The Bible clearly teaches that we need the church and should not forsake our meetings together (Hebrews 10:23-25). So, if one does, it our responsibility to help that brother/sister be restored in their faith and discipleship (Galatians 6:1-2).
Jesus gave us further guidelines for managing the wayward person by way of a 3-step process (Matthew 18:15-20).
Step one: Talk to him privately (Matthew 18:15).
Step two: Talk to him with two or three more (Matthew 18:16).
Step three: Take the matter before the whole church (Matthew 18:17).
Simple enough, right?
It is not as easy as one-two-three
Early in my discipleship, I believed the Bible provided a black-and-white formula for every situation of life. While it does give us all things that pertain to life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3), it’s not quite as simple as I once thought.
It would be impossible for the Bible to contain an exhaustive how-to for anything we might encounter. For instance, we are told to do good unto all men (Galatians 6:10). Imagine if it also listed every way we might do that. The list is virtually endless.
Notice that Jesus never gave us the words to say when confronting a brother/sister overtaken in a fault. He never said, “Thou shalt say to him…” The first layer of difficulty is in finding the right words to say when pursuing step one from Matthew 18.
You might also notice that Jesus never gave us a time frame for each step. Do we speak privately to the person more than once? Do we wait until we feel that option has been exhausted before we move to step two? Or, do we quickly breeze through all three?
Framing the conversation
Keep in mind, someone who has withdrawn from the church typically has other underlying issues. That empty seat on Sunday is indicative of another problem altogether. Of course, we’re talking about someone who has missed more than a meeting or two.
It is extremely important that we begin by putting ourselves into the other person’s shoes (1 Corinthians 8:7). We have to try and see things their way and truly understand what they are going through (Galatians 6:2).
It is also important that we avoid even the slightest hint of self-righteousness (Romans 3:10). This may be easier said than done because a brother/sister who has been confronted with their problems will often respond defensively and resort to offending you.
There are no perfect words. We have to rely on prayer, wisdom, and the knowledge that the Lord will be with us (Matthew 18:20).
Long-suffering and patience is required
We have to approach every situation of this nature with humility and gentleness (Ephesians 4:2). It often requires patience and a willingness to wait on the Lord’s grace (Psalm 27:14). There is no easy answer. There is no quick fix.
Following Galatians 6:1-2 or Matthew 18:15-20 is a labor of love. Of course, love is marked by a willingness to endure hardship for extended amounts of time while remaining kind and avoiding proud condemnation (1 Corinthians 13:1-7).
In other words, there is no perfect formula when attempting to restore a backsliding disciple. It would not be wise to hit steps one through three in a matter of a few days. Think back on your past. Perhaps you remember the other side of the fence.