Prioritizing the Lost Ones

Have you ever had heart wrenching conversations with people who have left the church? Maybe it was because someone in the church hurt them, or maybe it was a church doctrine that they just couldn’t agree with or wrap their head around. It can be messy trying to engage with a person who has rejected the church. Many of us are hesitant to do so because of the fear of being inadequate or fear of being rejected.

Josh Packard coined the term “dones” to describe an estimated 30 million former American churchgoers maintaining faith in God and Christian identity. The top four reasons were:

  • They wanted community but found judgment
  • They wanted to affect the life of the church but got bureaucracy
  • They wanted conversation but was only taught doctrine
  • They wanted meaningful engagement with the world but got moral prescription

​Let’s look at God’s heart for the lost one—someone who rejected Christ and/or the church. God continually searches and shows compassion for those who go astray, whether a person is acting immoral or self-righteous. In Luke 15, the Pharisees and scribes grumbled as Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners.

Jesus then told a parable about a shepherd leaving 99 sheep and going after the lost one until he found it. After coming home, the man called together his friends and neighbors to rejoice over finding the lost sheep. Jesus then remarked that there is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous persons who need no repentance (Luke 15:1-7). 

Jesus then told a second parable about a woman who lost one of ten silver coins. She searched carefully until she found it. She rejoiced with her friends and neighbors after finding the lost coin (Luke 15:8-10). 

He then continued by sharing a longer parable about the younger of two sons who asked his father for his inheritance early so he could go “live life to its fullest.” But he ended up squandering his share of the estate living loose in a distant country. After losing everything, he realized his father’s hired men had enough to eat, but he was dying with hunger. He decided to go back home and seek forgiveness. Upon coming home, his father saw him and felt compassion on him and ran to embrace him. The father brought out the best robe so they could eat and be merry “for this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again; he was lost, and has been found.”

The older son was angry and refused to go to the celebration. He told his father that for years he served and obeyed him, but never received a party like his younger son who devoured his wealth. The father said, “My child, you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to be merry and rejoice, for the brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found” (Luke 15:11-32). 

All three of these parables show God’s heart for the lost. The shepherd searched and searched for the one who was lost, the woman searched and searched until she found the coin, and the father waited and waited patiently until his son returned home. Then he welcomed him with open arms.

As you go out and have conversations with those who have rejected God and/or the church, keep in your heart and mind God’s heart for that person. God cares for even the hardest of hearts. And if God cares for them, so should we!