Faith

Where have all my church friends gone?

by Christina Wong // July 13, 2017, 2:42 pm

keep the faith

I’d woken up with a nagging image of my former cell group member in my head. I wondered why. I hadn’t heard from her or seen her around for quite a long time, come to think of it; I decided to drop her a text to see how she was doing.

She told me she’d been busy at her new job and we ended the conversation on a good note. Everything seemed fine.

A few weeks later, I heard that she had decided to leave the church.

I was shell-shocked. She was the one who was always at cell group. She was present throughout exam periods (when attendance always dwindled), through the dry seasons (when people started leaving) … Everyone counted on her to be always there.

We used to run the race together. Now I look around and they’re no longer here with me.

Then I went to look at old cell group photos, and realised that many members have already left the church – and even the faith.

These were the people who chided me when I chose to skip cell group for no good reason. They pursued me when I was on the slippery slope of falling out of church. They championed evangelical events and got me involved even in the busiest of exam seasons.

We used to run the race together. Now I look around and they’re no longer here with me.

KEEPING YOUR FAITH

How do you keep the faith when the people you’ve grown up with in the faith are all going, going, gone?
I’ll be honest: It’s been disheartening. It’s been difficult.

It’s difficult when people you are close to leave the church. It’s difficult to leave (I’ve toyed with the idea before – admit it, we all have). It’s difficult being left behind.

I understand that most of those who left didn’t make that decision lightly. They’re usually dealing with some serious pain and turmoil.

But those who remain deal with the pain and grief of losing a friend. That was me.

WHOSE FAITH IS IT ANYWAY?

With each friend that disappeared, I grew more weary and doubtful. Then I realised what had happened: I had grown dependent on the people in the church. They made church comfortable. They made church fun.

But our faith should never be found in people. People come and people go. People will fail us. Our faith can only be found in our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.

I am called to go wherever He goes, not to go wherever my friends go. I needed to make my faith my own, not theirs.

In the gospel, John tells the story of people who believed in Jesus through the excited testimony of a Samaritan woman who had a life-changing conversation with him at a nearby well.

So the Samaritans went right to the source – they sought out Jesus himself, and urged him to stay with them. They listened to Him for two days – then they believed.

They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Saviour of the world.” (John 4:42)

Going to church makes you a Christ-follower as much as going to McDonald’s makes you a hamburger.

Owning my faith involves a daily conscious decision to make Jesus the leader of my life and the forgiver of my sins. It happens through a lifetime of conscious and intentional choices to hear Jesus for myself and to do what He says. It doesn’t just happen just because you’ve been physically present and attending all the worship services and lifegroups.

As my senior pastor always says, going to church makes you a Christ-follower as much as going to McDonald’s makes you a hamburger. To be a Christ-follower, I need to own my faith actively. Every single day.

If not, I’ll find myself falling away from the faith as well.

In learning that, I found the strength time and again to carry on even when I’m the only one left.

‘THANK YOU FOR HOLDING SPACE’

My mind goes back to an incident when a brother in our cell group suddenly sent us all a long text saying that he no longer wanted to come to church.

This was during our weekend-long church conference. Right after the conference ended, my leader rallied the group to dash straight down to his house to just be with him. Check if he was okay. See if our presence could make a difference.

That night in his home, we just ate dinner together in his kitchen. It was unusually quiet for a group of 10 people.

Some weeks later, he showed up in church again. I never found out what triggered his sudden desire to leave. But he later shared with me that he was thankful for that night, when we went down to be with him and not question him.

He thanked us for holding space for him to sort his emotions out, but at the same time for not letting him go.

BEHIND EVERY NUMBER IS A LIFE

This was the spirit my leader imparted to us, that no one gets left behind (Luke 15:4). When one man is down, we go to him. We bring the church to him.

People might say that this is all for the numbers. That with every person gone, the church statistics suffers. That’s also true. Who did you think was paying the bills for the church facilities?

But behind every number is also a life. A name. A face. A story. A child of God. Aren’t we called to empty hell and fill up heaven?

It is my prayer that my friends will one day find their reason to come back into His arms again.

Till then, I choose to stay. To commit myself to what Jesus has instructed: The fulfilment of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20).

And that’s my comfort. That even when you’re the only one left, He promises that He will be with you to the very end of the age.

About the author

Christina Wong

Christina is a designer who memorises Pantone swatches. A recovering bubble tea addict, she also dreams of raising her own pet penguin one day.