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The Power of Words
By Nancy Canwell

"Kind words bring life, but cruel words crush your spirit" (Proverbs 15:4, CEV).

Norman* cringed when he heard the words. He was all too familiar with the abrupt and stinging words that church members can sometimes say to non-attending members. It had happened to him.

Although Norman had been raised in the Adventist church, he hadn’t attended for quite some time. But as a gift to his mom for Mother’s Day, he told her he’d pick her up and go to church with her.

What would make this story beautiful would be if I could tell you that the first person Norman met welcomed him back with open arms and made him feel right at home. But the story turns sour.

The first person Norman met when he walked into church with his mom was a long time greeter who loudly announced, “Well, well, well. Our little black sheep is home!” Norman almost turned around and left.

Now he was watching his adult daughter get similar treatment. Their family was together for a birthday dinner and someone had invited one of the church elders and his wife, who had been family friends.

The elder sat down next to Norman’s daughter and said, “Hey, we haven’t seen you at church in awhile.”

She explained that she and her husband were visiting other churches and looking for a place where their whole family could fit in, especially their kids. This was a perfect opportunity for the elder to make them feel welcome to “come home.”

Instead, he said, “Well, we’ve been wondering, because your membership at the our church means we having to pay the school subsidy for your son. That is obviously a hardship for us if you’re attending elsewhere. Do you understand my concern?”

Norman told me, “Needless to say, the conversation ended shortly thereafter. My daughter and her family are ‘done with that church’ and are slowly but surely moving on.”

It’s a painful story to read, isn’t it? If only the elder had shown genuine care and concern. If only he would have asked Norman’s daughter, “What could our church do to make you and your family feel like you belong? Do you think that we need a Family Ministries program? Hey, how would you like to be on that committee?” Things would have turned out differently.

So how should we treat someone who has quit attending church? Paul Richardson, author of the book, An Indescribable Welcome Home, suggests: “If you respond with a Christ-like spirit, listening with interest and care, you open a door to build trust. But if you react defensively or begin to criticize them, your immediate disapproval will diminish your ability to minister to them. Even if you do not agree with something they say, I would encourage you, at this point, to hold your tongue. Simply be a non-anxious presence. Let your spirit communicate that no matter what has happened in their past, God deeply cares about them just the way there are—and that you do as well.”

“A non-anxious presence.” That’s what we want to be when we visit with a non-attending person. We want them to feel relaxed, accepted, and cared for. And maybe then, they will want more of that kind of feeling and return home.

Prayer Focus: Pray that the Holy Spirit would call forth a network in local churches that have the gift of non-anxious listening and conversing with hurting people who might have non-standard ideas, feeling, and faith.

Recommended Resource: Adventist Family Ministries: A Training Program for Local Church Leaders. Healthy families make healthy churches! Order from AdventSource: http://bit.ly/1oCOx23

*Name has been changed