If you are a regular reader, you know that I was not active in the Church for 20 years. I’ve written before about that time in my life, and the assumptions made by others. I’ve often said that we need to get a lot better about understanding those who choose not to join us on Sunday. If we can’t understand, at least we can love. Isn’t that what disciples of Christ do? “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.” (John 13:34) Jesus didn’t say to love those who attend church, or those who agree with us about everything, or those who are easy to love, or those who love us. He said to love one another—period.
Heavenly Father’s children are unique by nature. Not a single one of us is like any another. We weren’t manufactured on a factory assembly line straight from some mold. It stands to reason that we will have differences of opinion. We are going to think about things differently because we all have different life experiences. This is not an accident, but by divine design.
There are many different reasons why someone may choose not to be among us on Sunday. Don’t make assumptions! The reason why they don’t come to church is not important unless they want to talk about it—in which case be willing to listen with a loving ear. Sometimes it requires listening without comment. Other times it requires listening with an apologetic ear. Loving them doesn’t require explanations, but if they want to vent, be willing to be the spout on the teapot.
In the many years I was not active in church, I wanted someone to just listen to what happened to me, but not a single person ever wanted to listen. On the other hand, there were endless people who wanted to tell me how wrong I was for not being in church. I recently heard from someone who said when he was not coming to church that someone sent him a text and told him he needed to be in church. I had no words. I don’t know why this person had taken a break from church, and I don’t care. However, if he ever wants to tell me, I will be all ears.
The most common assumption people make is that when someone leaves the Church, they have lost their testimony, or never had one in the first place. That is very often wrong! Sometimes people have problems accepting the imperfections in the history of the Church—but don’t make that assumption either. Sometimes people get angry or have a disagreement with someone and get their feelings hurt—again, not an assumption to make. Sometimes people just decide they believe something different from what we teach—and that is perfectly okay. In the whole scheme of things, it doesn’t matter. There are hundreds of reasons why people choose not to go to church. We are to love everyone, regardless of their religious beliefs, or whether or not they are sitting in the pews on Sunday.
We just have to get better at this, people. As we strengthen our own faith, we will learn to accept and love others. My parents used to say, “Clean off your own doorstep before you clean off others’.” Concentrate on improving your own relationship with your Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. I promise that as you do that, you will care less about whether someone is in church, or why they are not there. You will care more about loving them, ministering to them, and learning from them. I’ve learned a lot about Christlike love from many people who are not members of our faith, or who are members, but not actively attending.
I’ve often heard it said, “Just be their friend.” That always makes me chuckle. When I was not active, I could tell someone who considered me their “project” a mile away. I could tell by someone’s handshake whether they were genuine, or whether they were shaking my hand because they thought that’s what they were supposed to do. I always knew when someone was humoring me, and when they were looking past me at someone they really wanted to see. The “just be their friend” thing only works if you genuinely want to be a friend. It can’t be a half-hearted effort out of a sense of duty, or worse, guilt.
Ministering is all about following the teachings of Christ. First things first: learn who Jesus is, what He said, what He taught, and how He acted and reacted. Strengthen your own faith in the principles that He taught. Place Jesus Christ in the forefront of your life. Live your life doing as He did, and loving as He loved. Be the smile in the elevator. Be the shoulder to cry on. Be the helper when help is needed. Teach with love and understanding. Show me through your words and your actions what Christlike love looks like. Love me (and everyone else) even when we disagree. Strengthen your faith, and you will strengthen mine as well.
Tudie Rose is a mother of four and grandmother of ten in Sacramento, California. You can find her on Twitter as @TudieRose. She blogs as Tudie Rose at http://potrackrose.wordpress.com. She has written articles for Familius. You will find a Tudie Rose essay in Lessons from My Parents, Michele Robbins, Familius 2013, at http://www.familius.com/lessons-from-my-parents.