Question: I left the church a few years ago. I had several reasons for making the decision at the time, but it’s probably not important that I share them now. I made a mistake and have been wanting to go back. Here’s the problem: I am worried about what people will think or say. Any advice?
I am grateful that you shared your question because I know a lot of people who have made the same mistake and might be worried about the same thing.
Most people choose the easy solution and simply go to a new church where no one knows them. There, they receive all the positive attention any new visitor would receive, but there is a more excellent way.
In Luke 15:11-32, we find one of the most powerful passages in the Bible: The Parable of the Lost Son
I would encourage you to read the story a few times, but let me here summarize it for our readers: A son leaves his father’s house, eventuality regrets his decision, comes back expecting to be rejected, but finds nothing but the open arms of his loving father and the excited celebration of the whole household.
Let me first share some observations from the parable which suggest what you might expect when you go back to your church:
The Father will Receive – The church is described as the “Father’s House” in the Bible (John 2:16) and when we leave it, we leave him. Rather than being angry with us, he is always eagerly awaiting our return. So much so, that when he sees us coming, he runs out to meet us and rejoices greatly.
Angels will Rejoice – While it is natural for us to worry about how people might respond when they see us return, the Bible invites us to lift our thoughts to more heavenly things: “There is joy in the presence of the Angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
Hypocrites will Grumble – I suspect that this reality is the source of at least some of your fear, and it is understandable. The older brother in the parable did not rejoice with the father or the angels, but rather stewed in self-righteous jealousy. Forget about him. His opinion doesn’t matter and he is always the minority.
Having now established what you might expect, let me offer some advice on how to proceed:
Meditation – Meditate upon all you have lost over the past few years. The world, your flesh, and the devil lied to you when they suggested that life would be better outside the Father’s House. I sense you have come to realize that. Allow the warm memories of better times to fill your heart with longings for home.
Humility – It may seem like a coarse thing to say, but do keep in mind the fact that the church is not about you. It never was and it never will be. The son in the parable recognized this and even prepared a self-deprecating speech to express his contriteness, “I am not worthy to be called thy son…”
Preparation – Prepare yourself to be loved. I know it would be nice to sneak in during the prelude, privately enjoy the experience of worship in your Father’s House, and then sneak out before anyone has a chance to speak to you, but that is simply not possible. You need to receive the love of God and his people.
While you may not have realized it over the years (and despite the conflict which led to your initial departure), here are the facts: Your spiritual siblings and, more importantly, your Father in Heaven have been waiting and watching for your return.
Anticipated objection: “Well, if that be the case, then why didn’t someone call? Why didn’t someone reach out to me?”
The answer is obvious: They didn’t call you for the same reasons you didn’t call them. They didn’t know what to say. They were afraid of being rejected. They were feeling hurt and didn’t deal with their feelings in a perfectly sanctified manner.
But what does any of that matter now? If the Father is waiting to receive you back home, and if the Angels are ready to rejoice over your return, and if your brothers and sisters are wanting to give you a big hug, then what else needs to be said? Go home.