Apr 112018

Over the last couple of years I’ve had some friends and co-workers in Christ leave the faith in a public manner.

Some have left because of horrific treatment at the hands of the church.

Some leave because of crushing disappointment with life and God’s providence.

I can fully understand both.

There have been more than a few days over the past few years when I was eying the door myself…


Often they will use social media to rail against both the church and God…and maybe even you.

How should we respond when our friends seem to fall away?

The first thing you do (if allowed), is to remain friends.

If you only love your friends when they agree with you, you aren’t much of a friend.

The second thing you do is let them vent.

They are drawing from a well of deep hurt and it’s going to look and sound ugly until the well is drained.

Hurt people can and will hurt other people…sometimes even people that used to be friends.

Be willing to hurt for the sake of the kingdom and your friend.

God doesn’t need you to defend Him at every turn…He does expect you to love even when someone may be unlovable.

The third thing you should do is validate their pain, especially when they have been crushed by the church or circumstances.

Life hurts, sometimes unbearably so.

Bad things do happen in the church and there are inexplicable tragedies all around us every day.

We wonder where God is and what He is doing.

If you haven’t been hurt that deeply yet, your time is coming.

Healing takes time…and you don’t control how much time it will take for someone else to heal.

What you don’t do is judge…using “if they were with us they would have stayed with us” to write off a soul is easy, but says more about your heart than theirs.

Finally, don’t decide that the decision they made is final.

God loves them more than you do…and His heart is to bring them back to the flock in wholeness.

He may even use your faithful friendship as means to do so.

Make your own application…


  74 Responses to “When Friends Fall Away…”

  1. Why do you think that your way of dealing with this is the right way?

  2. You’ve demonstrated this grace so beautifully over the years. A shining example of faithful friendship. Thank you for teaching me.

  3. Josh,

    I believe it reflects the heart of God toward hurting people and comes from both scripture and experience.

    I don’t claim to speak from Sinai…so feel free to disagree.

  4. I don’t disagree, necessarily. Just wondered where it came from. Situations like that are hard to handle. I’m not sure there is a one-size-fits-all solution. May God grant us all wisdom in the moment.

  5. Noelle…I’ve learned more from you than the other way around..but, thank you. 🙂

  6. Intrigue is everywhere…. It is amazing how much we, in and out of church, behave like 13 year olds guarding our place at the cafeteria table… we are so important… aren’t we?
    Even our Lord was a victim…

    Good advice, Michael…. IMHO… Maybe we’ll do better after reading

  7. Josh,

    In my experience there’s never a shortage of people who choose to preach the law to folks…and very few willing to act in sacrificial love.

    Sometimes both may be needed…

  8. I have posted and erased 5 times…

    All I know is that we were asked to take up the cross by a crucified Savior. I know we live in a time that quoting scripture is considered cruel but this one comes to mind, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” Mk 15:34.

    In the scriptures themselves there are many many exhortations to those who are considering turning back. They all apply.

    Your post is kind, understanding and perfectly appropriately stated. So I should just say Amen.

    Under the Desk Praying to Die Dread

  9. BD,
    I hear you.
    My position is that we have to earn the right to be heard and to deliver those exhortations in a time and place where they will be effective.

  10. It’s interesting that this article comes out a day after Hybels’ sudden retirement and the same day as your Chan article. I’m not assuming a connection, but noticing a helpful relevancy.

  11. Jean,

    No connection…just something that’s been on my heart as another friend says they have left the faith…

  12. I think this piece reflects God’s heart for His beloved disillusioned. Great article and teaching. Thank you.

  13. Hybels quit?

    Seeker friendly doesn’t guarantee user friendly.

    Gotcha Dread

  14. I can see leaving the church = the church failed me / let me down.

    Leaving “the faith” (perhaps that needs some meat on the bones) – but if it means leaving The Christian Faith – I see that as = God failed me / let me down. Bold assertion.

  15. Thank you, Joel.

  16. MLD,
    It is a bold assertion and theologically deficient.
    I fight against it in myself almost every day…

  17. “…leave Christ…”

    I left that “Christ” which is marketed by fundamentalism & evangelicalism to be a simple follower of

    -> Jesus as He is recorded and revealed in the 4 Gospels <-

    He prevails as attractive, unrelenting in presence, and faithful to bring me and anyone else to the present moment where He dwells.

  18. Some good, thoughtful comments being generated…
    I am sure i would have left the Faith myself, if i thought some churches and church-goers i’ve experienced owned God

  19. #17 … say what? 😯

  20. One of the best posts of yours.

    This is so painful.

    My heart breaks for those who walk away from the Lord and/or the church over their personal disappointments.

    Psalm 55 has helped me a lot in this area:
    “And I say, “Oh, that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest; yes, I would wander far away; I would lodge in the wilderness; Selah I would hurry to find a shelter from the raging wind and tempest.””
    ‭‭Psalms‬ ‭55:6-8‬ ‭ESV‬‬

    “Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved.”
    ‭‭Psalms‬ ‭55:22‬ ‭ESV‬‬

    I wonder what verses or books have helped other people through these things. Anyone?

  21. I do not want to be the dissenting voice, but I would like to be honest about my thought process.

    How do we know we are just keeping them comfortable as we walk them to Hell?

  22. There are two things that I have observed may lead people to “leave the faith:”

    (1) The faith they were promised never materialized, in that they were taught about a wonderful life or problems they could conquer if they joined a church or became a Christian. When nothing changed for them, they lost faith.or

    (2) The faith they had was in a pastor or other mentor or role model. When this person let them down, they lost faith.

    But I think BD had it correct up at #8. Christianity is a cross to bear and is accompanied by suffering.

    I disagree with #17 that “He prevails as attractive,” if by attractive you are measuring by the values of the world. My that measure, Jesus’ earthly ministry was a failure. Only by faith can a human being see the beauty and perfection of Christ and His kingdom.

  23. Good words…

    I have watched several long time friends, church folk, ‘leave the faith’, even verbally deny Jesus, over the last decade or so…. I have been so thankful of late to see a couple of them publicly state that they are now humbling themselves beneath the might hand of God…and re-affirming their long ago beliefs…. Praise God for His faithfulness. When we are faithless, He remains faithful for He cannot deny Himself…. It is the kindness of God that leads to repentance, knowing that ‘the wrath of man does not bring about the righteousness of God”

    He does leave the 99 to seek that wandering one. That is my hope and prayer for my wandering sons and friends…. His love…. My part seems to be to continue to love, proclaim God’s faithfulness in my own life (let the redeemed of the Lord say so)…. and to pray.

  24. Josh,
    It’s good to dissent.
    As Paige noted, it’s the kindness of God that leads to repentance.
    Heaven or hell is not my call…demonstrating the love of Christ is.

  25. “demonstrating the love of Christ”

    Does Christ ever use “tough love”?

  26. Michael

    Nicely said… I’ve also learned that life is long. The person who seems to walk away, given time and patient love, often return. Sometimes it takes decades, but very often they come back home…

  27. “I’ve also learned that life is long.”

    Yeah, I see the exact opposite. This time on earth is just a blip. So fragile.

  28. #20 – Jtk, great psalms!

    “a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice.” Is. 42:three

    ” What do you think If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.” – Matt. 18: twelve to fourteen

  29. I would let people grouse for a while but I will not allow anyone to blaspheme God in my presence if I can help it. I will listen to complaints for a while but not forever. If the friendship is going to continue they will have to find something else to talk about.

    I also am not inclined to believe every church abuse story I am presented with. I have been fooled quite a few times in that regard. I will maintain a friendly skepticism. I won’t join them in bashing a congregation or bashing God. God I know is innocent and as I have said here many times, every story has two sides.

  30. Josh,

    All I know is that the only thing that keeps me from going over the edge is the kindness of the people of God.
    I’m close to the edge even with it.
    God may use tough love at times…Matthew 18 comes to mind.
    Jesus has kept me…even though I don’t always want to stay.

  31. Josh the Baptist, what are you getting at?

    Are you saying Michael’s post is being too kind to backsliders or the apostate? Re: your hell comment

  32. I left the faith. I’m not hurt.

    God didn’t let me down. (I don’t believe in God.)

    I didn’t leave because church people let me down. Church people are no better or worse than non-church people. They’re just people. Imperfect people.

    I’m not hurt. I’m not disappointed. I just don’t believe.

  33. I am sitting at the car wash wondering if we see any bible examples of Jesus or the Apostles chasing after believers who turn and those reject God?
    I know that the apostate can once again be called by the gospel but that would require one to be in a place to hear the gospel once again.

  34. Rob, as one of the few here who do believe that believers can and do walk away from their faith and reject God, I fully understand what you are saying.

  35. MLD and I agree some who once believed leave the faith.

    As for why one should stay I have always thought that the only reason to remain is because it is true. If this whole thing is untrue then we should leave it. If people represent Jesus poorly, and we do, so what? The machinations of people has nothing whatsoever to do with my life in Jesus. They did not save me, I did not receive their Spirit when I believed. Jesus alone is the reason to believe and to stay in the family. So onward we go in him.

    We are indeed witnessing a great season of apostasy. The end timers have fresh books to write. My assignment is the same.

    Jesus Alone Dread

  36. 19,
    There is a huge difference between the “Christ” of Evangelicalism/Fundamentalism and Jesus as He is recorded in the 4 Gospels.

    If you simply stay in the Gospels you will worship Him as God without all the baggage of the false persona of that “Christ”

  37. Then our response should be as our suffering savior did during his time upon the earth. Let us leave the 99 to go rescue and restore that one.

  38. The friends & family that I have who have “fallen away” or “left Chrit” have overwhelmingly rejected that “Christ” that EvangoFundies offer the world. But when we focus on Jesus, His words, His examples, His teaching, the people who rejected the other are still quite open to Jesus.


  39. Believers can and do walk away, so can born again children of God… If you’re in the latter category, God’s going to come looking for you. 😁
    If one has been a believer, but has come to the conclusion that God either isn’t or isn’t worth the time to pursue, God may still search you out and get you… man’s heart is deceitful, but God isn’t fooled by any of us

    Just sayin … again…

  40. So what is it we say to someone like Rob who has made a conscious choice to leave Jesus? So I am going to leave my 99 and go after Rob -what do I say that will not sound like a marketing ploy from Volkswagen or Wells Fargo Bank (whose customers have lost faith) – “come back and give Jesus another chance”.

    There is a good chance many came to Jesus under the slogan “give Jesus a try – you’ll like it.”

  41. I’m not chasing anyone…nor do I avoid anyone.
    I’m available to talk and listen…because I’m as fragile as they were.

  42. “So what is it we say to someone like Rob who has made a conscious choice to leave Jesus?”

    We love Rob as we love ourselves. Not to “sell” him on Jesus. But because Rob’s made in God’s image and loved dearly by our Lord.

  43. The “Jesus of the gospels” isn’t a different God than those who describe the “Old Testament God” as being different. Jesus said pretty harsh and divisive stuff not just to the religious leaders.

    I think Peter summed it up best, “Lord, to whom else will we go?”

    Those who left were among us but not of us.

  44. Thank you, Gman… I have heard Roman Catholics and one Greek say the same thing
    While i think your evangelical fundies have been more ubiquitous in the last hundred years or so, if you are saying that religious people can obscure God in some instances, i think your point is well taken
    However, if you meet an RC or a Greek or an evangelical fundie who is walking with God, you will see Christ… A powerful, gracious and loving reflection of our Lord Jesus

    Gotta try to make that thing you use (not steal it) -\_( “) )_/- weeel … 🙆

  45. What can one say to someone who has left the Faith? Is there a formulaic response?
    Give them a hug, if you can. Tell them you’re sorry and pray for them. But don’t tell them you’re going to do so.
    I once heard a black Christian pastor say, “Why am I a Christian? … I don’t want to go to hell!” That might be a start, but there are a couple problems. …
    1-you’re not convinced that you have an immortal soul
    2-telling God at judgement day, “I’m only here because the option is just too hot.”. might not cut it ….

    Dunno if i doubted God, i guess i’d do a lot of meditating on the old hymn, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” …

  46. “What can one say to someone who has left the Faith?”

    My best buddy never had the Faith to begin with. I’ve stopped trying to change his mind. I’m simply a friend to him. We have beers together, laugh, tell stories about our wives. I endure his opinions of the world and he tolerates mine. But there’s nothing I wouldn’t do for the guy. I love him, Christian or not.

  47. I didn’t leave the faith for spiritual reasons, so can’t be brought back by spiritual means.

    Those attempts would never answer the scientific, historical, evidence-based world view that I now accept.

    If I had left because of emotional distress or feelings that somehow God had let me down, then addressing those issues would be appropriate. Just not applicable in my case.

    PS, thanks for the kind interactions from all. I’ll bow out and let the conversation continue.

  48. I still believe in Christ, but sometimes I am hanging on by my fingernails. Michael, you are a conduit of God’s grace to me. When I read your writing, I feel closer to Christ, even in my weariness, and that says a lot.

  49. Rob,

    There is nothing inherently dichotomous between faith and science, although scienticism makes a religion out of science when its world view dismisses God out of hand; similarly biblicism makes science out of religion when its world view dismisses empirical data that does not fit its particular manner of reading the Scriptures.

    If you want to reduce the meaning of life to being a sperm donor in the service of mother nature’s natural selection, more power to you. I believe there is more.

    However, it’s indisputable that there was an “in the beginning” and science is utterly incapable of answering the who, what or why of that beginning. In my opinion, it takes more faith to believe in no God than to believe in God, because a creator must have created out of nothing.

    I hope you have an opportunity to question your current world view before you pass on from this life, because life is relatively short and none of us are guaranteed the next hour of life. I would encourage you to question it right now and repent of your unbelief.

    Jesus is your Savior and forgives your unbelief. Return to the Shepherd of your sole. There are people here or references to people near you who can speak privately with you to address your concerns.

  50. Rob, due to my late husband’s occupation we were surrounded by evidence based scientific types most of our adult lives – some very dear honest souls… Most took the stand, if God is real He knows where He can find me
    I think that you are doing your best to be honest, to avoid delusional rationalizing….

    Faith is unnatural… or better put, perhaps supernatural 😇 give me an honest unbeliever over a smarmy pretender any day…. (Don’t find many smarms here on Michael’s site, so i think it is worth your hanging around and sharing thots from time to time… )

    That’s what i think… dunno, tbo, do i?

  51. intriguing things happen when people start to wonder. Sometimes wonder leads to doubt, skepticism, even disbelief. Other times, wonder leads to seeking, digging, asking, reevaluating, re-calibration, adjusting, and course corrections. Regardless, wonder leads to an openness that is often absent from people of faith, especially when ‘surety’ or ‘confidence’ is touted as a hallmark of maturity.

  52. Cash,

    Jesus will be there even if you lose your grip.
    He’s all I’m sure of…

  53. To me Rob is gone and as a non believer once again cannot hear the voice of Jesus. When I speak to people, I only address those who look up – they recognize and know the masters voice / word because they belong to him – Jesus used this example about the sheep who hear his voice.

    Rob is honest – he is gone. Perhaps Jesus will capture his attention once more.

  54. @31 Jtk – Not sure. Just thinking it through. Asking questions.

    It’s an interesting conversation. In general, my friends who “leave the faith” don’t want to be around me anymore. Kindness is always a good thing, though I’m not sure comfort is something to be offered to the faithless. Don’t know. Just thinking.

  55. I could be wrong.
    What I know for sure is that I often wonder why I still believe and can only assume that it is Jesus keeping me.
    I know that when I went though my darkest hour and Christians attacked me for doubting, I never wanted to darken the door of a church again.
    Through the difficulty of the last few years the kindness and love of Gods people has been of great help.
    If I needed empirical evidence I’d have left long ago.

    I’ve had to adjust…I completely and officially left evangelicalism and any sort of fundamentalism behind along with some of their prized doctrines.

    I found a spiritual home where I can live in a measure of safety and embrace mystery…but I still empathize with those who leave completely.

    Sometimes,it hurts too much to hope another day…

  56. #55 Michael

    God loves you… and those walking beside you love you, Sometimes that is enough to know. I know that for me, it has saved my life,,,

  57. Duane,

    Amen…and you’ve been one of those people for me.
    It gives me the strength to pass on that love to others.

    Too often in these conversations we replace the acknowledgement of a broken person with a doctrinal point…and I simply can’t do that anymore.

  58. Michael

    I think that is called “wisdom”…

  59. I admit to thinking through this post in a hypothetical / theoretical manner rather than as a conversation with a real person. That is probably out of place, and maybe insensitive.

    Hope you guys have a great evening. 🙂

  60. Josh

    You have a heart for God that’s big enough to encompass us all…

  61. You’re an encourager, Duane. May we all learn from your example.

  62. Josh…I concur with Duane.

  63. The last 9 comments ending with comment 62 are very encouraging to me.

  64. Dan,

    We’re glad you stuck around…

  65. Thanks Michael! I see some elements of my last 10-15 years in your comment 55.

  66. Michael…a good and wise word. BD and Paige…thank you for your wisdom.

    Suffering is the great equalizer, and until we’ve suffered we cannot understand why some become exhausted in the race. That’s why it’s so important to lift one another up in prayer and to encourage each other.

  67. Linnea…well said.
    Glad to see you posting as well…

  68. I love this, Michael. I agree with you 100%.

  69. Michael,

    I’m glad that you wrote your post one sentence at a time, because i agree with every single one.

  70. I love you all. (((Hugs))))

  71. I think we do a good job of helping eachother hold on when our grip is letting go….when we are feeling low…..many of you inspire me to not lose hope and hold on

  72. People that walk away from a false gospel or a false church, haven’t left Jesus. They were never with Jesus. They just left a false religion that slapped the name of Jesus on it.

    True salvation (John 3:16) includes the person saying as Peter said, Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life (John 6:68)

  73. As a person who has no intention of putting themselves back in a christian enviroment again after 40+ years of being totally emersed in it. I find this post both refreshing and food for thought.
    I self care by not being involved with most E & F christians. They are not a healthy option for many people. I can honestly say I am a better person and my quality of life has improved for being away from Christian organisations.
    The church seems to be an ostrich with its head in the sand about the growing number of people who feel this way. The church can’t be advised or told and in their arogance they are loosing their relevance and authenticity.
    Now my time and care are for the walking wounded who are churned out the other side of the religious meat grinder.
    I have no desire to return to church, but it is a common arrogance that presumes that all those who are not in church have no faith. The judgement dished out to those who dont attend, then turns people defensive. It isn’t loving, it doesn’t convict them, it drives them away. Not all that wonder are lost.
    I just don’t like a lot of Gods cheer squad.
    If people are not becoming better versions of themselves for their involvement. I believe it is quite OK to walk away, find somewhere else, or not go at all. They don’t need to return to distructive situations.
    I find this writing and many of the comments speak to me of a faith I am familiar with, but feel that I haven’t seen in a long time.
    I have experienced better behaviour outside faith communities than in it. How sad is that?
    Personally I have suggested that my children work in secular jobs not in christian ones,as I think it will be less damaging to them and there is more accountability in the non christian sector.
    Thank you for writing something that actually reminds me that there are christians that don’t make people inwardly roll their eyes or spiritally cringe.


  74. Jennifer,

    Thank you for the kind words…a lot of us see what you see and hope and work for better…

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