ONLINE CHURCH BULLETIN
RESTORING THE ERRING
Church work is always wonderfully interesting! No one ever got bored because building churches and saving souls was so easy. It never gets to be routine. No one ever feels he has mastered it.
Every preacher and elder can relate to the passage in Alice in Wonderland where the Queen says to Alice, "Here you must run as fast as you can to stay in the same place. To get anywhere you must run even faster." Many churches constantly struggle to keep as many members coming in the front door as are going out the back door. Sometimes elders feel like the little boy trying to keep ten corks under the water at the same time. Many preachers feel they preach more to a procession of people, one face after an-other, than to a progression of people, a group steadily growing in number and spiritual strength. Perhaps it was a church leader who first used the proverb seen in many businesses: "The hurrier I go, the behinder I get."
How big is the Problem? In a day when people are used to changing jobs, houses, cities, even spouses, it is not surprising that they are also quick to change churches. In a time of instant gratification, a "what have you done for me lately" attitude, and little patience with anything that does not meet a "felt need," it is not unexpected that many are quick to quit "church" altogether.
About four out of ten- Americans Who grow up attending church services (39%) will drop out of active church participation sometime during their lifetime.'
Roughly seven out of ten American adults (71%) had a period of time during their childhood when they regularly at-tended "a Christian church," but only 43% of American adults attend any church service in a typical weekend.2
In one large city a survey discovered that in a single city block, with high-rise apartments, there were one-thousandthree-hundred people who had left various churches.
Eight in ten of those who drop out do so in the first year after they are converted. In most Southern communities, our buildings would be too small to accommodate the audience if all those who have fallen away from the Lord's church were to return the next Lord's Day
Where are the young people? That question has been asked by many a visitor scanning a church audience of gray heads. The Bible still says, "Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth..." (Ecclesiastes 12:1), but for many young people He becomes "God's only forgotten Son" all too soon.
-Most dropouts occur during the teenage and college years. One study showed that "71% of the teenagers who `go to church' at the age of fourteen would have stopped doing so by the time they reach the age of twenty."
-A survey on "Desires Teens Hold for Their Future" found that only 43% held "being personally active in a church" as a life goal.4 This percentage falls far behind "having a college degree" (88%), "having good physical health" (87%), "having a comfortable lifestyle" (83%), and even "having a satisfying sex life with [my] marriage partner" (55%).
This issue crosses denominational boundaries.6 "Teenage dropout, or teenage turnoff, is a problem facing all Christian churches." For instance, a study of dropouts in the Catholic Church revealed that "young people leaving" is a sizeable problem—45% of dropouts were under 22 years old.
Something Tragic; Nothing New. It is sad to contemplate the loss of even one person whose value is greater than all Solomon's uncountable treasures adjusted for inflation (Matthew 16:26; cf. 1 Kings 10:21-29). It is indescribably tragic to think that millions have fallen away since Pentecost.
This is not an altogether modern or American—problem. James addressed the need to restore erring members in what is thought to be the first New Testament book ever written (about A.D. 50). The devil has never been a procrastinator when there was "a soul to steal" (1 Peter 5:8). He never gets a late start, nor does he clock out early. He has never taken a vacation; nor has he sought an early retirement. The only thing that matches his relentless —pursuit of-our-souls is God's boundless-love for them.
James has an interesting writing style. Like Solomon's Proverbs, his book leaps from subject to subject without obvious connection between themes. He's like a child in Wal-Mart excitedly pointing to a football and then a remote-controlled car and then the truck that transforms into a dinosaur! His book is a little Iike one man's opinion of Webster's Dictionary: "Well, it's a mighty good book, but it changes the subject too much!" James' conclusion is as abrupt as his introduction and body. He breaks off the letter without any formal farewell, salutation, or doxology.' He makes no personal references, as Paul almost always did. He summarizes no major theme, as Peter might have. He just rushes up to the end and puts down his pen.
As James completes the one hundred thirteen verses he gave the world, he seems for a moment to stop and think over what he has written. It is as if the Spirit told him, "James, we have room for only one more sentence. What do you want to say?" He had covered several touchy subjects. He had strongly admonished some brothers. He could not retract the biting words about the tongue nor cancel his decisive command to the double-minded, but he could hold out the olive branch possibility of such brothers starting over. He seems to say, "Don't let this letter discourage you. If someone has fallen away, set your heart upon getting him back. The situation still has potential to glorify God."