Next-Generation Fellowships

Restoring the Lord's Life and Power to our Congregations


Rescuing Lost Sheep

Providing help for disciples of Yeshua who have left the faith


Our Track Record

A great deal is invested in the research of life-threatening or crippling diseases to reverse their effects, increase our resistance to them and prevent epidemics.  Treatment for those striken with a serious illness, and inoculations for those at risk, are some of the most valuable assets in modern medicine.  Closely related are public health issues - sanitation, sterilization and other measures to remove and prevent conditions that breed disease.

Societies that make these available to their population are not only interested in improving their quality of life, but in saving lives.  If a country doesn't provide them, it's because the government is too poor, or too ignorant, or too corrupt, to properly care for its citizens.

Suppose there was a city that had wealth enough to provide the best of health care, and professed a level of knowledge and integrity to do so -- and yet the treatment for a new outbreak of a deadly illness was a handful of dubious remedies in use 100 years ago, while the accepted prevention strategy was to isolate and expel their sick so that others would not be infected.  If the outcast dies elsewhere, community leaders feel vindicated in their diagnosis, and congratulate themselves on saving their city from exposure to death.

Who would support such a policy, much less want to live in such a community?  But that is often what the Body of Messiah does with those whose faith collapses under attack in these times - particularly those who relocate to mainstream orthodox Judaism.

"You shoot your wounded."

This comment came from an orthodox Jew involved in kiruv, the organized Jewish community effort to bring back Jews who have left Torah observance.  This man was contrasting the Jewish approach to their own lapsed believers with the readiness of the Christian and Messianic communities to irreversibly disown their members who "have left the Lord".

He was mainly drawing on his experience in working with those who had moved from our camp to his. 

While we might argue about the accuracy of his observation, or about double standards on the part of the orthodox community, there is one question we can and must ask ourselves.  Did the Lord command us to "shoot" our sick and wounded?

At the point where a believer expresses serious doubt about Yeshua's credentials as Messiah, or begins to talk of the New Testament Scriptures as "unreliable documents", there is definitely serious spiritual sickness.  We must not pretend otherwise.  But too often, we are ready to cart the sick one off to the morgue so to speak, at the onset of his illness, putting him out of our fellowship before others "catch" whatever is ailing him. Is this attitude as clearly based on Scripture as we assume it is?

Isn't it based more to the poor condition of our flocks, which don't have the strength to survive the presence of a "doubt germ"? Or perhaps because as leaders we don't want any casualties on our watch, which will make us look bad?  Or is it just easier to let a disabled sheep drop out of the flock?

"Those who are sickly you have not strengthened, the diseased you have not healed, the broken you have not bound up...."(Ezekiel 34:4) This was G-d's accusation against the shepherds He had set over Israel. We of the New Covenant shake our heads over their unfaithfulness. 

But if a "shepherd's manual" were written from our own practices, the instructions for dealing with the sickly, the diseased and the broken might read something like this:

Broken sheep are a dead weight that will only slow down our Kingdom-building program. Regard them with suspicion for having brought a disturbance into our flock, or at least with dismay for having been so careless as to get themselves broken. "Bind them up" by keeping them out of sight, in an obscure corner of the congregation, so they can't get in anyone's way.

Examine sick sheep to find out how advanced the problem is.  If the patients are not too far gone, try to "heal them" with several over-the-counter remedies (whatever we have on hand), and watch closely for signs of recovering faith.

If our medical team has the time, let them personalize the treatment with visits, to "strengthen the sickly" patient with the assurance that the medicine is always effective if he or she has enough faith to begin with.

If none of these measures work, and the stricken members show signs of getting worse, show them to the door and tell them, gently but firmly, that they are not welcome back until/unless they get their spiritual act together

If we really care for the welfare of the Body, we send a warning out to neighboring flocks to beware of these individuals as potential "wolves in sheep's clothing."

News that an ailing one has finally died, out on the hills, is the Lord's confirmation that we did the right thing in ejecting the threat; we have a calling to protect our sheep from infection (and our shepherd's reputation from the taint of failure).  We double our vigilance against any sign of the threat returning to our door.

"Know well the condition of your flocks...." (Prov.27:23)

Believers in growing numbers today have become restless with questions they feel they can no longer ignore. They must have solid answers in order to continue in the faith.  Often these involve what are euphemistically called "difficulties": Scriptures that appear to be contradictions; New Testament quotes from the Tanach (Old Testament) that seem irrelevant or mistaken; unsettling events in Scripture that no one seems able to reconcile with the G-d they have been taught to love. 

These dilemmas are not difficult to find (see our article "Knowing the Word of G-d" for just a few examples).  And yet the Lord's people are commonly expected to ignore them, or to be satisfied with reassurances made of air. They are told that no one really knows why G-d seems to act "out of character" from time to time, and yet not knowing hasn't destroyed the faith of others. Regarding the apparent errors in the written Book, the Scriptures are "inerrant in their original autographs" (which does us no practical good, since we no longer have the "original autographs").

Believers who are uncompromising lovers of truth can become desperate enough to hunt for answers outside the bounds of the Christian or Messianic community.  If such a questioning believer runs into anti-missionaries (Jewish antagonists dedicated to "rescuing the deceived" with  "refutations" of the Gospel), and he fails to find coherent responses to their challenge in his own community, he can decide that he was simply mistaken about the reliability of the New Testament and relocate to the Jewish community, which seems to have a more honest approach.  He shocks us all by announcing one day that he has come to the only right conclusion: Yeshua is not, could not be, the Messiah.  How do the rest of us respond to these "traitors"?

...The scattered you have not brought back, nor have you sought for the lost.... (Ezekiel 34:4)

Yeshua gave us a parable about the one sheep that wanders away from the flock of a hundred.  He spoke of the shepherd's readiness to go out and find that lost sheep as if the response was self-evident.  No one but a "hireling" would question a shepherd's responsibility to put forth every effort to retrieve the stray, and no one celebrates unless he is successful in returning with that one bedraggled creature.  In the spiritual parallel, our Lord explicitly says that Heaven centers its joy on the repentant, returned sheep ("repentance" and "return" are the same noun in Hebrew) rather than the faithful who were in no danger.

By our own actions, we create a different parable altogether.  The 100th sheep proved by wandering off that it was never really part of the flock, and is in fact no better than a wolf.  Yeshua's shepherd was well-meaning, but his zeal to recover the stray was unnecessary.  We have concluded in our greater wisdom that once a sheep "abandons" the flock of the Lord, its shepherd is released from all obligation to it.  His role is to stay put and guard the 99 faithful sheep, in case the wanderer returns to (heaven forbid) lead others away.  If this shepherd calls for his friends to rejoice, it's because he still has 99 and only lost one in the ordeal.  And good riddance to that "rebellious" one. The unanswerable questions were beginning to disturb flock and shepherds alike... who knows what group crisis would have broken out if the doubting one had stayed around?

Prodigal sons banished for life

Then there are believers who express no doubts (at least not out loud), show no symptoms of distress over the reliability of Scripture.  They simply find the world's invitations too good to pass up.  These are the prodigal sons, dreaming of freedom outside the dull confines of their Father's house.  They are often (but not always) children from believing families, who have grown up in the sheltered environment of the faithful.  They show marked resistance to a shepherd's efforts at counseling them, because they are not troubled by truth issues -- it is adventure, wealth, peer acceptance, independence or a romantic relationship that they crave. They have made up their minds and are only speaking up to say goodbye.

From Yeshua's parable (Luke 15:11-32) we understand that this is not a matter of coaxing or carrying the wayward sheep back to safety.  There is no option but to let such believers go where they will; it will be some time before they have "spent" all their accumulated spiritual assets and run into the bitter reality of life outside the Kingdom.  Maybe the pain of spiritual starvation, spiritual abuse, homelessness, betrayal and disillusionment will cause them to "come to their senses" and return in repentance.

But do the prodigals of our day really have the option to return to their Father's house?  Not usually.  We rewrite the parable so that the elder brother shows his love for the Father by barring the door, blotting out the deserter's name from the Family records, and instructing the servants to be alert for lice-infested visitors claiming to be his brother.  In our version, there is no Father watching for the ragged beggar, whom He can somehow identify from far away as His son - and somehow know that he is on the way home.

We change Yeshua's parable in the way we (don't) hear it too, which can cause us to miss the main "sting" of the story.  The prodigal son didn't have to ask for directions to get home. He could remember how servants were managed in his father's house.  He had left with a generous inheritance that he was old enough to claim for his own.  These details (which Yeshua could have easily omitted) point to the fact that he had lived with the Father until adulthood before he left.  But we insist on redefining the one who "was dead and has come to life again" as a baby believer newly arriving out of darkness into the Kingdom.  It is for first-time Family members that the household butchers the fattened calf and throws a party.  And why not?

As we know, the elder brother in Yeshua's story did not take the party initiative nearly that well.  He was obviously bitter over the grace that brought his younger brother into the House, with a celebration the likes of which the faithful son had never enjoyed.  He was so bitter that (possibly for the first time in his life) he quarrelled with his Father and withdrew from Him.  But because of our revised "prodigal", we have no idea why he should feel such resentment and jealousy over a new addition who is simply getting his first baby-taste of the Kingdom.  What an infantile display of sibling rivalry... the young man needs professional help.

When we recognize the true history of the returning son, only then do we realize how quickly we could echo the elder brother's contention.  It makes sense:  For someone who had grown up in the Kingdom and (unlike us) selfishly left it to chase fleshly ambitions, "devouring" our beloved Father's wealth "with harlots" in the process, and disgracing the Family name with his behavior, there certainly shouldn't be any welcome-back party.  It is debatable whether he should even have a second chance as a son.  What's more, the prodigal himself didn't expect a second chance either - he would have been the first to agree with his brother.

The ex-believers who discover to their horror that they had abandoned the true Life for a living death will likely feel the same way.  By facing the emptiness in their spirits, after the fullness they have known, they become aware of their sin "against heaven".  They know their desertion is extremely serious, and that it was driven by the most unworthy of motives; perhaps the Lord cannot forgive them. They don't ask to be taken back again to their original standing.  But they can no longer bear the loneliness of exile.  They might try to blend into a crowd at a large gathering of Christians, or haunt Messianic websites as an anonymous visitor, just to be exposed again to the peace of the Lord's presence that can be gleaned from the background. "I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me as one of your hired men."

The only one who disregards the damage done to the Father's reputation, gifts and standards is the Father Himself.  He is totally taken over by joy at spotting the returning sinner from a distance.  He doesn't wait for the rehearsed confession to finish. He doesn't even wait for the repentant one to make it all the way home!  He is already out the gate and down the road to meet him.

"Impossible for them to repent"

This New Testament passage is a common reason for writing off a believer who leaves the faith.  In order to reconcile it with the concept of a prodigal son or a stray sheep who can and does return, we need to take a closer look.  The entire passage is:

For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of G-d and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of G-d and put Him to open shame.  (Heb. 6:4-6, NAS)

The Greek word here for "impossible" (adunatos) has other meanings as well. It has been translated as "weak" (in Rom. 15:1, where we are told to "bear the infirmities of the adunaton"), and "impotent" or "powerless" (in Acts 14:8, referring to the state of a certain man's feet).  Moreover, according to one Greek version, the following bracketed words have been inserted: "For [in the case of] them [it is] impossible [for] them [who have been] once enlightened... to again renew [them] to repentance..."  Therefore, the passage could just as easily read: "For those once enlightened are powerless, ... to renew again to repentance..."

In that case, we can learn several things:

1) The individual himself must renew his repentance before G-d; it is not our place to "renew" him.
2) The obstacle to renewed repentance is the powerless state of the faithless one.
3) This is not an "impossible" obstacle for G-d, even if it is for us - for Yeshua taught us: "The adunata with men is dunata [possible, powerful] with G-d" (Luke 18:27).
4) These "powers" that reside with G-d are the very ones that the faithless one had tasted and has now left.  But we who are still "partakers of the Holy Spirit" can access these powers in Him to transcend our human limitations, even to the point of accomplishing the impossible in His Name on behalf of the lost one.

A slightly different Greek version gives us: "...impossible to renew them again to repentance, again crucifying to themselves the Son of G-d...", omitting the word "since".  However, although the NAS includes "since", it offers a marginal note that the passage could also read: "...impossible to renew them again to repentance, while they again crucify to themselves the Son of G-d. 

Both variations would indicate that renewal is not going to happen as long as the heir to Heaven's goodness who has fallen away is personally "crucifying again" the Son of G-d and "putting Him to open shame" by his rejection of all those good things he had tasted.  By implication, once this shaming of the Son who died for him stops, he can receive the power to renew his repentance.

"No place for repentance"

A related passage in Hebrews uses Esau as an example of repentance being denied:

...Lest there be any fornicator or profane person like Esau, who for one morsel of food sold his birthright.  For you know that afterward, when he wanted to inherit the blessings, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought it diligently with tears.  (Heb. 12:16-17)

Yes, he sought for a place to repent "diligently with tears".  But tears alone will not open the way to repent if there is no accompanying confession of sin.  Behind Esau's tears over his lost blessings (Gen. 27:34-41) we find only selfish regret, bitterness, pressure on his father to replace his loss, and the desire for revenge. 

Most significant was his outright dishonesty about how he had lost his birthright some time before this crying incident.  Esau never admits to selling it, but simply blames Jacob for "taking" it from him.  When he bartered it away for a bowl of stew, he had been quite satisfied with the transaction and not the least bit inclined to shed tears over it, either at the time or since.  Only now when faced with the consequences, he dodges responsibility and paints himself as the innocent victim.  He brings up the implied theft of his birthright as a precedent for Jacob "taking" these firstborn blessings from him too - also pretending ignorance of the fact that the birthright bestows the title of "firstborn" on the owner.

Esau's self-deception contrasts sharply with the prodigal's ruthless honesty to himself about his condition.  The latter's first step to repentance was facing his own failure to sustain himself, and his stupidity in having reached that state of affairs.  This was quickly followed by an acknowledgement of his own sin as the prime cause, giving birth to a profound humility.  He understood that he had shamed his Father and could not hope to regain his standing as a son.  In heading home, he abandoned all his worldly ambitions without a backward look or even a comment.  This is what a prodigal must do in order to receive the power from G-d to renew his repentance.  Now we can see why Esau was refused a place to repent, while the prodigal son was granted one.

"No more sacrifice remains" for someone who knew the truth and turned away

A third passage, also in Hebrews, is taken to pronounce a final verdict on the believer who leaves the Lord:

For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain terrifying expectation of judgment.... Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy.... How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of G-d, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace? (Heb. 10:26-29)

Implicit in our thinking is that all followers of the Lord have received this "knowledge of the truth" and therefore all fall under this horrific condemnation if they should leave the faith.  The Greek word here, however, means "full knowledge" (epignosis), not merely "knowledge" (gnosis). Paul tell us that we all have some measure of the more common "knowledge" (I Cor. 8:1), but this "[full] knowledge" (sometimes translated "true knowledge" or "real knowledge") is a goal still ahead of many believers.  Paul made a habit of praying for healthy disciples to attain it (Eph. 1:17, Phil. 1:9, Col. 1:9).  He also warned Timothy (II Tim. 3:6-7) that weak disciples, who are hindered by sins and driven by their impulses, will never be able to attain it.  In fact, he says that these who never arrive to "[full] knowledge of the truth" are easily captivated and led astray - indicating that the lost ones we encounter are more likely to not be in the category that Hebrews 10 condemns with such finality.

Proper diagnosis means examining everyone involved

It becomes clear that our "rescue response" to a lost believer will depend on a correct diagnosis of what motivated him to leave in the first place.  If he is a strayed sheep, who wandered off through distress or deception or poor teaching, he can be located and carried back by a shepherd.  If he is a prodigal son, the only possible response is to watch the road and wait with the Father beside an open door, until the deserter "comes to his senses" and stops shaming his Lord, and receives power from Him to return.

Even after distinguishing between the stray and the deserter, there is more assessment needed.  To know if a lost sheep can be brought back, or if a prodigal can be taken back, we must determine how close the lost one was to the "[full] knowledge of the truth" at the time he wandered away from the Lord, or left the Lord for his adventure trek.  To know if we are dealing with someone who has "put the Son of G-d to open shame", we must first determine whether he had ever really "tasted the good Word of G-d and the powers of the age to come" before leaving.

These are questions that need asking, because many congregations that claim to be feeding their flocks on "the Word of G-d" are really only teaching the Bible to them.  There is a world of difference between the two, as we show in another teaching ("Knowing the Word of G-d: Not 'What' But 'Who'").  We cannot assume that attendance at a Bible-believing congregation is enough to place all the guilt on the lost one for having "received the epignosis of the truth".  There is a huge gap between the "knowing" of intellectual learning about the truth, and the "knowing" of intimate communion with the Truth.  We are still dealing with "Who" rather than "what", for just as Yeshua is "the Word of G-d" (Rev. 19:13), He is also "the Truth" (John 14:6).

If the congregational leaders have not "tasted the good Word of G-d" for themselves, they cannot introduce their congregation to the taste of Him. The fault then is not necessarily with the sheep who wander off in search of nourishment and answers, which they could have (and should have) received at home.

If the shepherds do not experience "the powers of the age to come", they cannot bring their flocks into contact with those transforming powers in Him (nor can they fool the more perceptive ones with cheap imitations).  Therefore, the son is not necessarily at fault when he becomes so bored that he takes off in search of thrills and challenges worthy of an adult, thinking they can be found only outside the House.  (I tell you the truth: Anyone who finds their life in the Lord's service dull or impotent has not yet begun to live in Him!)

If the leaders in a congregation have not attained the "full knowledge" of Him, they will be unable to either diagnose or respond to those who have likewise not attained it.  In fact, both shepherd and flock are vulnerable to being led astray or captivated by false teachers.

In such cases, the Lord is willing to receive the lost ones back.  But since the shepherds have proven unqualified in the task of raising the sheep in the Word, in the powers of His new Creation, and in the full knowledge of the Truth, there are shepherds and entire flocks that are in need of rescue.

First things first

Before any tools can be used for rescue, recovery and protection of a flock or a household of faith, the rescuers - be they "shepherds" (designated leaders) or "elder brothers" (the more mature believers) - first need to examine their attitudes and see if they are personally ready to minister to lost believers.

Elder Brother: 

How will you react to see the return of someone who publicly renounced his faith in Yeshua for the price of community acceptance, a smoother aliyah or media attention?  He went off to become the darling of anti-missionary groups as a "returned Jew" or "righteous son of Noah", and caused damage to the believing community.  Or maybe he just became a worldly celebrity, and literally "squandered his estate in loose living". He only thinks to acknowledge his sin now, years later, after he "has spent everything" and his new life has gone sour on him.  When the Lord in His unbounded joy bestows lavish, undeserved gifts on such a one - perhaps things that even you have never experienced with Him... perhaps even before the sin is properly confessed and atoned for...  will you be free from resentment at the sudden turn of events?  Will you go into Heaven's party willingly and joyfully, or withdraw in protest?

Word of the elder brother's anger reached the party inside: "...and his father came out and began entreating him."  For the second time that day, the Father went out of His way to restore a wayward son.  Only now it was his "faithful" son - showing a side no less rebellious and selfish than the prodigal who had left Him years ago for other reasons.  The Father would have been within His rights to point out this irony, but in His gracious way He appeals to the elder brother's maturity instead:  "My child, you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to be merry and rejoice...." (Luke 15:31-32)

Behind this reassurance is a gentle rebuke: 

"Your younger brother has escaped with his life, and not much more.  If you begrudge him this little party, it is because you don't understand his position now.  The celebration is not an expression of favoritism, but of compassion and comfort.  Do not envy him.  His misguided escapade has cost him part of his future in Me.  He has indeed wasted My wealth on sinful pursuits, just as you said; the standing he could have attained in My house is diminished by the precious time and effort he now must spend unlearning all his ways and relearning Mine.  As for you, your entire inheritance is still intact - and it includes everything I own!  But you lack My heart; otherwise you would share My joy and My love for your brother (not just My son) who has returned from the dead."

The story ends there, because Yeshua waits for the elder brother to repent from his last response. "Look!  For so many years I have been serving you, and I have never neglected a command of yours, and yet you have never given me...."  If you believe that your many years of service should entitle you to receive gifts from Him, you are no longer thinking like a son, but like an employee.  Will you repent of your misplaced envy, your mercenary attitude and your self-righteous reliance on your works to merit His favor?  If not, you are "insulting the Spirit of grace" just as surely as did the one who you think deserves the judgment of Hebrews 10.

Will you become one with your Father in the celebration of His grace toward the undeserving?  If not, you will have to remain "outside" indefinitely, to avoid your forgiven brother who is inside to stay.  You will find yourself changing places with him as the new "prodigal son"; only you will be judged more strictly as the older and more mature of the two... with the added sin of hating your brother.

If you repent and go back to your Father, you will indeed receive gifts - but more precious things than just a party with your friends!  You will receive His heart for your younger brother, His love released in you toward him, His grace and power to become like Him in returning your brother to new life.  There are few joys in His house greater than being a partner with Him in resurrection.

When you are able to get excited that... "this brother of mine was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found!" will be ready to move onto the next stage of actively helping him back to health and spiritual fruitfulness.

Congregational Leader: 

Are you willing to search out and rescue those who were once under your spiritual care and have left the Lord?  Or does your concern begin and end with those who show up for the services you provide?  Do you know the Word of G-d well enough to share His pain over those who were once His, and are now "food for the beasts"?  Are you ready to follow Him away from the safety and comfort of the fold, out into hopeless, dangerous or humiliating situations, in order to bring back those who He longs to resurrect back into His Body?  Do you even believe He has the power do that?

If you are willing, are you able to discern who can be rescued?  Do you live in your Lord strongly enough to recognize His own sheep and sons, regardless of surface appearance or distance from home?  Can you tell the difference between a straying sheep and a retreating wolf in sheep's clothing?  How do you know whether the notorious traitor at your door, who you've heard so much about, is a repentant prodigal trying to come home, or a manipulative thief trying to slip into the house?

Maybe you lack these basic skills and burdens, but it doesn't bother you, because you have "other priorities".  You no more intend to go after the "losers" who have passed through your congregation than you would seek to invest in a failing business. You are in business.  You have built up a successful track record in ministry leadership, you've made favorable impressions in respected circles, you are moving up in prominence, and you see no need to risk all of that on futile "rescue" ventures.  You are a hireling - a shepherd who sees his post as a source of income, career advancement and public image.

You would do well to find another occupation, before your own Shepherd comes to check on the flock He entrusted to you... to ask why you are sitting there in your well-appointed office planning your next teaching or project or fundraiser, while the sheep you have lost track of are being stalked by wolves out in the wild.

"As I live," declares the Lord G-d, "surely because My flock has become a prey, My flock has even become food for all the beasts of the field for lack of a shepherd, and My shepherds did not search for My flock, but rather the shepherds fed themselves....
Behold, I am against the shepherds and I shall demand My sheep from them and make them cease from feeding sheep.... Behold I Myself will search for My sheep and seek them out....
I will seek the lost, bring back the scattered, bind up the broken, and strengthen the sick; but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with judgment."
(Ezek. 34:8-16)

On the other hand, maybe you are convinced G-d has called you to be a real shepherd, to devote your life to raising and protecting a flock.  You are becoming aware of what the Lord expects of you as a shepherd, and of your failure to meet His expectations.  You have been teaching the Bible to your sheep, rather than feeding them on the Word and Truth and Power of G-d, because you don't know the difference yourself.  You have blamed sick and wandering sheep for leaving you, never imagining that you ought to go after them.  You felt relief when those troubled by tough questions decided to go elsewhere (you've never found satisfying answers for them either, but a leader can't afford to entertain doubts).

You need to take responsibility and repent for the ones you have lost through inattention, incompetence or indifference.  Cry out to the Good Shepherd to make you more like Himself, to feed you with Himself as the Word, to bring you into the full knowledge of Himself as the Truth, to endow you with the new-Creation spiritual powers that are in Him.  He is looking to raise up shepherds after His own heart.  But it means laying down your life for the sheep as He did, so make sure that you are truly called to be a shepherd.

When you have repented and have received a new mandate from the Lord to shepherd His flock in this deeper way, you will be ready to proceed to the next stage of picking up new shepherding tools and weapons.

Rescue, return, rejoicing... and then what?

Lost believers who return are likely to be spiritually sick, malnourished, injured and traumatized by their experiences.  And yes, they may present a problem for the faithful around them.  The stray sheep can be afflicted with parasites that sap their strength and rob them of nourishment, could run into difficulties in rejoining the flock, might be carrying a contagious disease.  Shepherds must nurse them back to health, while at the same time caring for and protecting the healthy sheep.

Likewise the prodigal.  Spiritually impoverished, defiled from living in a pigpen, and accustomed to a totally undisciplined life, he must start all over in learning how to be a son.  His older siblings will need to closely supervise him and support him, even while the business of the household continues to require attentive management.

The demands are great, and while the Lord is ultimately responsible and will carry the lion's share of the burden, the congregation must take care that all the ministering does not fall to one or two individuals.

In other articles in this section, we will look at these and other issues in the healing and recovery of the lost believers that we rescue.  We will also offer comments on how to strengthen a flock in the Word, so that they can resist the growing numbers of spiritual "epidemics" in these last days.


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