J.S. Park


Posts tagged with "prodigals"

Hello! I'm a newly appointed youth leader of a charismatic community that I have been with since birth. Your latest blog post really spoke to me, as does most of them. It may be the answer to why most of the members we get come and go, or are lukewarm. I just really can't help but ask, how do you do it? How do you get that new excitement? And how do you infect others too?



Hey there friend, I believe you’re referring to this post.

First know: Please don’t feel bad if people seem to come and go in your church.  In certain cities, certain cultures, and with certain groups of people, there can be a higher tendency for turnover and it’s NOT your fault.  It’s especially true if you’re part of a big church (over 500), where the atmosphere is almost wired to have a loose back door.  Some of this is expected.

Having said that: If you don’t have a consistent core group and people are continually leaving for the same kinds of reasons — conflict, drama, going prodigal, etc. — then most likely there’s an issue of depth

I’m still learning here too, and I don’t always get this right, but a few things to consider about a sustainable church.  I hope this doesn’t come off too “programmed,” but whether you’re a pastor or not, this is worth thinking about for both your own spiritual walk and your community.


Journey: If people know there’s an endless discovery to the goodness of God, they will find it hard to leave.  If your pastor or church culture is only endorsing a me-too, strobe-light, too-many-stories, thin-doctrine rockshow, then you’ll have a church that is exciting for a few months and then gets flat.  This sounds obvious, but many churches are really just therapeutic weekly concerts, hardly touching on the infinite immensity of Christ.  You can still have the rockshow, but it must point to Him.


Inoculation: I hope your pastor or leaders are at least addressing things like burn-out, doubt, dry seasons, questions, hard parts of the Old Testament, apologetics, and the supernatural.  And not in a trite way, but to really struggle with these things.  Otherwise, your congregation will slowly build up too many irreconcilable questions without some legitimate groundwork to find answers.  In the long term, they will feel disrespected, because no one took time to articulate the heavy stuff. 


Clear Doctrine: Most prodigals who leave the church were more appalled by a church who did NOT take doctrine seriously.  Churches tend to fall into patterns of entertainment and babysitting instead of training and equipping.  I know I sound a bit harsh, and of course it’s great to have a good time at church, but when trials hit: everyone needs a solid floor to stand on.  That Friday night laser tag won’t do it.


Monday through Saturday: Every church I know that has a wonderful loving core is also a church that stays in contact throughout the week.  At the very least, the pastors and leaders are trying to reach out to their members and just spending time with them.  You probably do this already: but you’d be surprised how many pastors are not involved with their people on a regular basis.  And even then, some do it out of obligation or mechanical methodology or a fear of them leaving. 

You can’t make yourself love people.  It takes an intense kind of love that can only come by a grace-driven dynamic with Christ.  When you do love them, you might be rejected for a long time.  But that didn’t stop Jesus either.  If you have a willingness to hang out, listen to problems for hours, ask for prayers, randomly call them, drive to their houses at all hours, get to the heart of things, and even just laugh at dumb things together: you will have a church.  You can’t do this alone either, so get others in on it.

I really do hope this isn’t too much pressure on you.  You might be doing much of this already: so keep praying through it.  Love you friend, you got my prayers too.

— J

Sorry but may I ask from you and blessed people of tumblr to pray for my friend? She used to be a good girl who was really active at church and even reminds me to be close to God when I'm lukewarm but now I moved to another town, and my other friend told me that she's now into smoking, drinking and doing drugs, even dating the drug dealer, and she gaves up school too and curses at her parents, I'm just surprised that she changed a lot I know God still loves her so please help her. God bless you!


Yes!  Planet Tumblr friends, please pray.

Also, please allow me the grace to point to some posts about this:

- The Silent Departure: When Your Friend Walks Away From God and Out Of Your Life

- It Doesn’t Always Stick: Quit Blaming Yourself Over The Prodigal

Praying for both you and your friend.

— J

'41% of the formerly churched said that they would return to the local church if a friend or acquaintance invited them. Younger adults are even more influenced by the power of the invitation. Approximately 60% of those 18–35 would consider returning to church if someone they knew asked them to come back.

‘Four percent of formerly churched adults are actively looking for a church to attend regularly (other than their previous church). Six percent would prefer to resume attending regularly in the same church they had attended. The largest group, 62 percent, is not actively looking, but is open to the idea of attending church regularly again.”

‘The issue of affinity also surfaced in the responses. Thirty–five percent indicated that they would be inspired to attend church if ‘I knew there were people like me there.’

- Lifeway Research

Impossible Fruits: Completely Jaded About The Unchanged

It happens to all of us: you pour out your heart and life and hours and pockets and energy into a fresh-faced person, hoping to see them out of the miry pit and into victory — when the end result is cataclysmic disappointment, worse off than before, down the spiral of prodigal wastefulness, a bitter mess of nuclear ground zero.

I keep thinking of them, You could be more than this. You were almost there.

Years and years of ministry has jaded me about how people change. In the jailhouse and the homeless shelters, it’s not so bad: people know they’re at rock bottom and there’s a fervent dependency on God you don’t see in your superstar theologian. They have little excuse. Their faith has been chiseled into its rawest form, a pure reliance on God’s power, and their life everyday is, Only God can do it now.

But people who can fall back on rationalizations, chemicals, alcohol, ex-boyfriends, more money, and mindless luxury never hit that rock bottom. Oh, they think they do. The people who claim, “I really want to change” will cry those big effortless tears and make their own sob-story so unique.  But around the corner is some justified defense for their actions, a simple twist of words that makes sense in their mind, a little bottle of distraction to numb good senses, a secret silent motto of I can do this myself.

Or they will make you the bad guy, you’re the one with the problem, your truthful words are unhelpful criticism, your help is just a nuisance, and you’ll be the one person they cut out from their life.

I’ve learned over and over that no one — I really mean no one — can handle rebuke. None of us are good at this, and you can add me to that list. The second you tell someone the truth about themselves, it’s very rare when you see humility, conviction, and repentance. It’s either a total emotional meltdown full of self-guilt-tripping despair (no matter how nice you were in your rebuke), or it’s an insane explosion of throwing-things, kicking-doors, punching-walls, and all sorts of childish temper tantrums.

People are comfortable with the lies they’re living in. Ripping the roof off the lie is a dangerous move, like getting near the den of a bear. I keep saying the phrase, “You know you’re better than this.” But the more they keep doing that stupid thing and believing that dumb lie, the less this is true. We eventually become the lie we’re living.

As I’ve heard before, when you confront a friend: you’ll either get Real Grown Folks Time or Senseless Drama. It is now the minority exception to see grown-ups working together to work through real issues. People would rather deny their sin all the way to Hell by paying the price of their own souls. Satan is cracking up at us. I’m just grieved, tired, and jaded. I wish I wasn’t.

I would like to be gracious every time, the patient pastor who listens and nods and understands, the dude anyone can talk to. At times, I am, by the good grace of God. But most times I want to grab someone by the face, shake them half to death, and yell, “Stop it man, just shut up and stop.” I’ve done almost that a few times, and it worked for a little while, but shame never really changes anyone. It’s a short-term band-aid for a deep soul-wound.

It’s a serious calling to be the guy who unravels the lie and tells the hard truth. It demands your whole life.

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There are some people within my church that started hanging out recently, drinking together, partying etc. I would like to confront or talk to them somehow, but I don't want to be judgmental or anything. Some of them are close friends of mine. How should I approach the situation without hurting anyone? I want to be loving, but I don't think I can just agree with everything they are doing. It's discouraging somewhat to me and others. I wouldn't want anyone else to be affected negatively.. THanks


You got a good heart in you and likewise a good head on your shoulders, and now the two are at war.  You want to love your people, but then you know it’s better to put them on blast.  Your head and heart feel diametrically opposed.  So what now?

On one hand it would be justified and honest to call them out on their foolishness.  On the other hand, simply calling them out could come off shrill and unloving, and overall unhelpful to the situation itself.  It can also make you bitter, critical, and self-righteous.

I could be like some people and say, “Of course you tell them!” I could be like some other people and say, “Bite your tongue and be patient and let it play out.”  But somehow, neither feels totally right.  Logically, it makes no sense to say everything (or else you’re the annoying nanny) but it makes no sense to do nothing (or you’re the incompetent sheriff).

Let’s look at some possibilities before you decide to become Religious Vigilante of Nanny Justice.

1) Pray about it.  That’s not an option.

Everyone will tell you some form of this, but if you don’t pray for them, then don’t even bother talking to them. I know your heart is hurting for them, but without consulting God on it, you’re just a rogue agent answering your own flesh. 

Maybe not now, but it’ll happen: because rebuking without prayer is an unsustainable practice that will turn you into a religious queen.  You won’t have the wisdom to speak wisely, which won’t earn your neighbor’s ear, and then you’re not worth listening to: and then the gig is up.

Pray for what to say.  Pray to elevate God, not yourself.  Pray to love on those people.  Pray to rebuke them earnestly (if it comes to that).  Pray for God to show them mercy.  Pray you can still love them no matter how they respond.

You also need to sort out for yourself whether it’s worth getting involved with them (which is where prayer comes in, too), or if you want to leave that to someone else.  Because the second you open your mouth to them, you’ve entered their world.  You’ll successfully have implanted yourself into their entangled drama, no matter how much you think you can just “lob words and run.” 

2) Maybe it’s not your job.

Here’s a question: Do you think you’re necessarily the only one who can get this job done?  Do you also think it’s your job to save them? What about talking to the pastor or leaders?  What about talking to just one of the party-people first?  While I’m sure you’ve thought of all that, it’s still wise to consider your motives.

See: rebuke usually works best between friendships in which that sort of relationship is already established.  If you haven’t been comfortable enough to rebuke them already, it’s most likely not your place now either.  That does NOT mean you sit idly by while people hurt each other, and of course emergencies exist, but unless they’re punching children and beating up hookers, it could be better to maneuver laterally.

Some of them are your close friends: go at them first.  If that fails, you could talk to one of their friends, or a leader who is in tune with them, or an older brother/sister who is in that circle.  Express your concern.  Do NOT flip the gossip-switch, and if you feel that on either side, cut the convo and get ghost.

3) Be humble. Or you’ll get humbled.

Don’t expect to receive a red carpet when you roll up on them. If you decide to rebuke, be prepared for a total non-response and to humbly accept that you might not be the guy who is part of their change.  If you’re lucky, you might be one step in that process, and even then, not all of them may turn out okay in the end. 

I’m not presuming this is true of you, but if your whole thing is to see results when you talk to them instead of leaving God to empower your words: then you’ll be hanging on their every action in either total frustration or disappointment. Make sure it’s not about you or a misguided sense of righteous-rectifying or to get things off your chest.  It must be FOR them, FOR God.

4) When the opportunity comes, ask questions.

People work much better with questions rather than accusations.  Accusing someone puts them on the defensive and it will suddenly become a semantics nightmare.  Asking questions gets someone to examine their own contradictions, and ideally, instead of defending they will confess. 

You don’t need to get ultra-philosophical or blow smoke up their butthole, but with enough sensitivity you could at least get them to see outside of themselves.  It’s simply dragging the lie into the light.  Eventually, it’s getting them to see the logical end of their situation: “What do you expect to gain from all this at the end?  Where do you think this will take you? How does this play out for you?” 

It’s possible only one or two of them will ask the hard questions of themselves.  Maybe that’s enough.  Even then, you’re only a beacon of change and not the change-agent itself.  Leave the latter to God.  Make sure they know you love them.  Then love them.

It Doesn’t Always Stick: Quit Blaming Yourself Over The Prodigal

The rising star in your church could just as quickly be a crashing fireball that burns out in seconds.

But at some point you need to quit punching yourself in the jaw and pick up your teeth from the tile.

Unless you held a gun at their head, it’s not your fault.

I know you’re mad at them, just as much as you’re mad at yourself. They were the ones who attended everything, who served every time, who called you at midnight when they were in trouble. You texted and emailed and Facebook chatted every day. You prayed over them on your knees at night, hoping God would lead them in incredible ways. You spent more time and money and energy on them than even your own family.

All for what? For them to cut you off like you never existed.

You could’ve done more, probably. There’s guilt about how you lashed out, how you could’ve made the church more cool, how you could’ve called more, wrote more, spent more.

But he’s gone. She left. You can leave the ninety-nine to get the one, but after all: there’s still ninety-nine.

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Leaving Church?

With all the surveys and research and anecdotes about people leaving the church, I wonder if something else is happening.

I wonder if stronger churches are thinning out the nominal, non-committed, window-shopping church-hoppers.  Maybe visitors are facing a rebirth of solid doctrine and unashamed gospel preaching and finally hearing what the Bible is really about.

The name Christian could be going under serious reconstruction. 

This isn’t to diminish those who have been hurt by church or have legitimate concerns.  But Jesus did say small is the gate and only a few will find it.  It wasn’t a conditional statement; he was unequivocal.  Only a few make it.

I love it when churches shoot up in numbers, but part of me also wonders if the church is winning these numbers with fancy hype. It’s possible to build a church without the Holy Spirit, which scares me. But if the Spirit is there, we would expect people to leave too.

Either way, we still need to do better.

 13 “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

— Matthew 7:13-14

3 For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 4 They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. 5 But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.

— 2 Timothy 4:3-5