And he said to him, "Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found." Luke 15:31-32
I remember going to my first call in western South Dakota.
My congregation, which was so small it had been a permanent vacancy for 20 years, was in a state of disrepair. When I first entered the church, I found a wonderful, retired pastor, Carl Krueger, agonizing over the church membership files.
His first words to me were a pained, "They're not all here."
By that Pastor Krueger meant not all the members of the congregation who were on the books of the church deserved to be there. When I asked for an explanation, he listed four names, "Pastor Klaus, if I were you," he said, "I wouldn't expect to see these four in worship on a regular basis."
"And why not?" I queried.
"Because these four are in the cemetery," he told me.
He was right. I never did see those four in church.
And I never saw the five members who had, more than 15 years before, joined the military and made the service their lifelong work. I never saw the folks who had married and joined other congregations, but who had never transferred out. I never saw the five who were living in different states, but kept their membership at our church because they wanted to be buried in our cemetery.
On the other hand, the Holy Spirit did get back many who had been delinquent for years. Yes, He reactivated many, but not all.
Most pastors and parishes will understand. My congregation was a microcosm of what most of us have experienced.
Now I share this with you because, two weeks ago, a national survey was published which said the percentage of folks who identified themselves as Christians had dropped from 78 percent to 70 percent, and the number of unconnected souls increased from 15 percent to 23 percent.
The news was met with glee and rejoicing by those who are opposed to the Savior and His work of reclaiming lost and sinful souls. From past experience, I have to say their victory is both premature and hollow. As near as I can see, the only thing which has changed is that many delinquents are being more honest than they used to be.
In other words, delinquents no longer are pretending they are affiliated with a Christian church, which is good news for us. No longer will these folks be ignored because they are listed somewhere on our books. Their honesty makes them beloved mission targets for a caring congregation of Christians who will do their absolute best to reclaim a wandering brother or floundering sister.
THE PRAYER: Dear Lord, let the world gloat, but grant us the grace and wisdom to try and reclaim those who have wandered or are backsliding. This we ask in the Name of the risen Redeemer. Amen.
In Christ I remain His servant and yours,
Pastor Ken Klaus
Speaker emeritus of The Lutheran Hour®
Lutheran Hour Ministries