“Which of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that was lost until you find it?” – Luke 15:4 (NRSV)
I once heard a church growth expert discourage pastors from pursuing people who gradually drift from the church or leave in a blistering huff. “It is a waste of time,” the expert said. “When people leave, they are gone. They’ve moved on and so should you.”
I have not been faithful to that advice.
In the past twenty years I have followed up with dozens of people who left. Regardless of what prompted their departure, I want them to feel heard and seen, even if it is too little too late. And, truthfully, I often take such partings personally.
However, the expert was not wrong. I can count on one hand the number of times I went after a “lost sheep” and led it back to the fold. Maybe it is better to cut your losses and focus on those who remain.
The only time it makes sense to pursue the wayward, the only time it matters, is when that little lamby is me. Or you. Then, it is the only thing that matters. When we find ourselves alone and trembling on a cliff, we hope to heaven our shepherd does not shrug and move on.
When Jesus said, “Who among you would not leave ninety-nine sheep to go in search of the one who is lost in the wilderness?” I’m sure he got a lot of bewildered looks. “Um… no one, Jesus. Not one of us would do that.”
“But God will.”
I don’t know how it happened, Lord, but I’m lost again. I’ll wait right here.