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What I Learned When My Brother Left the Church

Last Updated: November 3, 2020

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Guest Author

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To this day, I honestly believe that a lack of Christian community is what stifled my older brother’s faith.

It wasn’t all his questions about God and Jesus. It was that no one cared enough to help him find answers. No one pursued Jesus alongside him. He was drowning in doubt, right in the middle of the church.

So one day he walked out. He just left. He looked around at all the people worshiping God and walked out the door. He came back at the end of the service, and it was like he never left. No one noticed him.

Christian community isn’t handshakes and smiles on Sundays. It’s groups of people united by a fundamental belief in Jesus, filled with compassion for one another and the world around them. You can’t walk away from authentic Christian community without someone noticing. You invest so much into each others’ lives that their pain is yours and their joy is yours (1 Corinthians 12:26–27).

You can’t do that with a handshake.

A few years ago I got a call at 11 p.m. from a high school senior named Robbie, asking me to be an emergency Young Life leader for him and his best friends, all of whom were about to leave for discipleship camp. Their leader blew out his back the day before and couldn’t make the trip. They were leaving in seven hours. I didn’t know any of Robbie’s friends, I knew they were close, and I knew they were close with their leader. I said, “Call all your other options, and if no one else can, I will.”

He already called everyone else. So I packed a couple t-shirts and a Bible, cancelled my weekend plans, and off we went.

I knew I had two things in common with these guys: we all knew Robbie, and we all knew Jesus. That was about it.

It was all we needed to experience Christian community.

Because of our shared belief in Jesus, I trusted him, and I trusted them, so I opened up about my life and exposed some of the darkest, most vulnerable parts first. I let them know upfront that in spite of being a last-minute leader, I wanted them to grow as much as they could, so I wasn’t going to hold anything back—and I didn’t want them to either.

Taking that first step of vulnerability freed one of them to share his struggle with pornography and lust. And then another. And another. They discovered something they’d been too afraid to find out: they weren’t alone. Ironically, they all shared how much harder it would have been to share this with their leader, because he was Robbie’s dad. It’s funny how God works sometimes.

This same weekend, one boy shared that he didn’t feel he was “good enough” for God. He thought he didn’t hear God’s voice when he prayed because God wasn’t interested in talking to him. Like my brother, he doubted God. But unlike my brother, he was surrounded by Christian community who could wrestle in prayer with and for him, and share encouraging perspectives. Because he was surrounded by Christian community, he changed his mind about Christianity. Now he’s a spectacular Young Life leader, and he seeks out high school kids who don’t know God.

A couple of months after that weekend, this tight-knit group of friends left for separate colleges. It would have been easy for their friendship to fall away (as so many high school friendships do) and for Satan to convince them that they were once again alone in their sin.

But that’s not how Christian community works.

Christians have always been united by prayer when distance separates them. So many of Paul’s letters begin or end with an encouraging reminder that he’s praying for fellow believers. He constantly reminds his brothers and sisters that they are not alone—they are part of a far bigger community of believers.

In the Twenty-First century, we can do better than letters. This group of friends found that technology made it easy to share encouragement, ask for prayer, and point each other towards Jesus with accountability, even when time and distance kept them apart. They text each other when they’re feeling tempted, so that someone prays for them and can later hold them accountable.

But there’s an even better way to stay connected to your Christian community. It was specifically designed for groups of Christians. They’re Faithlife Groups, and they let you create prayer lists that remind you to pray for each other, Community Notes that let you share inspiration right from your Bible, and more. Best of all, you can make them completely private.

Say I find a great article about the dangers of pornography that I want to share with these guys. I’m probably not going to post it on their wall for the world to see and speculate about. I want to encourage and empower my friends privately, not embarrass them publicly.

Faithlife Groups let you do just that, because it’s Christian community—online. Bring your Christian community online, so time and distance stop creating barriers between you and fellowship.

Ryan Nelson is a copywriter for Faithlife. He lives in Bellingham, Washington, and writes regularly on the Faithlife blog.

  • Comments on: What I Learned When My Brother Left the Church
    1. Adam

      I appreciated the tangible examples and application in this article. I would pause at the critical element however, the thesis that the reason my loved one left church was the lack of community and connection they received from well meaning but less than “transparent” people. The connection begins with overt hospitality, an informal invitation to participate, and then each community member works to remain connected. The road is narrow and few find it. To be cared for we care for others. People reciprocate activity like that. The millions of people who have remained faithful to a local gathering of Jesus followers their entire life didn’t get lucky, they were intentional. Fellowship is never one sided. And the concept that the early church (Pauline church plants) equated to 10 people knowing the intimate details of each others lives is hogwash. There were many folks coming and going, and the gatherings were a large group one day each week, and subsequent but not always smaller groups during the week. The criticism of the local church isn’t without merit it’s just that we all have our walk to account for. Jesus doesn’t give us a pass because we didn’t get to touch his hands and feet.

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