“What is that smell in the kitchen sink?” “Ah, honey, I’ll look at it, uh, soon.” “When?” “Uh…soon.” “It’s been like this for six month now, honey…honey, are you listening to me? Agh! Look, the drain is bubbling…”
“Mr. Smith, when did you first notice the mole discoloring and becoming asymmetrical?” “Well, um, I think it was last fall.” “Why did you wait a year to get this checked out? I’m pretty sure it’s cancer. To be straight with you, Mr. Smith, I don’t know how this will turn out for you.”
“Brother Jones, have you noticed that sister Blue is acting withdrawn?” “Yea, she lost her job last month and her children are grown and gone.” “Brother Jones, I’ve noticed that she’s recently stopped coming on Sunday nights.” “Yea, Brother Jackson, we need to go visit her this week.” “I know. We’ve been saying that…every week.” “Well, we’ll get there.”
May I suggest that none of these three scenarios is likely to turn out pleasantly? Yet, damage and expense to our material things, or even the loss of physical life to a dreaded disease, are not as devastating or frightening as the loss of a soul. The tragedy is that there are normally symptoms that accompany apostasy (i.e., turning away from the Lord). It is not enough to see the symptoms. We must respond in a timely manner.
One symptom is a decrease in faithful attendance. When individuals who would not miss a service choose to do something else, an alarm has been sounded. Something is replacing their dedication and commitment to Christ. When it is odd or noteworthy that someone is missing services, we need to respond with a card, call, or visit. Somehow, let them know they are missed. Do not lay this solely at the doorstep of preachers and elders. These folks need to be inundated with our concern. Run the risk of offending them. Why should they get offended at genuine brotherly love?
Another symptom is a decrease in reliability in doing church work. The tasks they once did and were counted on to do they no longer do with consistency. Maybe they felt unappreciated or overly burdened. Maybe they needed relief or at least a break. Or, maybe spiritual struggles and worldly concerns have overwhelmed them. Whatever explains the cause, respond to the effect. Tell them how important and special they are. Praise their work. Help them. Encourage them.
Yet another symptom is a change in behavior and withdrawal. This is perhaps the most common precursor and symptom in a spiritual struggle. Distancing themselves from the rest of the church family, a loss of enthusiasm for the church, worship, and/or its programs, and a change in personality within the congregation are all telling signs something isn’t right. We are taught that individuals in a marriage are constantly changing. Those same individuals fill our pews and participate in the church’s work. Let us never take each other for granted or ignore this symptom.
Ultimately, it is not the church’s responsibility to stand for an individual in the judgment (2 Cor. 5:10). Yet, we have a mutual responsibility to each other (1 Pet. 3:8). To borrow from the medical analogy above, when one member of the body hurts, we should all respond to help him or her (1 Cor. 12:26). Please do not be blind to the symptoms of those around you. Ask them how you can help. Do not let them spiritually die because of our neglect.