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The Seeking Shepherd
By Nancy Canwell

“Then Jesus told them this parable: Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ ”

“It was brutal to hear those words,” Rick* told me.

After he and two of his siblings quit attending church, his mom asked anxiously, “What am I going to say when I get to heaven and Jesus asks: ‘Where are the Little Lambs that I gave you?’ ”

“I was a fourth generation Adventist,” Rick continued. “I went through the Adventist education system from grade school through college. I had very, very deep roots. I can’t imagine that anyone grew up in a more idyllic environment. So my leaving the church had nothing to do with my parents. The guilt they were feeling wasn’t necessary.

“My problem with church came when I faced a crisis in my marriage. Nobody—and I mean nobody—in an official church position had any interest in helping me cope with my challenges. One day I came to the conclusion that it took too much effort to stay in the church. It took energy to pretend to be something that I wasn’t—the happy, cheerful, pleasant guy that everyone thought I was. So I just stopped.”

When Rick’s dad got older and was facing his own mortality, he asked, “Why don’t you guys go to church anymore? I thought that at my age I could look forward to my family all being together in heaven. I just feel so bad that maybe we did something….”

What both parents were feeling is understandable. There probably isn’t a parent of a non-attending adult child that hasn’t agonized with the question, “What did I do wrong?” While no parent is perfect, most likely there were other issues involved. And parents cannot control the choices of their grown children.

But there are adult children who quit attending church because of their parents’ negative influence. A retired pastor friend of mine recently told me, “I had to apologize to my adult children. When they were young I didn’t understand righteousness by faith.” He now knows that only Jesus—not perfectly following rules and regulations—brings salvation.

If you suspect that your children left the church because of you, let them know that you’re sorry. Then encourage them to seek out God and the church on their own. Even if you did do something that drove them away, God is bigger than any mistake you may have made.

How should a parent relate to an adult child who has quit attending church? Rick shares a few dos” and “don’ts:”

Don’t constantly invite them to church. They know where it is if they choose to go.
Don’t tell them, “I’m praying for you.” Even though you are, it sounds coercive.
Don’t “preach” at them. It will only drive them away.
Do tell them how much you love them and make them feel valued.
Do accept them, even if they’re doing things that you don’t agree with. Acceptance doesn’t mean that you’re condoning their behavior, but that you love them in spite of it.
Do live your life in a way that it becomes your “witness without words.”

If you, like Rick’s mom, are concerned that your “little lamb” doesn’t attend church, read the above text again. The seeking Shepherd is still able to care for His sheep.

Prayer Focus: Pray for the parents whose adult children have left the church. Pray that any grief or guilt they might have will be replaced with love and acceptance for their sons and daughters.

Recommended Resource: “5 Secrets for Peace in a Storm” by Ruthie Jacobson. You can order through the Adventist Book Center at http://bit.ly/1sUhVoY.

*Name has been changed