didn't. Sure, other kids snuck off to Towne Lake across the street, or the apartments that neighbored McKinney High, or went to Bill Smith's for breakfast... but not me. Mainly because I was completely and utterly petrified that my mother (who worked for McKinney ISD at the time) would find out... and rest assured, she would have found out about it. And, well, I wasn't really into being grounded for a year (and, to be honest, that probably would have been the minimum punishment), so I just chose to fly straight.
But church... well, that was a different matter. Church was a little easier to fly under the radar and be somewhere else. I really didn't skip that a lot though either because I loved it... it had Grant Byrd, a bunch of other awkward (and some, not so awkward) teenagers, Jesus, joy, and excitement. Youth group was just... awesome. I wasn't part of the super cool spiritual popular group, and honestly I wish that I'd been more "okay" with that back then, but nonetheless, I had great friends and Grant challenged us over and over and over again... there never seemed to be a week that was a "dud" for me. I was always growing. There was always something to do. Always something to work on. Always someone to help. Always fun to be had.
And then, I had to grow up.
And well, there is no youth group for people in their 20s.
I bounced around from Sunday school class to Sunday school class... sometimes going with my parents, sometimes going to the college group, finally giving in and attending the single's group (where I, sure enough, met my husband). Then he and I were both in such denial that we were suddenly part of the "Young Married" section that we stayed on as leaders of the single's group.
Until we had just a... bad... situation happen. No need for me to go into it... cause it doesn't matter. All that matters is that it was enough to make us quit teaching the singles, quit going to our own Sunday school class, and quit going to church.
For two years.
Now I promise that this is not a "January-needs-to-purge" kind of post... here is where it gets to the part for those who have never skipped church, never been "mad" at church, never been disillusioned with the Bride of Christ, and well... it's even for those who have felt all those things as well. Consider this to be a "training manual" of how to respond and how to not respond to someone that is “skipping” church. And allow me to add that it is with quite a bit of humility that I write and read this… because I’m afraid that I have done a few of these myself to other people, even after my… sabbatical… from church.
But before you get started on my opinions and experiences, I think it is a good idea to see what God says about the issue…
Even though I am a free man with no master, I have become a slave to all people to bring many to Christ.
When I was with the Jews, I lived like a Jew to bring the Jews to Christ. When I was with those who follow the Jewish law, I too lived under that law. Even though I am not subject to the law, I did this so I could bring to Christ those who are under the law.
When I am with the Gentiles who do not follow the Jewish law,t I too live apart from that law so I can bring them to Christ. But I do not ignore the law of God; I obey the law of Christ.
When I am with those who are weak, I share their weakness, for I want to bring the weak to Christ. Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some. 1 Corinthians 9:19-22
Now, take a second to think on those words before you read. Allow them to sink into your life. into your thinking. into your attitude. into your spirit.
Now… here are some phrases that I think we probably shouldn’t say to someone who is starting to drop off from the church scene…
First of all, at all costs, avoid the phrase “We missed you in church on Sunday”…since it is, sorry to say, kind of canned sounding and the whole point is to be genuine with your brothers and sisters in Christ. No need to tell people that you missed them in church… instead, ask them something about their life… “Hey, how did that trade show of your husband’s go down?” or “Girl, I saw these adorable boots today at Ross and totally thought of you.” Let them know that you are thinking about them on a personal level and not on a “I-take-attendance-and-you-weren’t-there” level.
Yeah, no one really likes to be “mocked” for not coming to church. This is like the one response that will almost 100% of the time guarantee to make someone not want to come back again. No need to remind someone that they have “failed” to come to church for a while. Additionally, if you are saying this phrase, then you have probably not done a good job of keeping up with them in the first place… and in that case, you are really the one that has “failed”.
If someone is skipping out on Sunday school each week, but they show up to a Christmas party or come to sit with your class after a Big Tent Revival… then, instead of taking a good look at the person who only comes to socials, you probably need to take a good look at your Sunday school environment because it’s probably not very conducive to fellowship… which is, after all, the entire reason we go to church with other believers. So if someone only wants to come to the parties, then they obviously want some fellowship and they don’t feel like they are getting genuine fellowship on Sundays.
This is a tough one… a lot of times it’s a question that “skippers” actually do want to be asked (although they do not want to be asked this at church). More often than not, they want to work through whatever “issue” it is that they have with church, but...
What they don’t want is the lecture that almost always ensues after their response.
What they don’t want is to feel like they are only “worthy” of friendship if they go to church.
What they don’t want is advice on how to “fix” their situation.
So, my advice… ask the question. Then… listen… genuinely and actively listen to the answer, even if you completely disagree… and just respond with something that validates what they felt. Cause we all know, perception is reality. It doesn’t matter what was really happening when they decided to stop coming to church… what matters is how they felt when they stopped coming to church… that is their reality. So, you could say…
“Oh gosh, what a tough deal.”
“I’m really sorry that happened.”
Okay, so honestly, I debated and debated about writing this and posting it… cause I sooooo try to avoid being a Negative Nancy, but… well, that verse above always sticks in my head when it comes to interacting with believers at ALL stages of their walk and of their church-going status. I guess… well, I just want us to avoid accidentally turning a believer into a “church drop-out”. So, I’ll end with the NIV version of the last verse above (and I turned it into a mini-prayer for us)… and I just ask that we let the words sink into each of us and season the way that we interact with our fellow believers… even if they are playing holy hooky…
God… help me to become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. Amen