A few months ago, a sister in Christ of 18 years ran away from her home, allegedly with an ex-boyfriend. It is unknown where she is now. She, and her family, had been recent converts of some few years. And she had been interested in me. She seemed so innocent about things and so simplistic of mind that I paid her little attention. Had I returned interest in her, I think she wouldn't have left, that she still would be with her family, and still with the church. I don't know. I realize, of course, that I do not have all the facts. There might have been things going on I am not aware of. After all, her family had decided to place membership at a different congregation, and we always had assumed they attended there, but just a few months prior to her disappearance they apparently had stopped attending. I realize now that I had never made a particular effort to stay in touch with her. I know whatever she did was the decision she made. But yet, it brings other things to mind.
Not too long ago, I began studying with a young woman who had come from a dissolving Baptist denomination. She seemed to be making great progress, and I feel certain she understood all the things we talked about. She went away to college, and she agreed that she would want to have Bible studies continued by a member of the Church there. I texted and emailed her often, asking her if she had finally gotten in touch with someone there so I could pass a message to them of what we had talked about. At some point I feel I pushed too hard. She replied in a message that she could not go to the church there because the idea made her "uncomfortable" and, as she coldly said, "I'm busy." I've asked the Lord for forgiveness of my foolishness and for the wisdom to do better in the future, but I fear it will be a long time before she will want to talk about the Bible with me again, if ever.
These two examples contrast the concern that has come to my mind: In a technological age where a connection with a person means something as simple as the press of a few buttons, where is the line drawn between a Christian's responsibility to stay in touch for the spiritual sake of those he knows, and to leave well enough alone? I asked myself this question and couldn't think of any verses that would apply. I was hoping you might know what God's Word has to say on this. I thank you for the great work you do and for whatever help you might be able to supply me here.
Preachers have to learn the limits of their ability to persuade people to live righteously. We spend our lives spreading the Word of God. We "convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching" (II Timothy 4:2), but more people reject the truth than accept it. It is easy to start doubting yourself. Perhaps if I had said this instead, or if only I had known this beforehand, perhaps things would have turned out differently. Yet, the fact remains that we don't know everything about everybody. Each person makes their own choices. The best a preacher can do is make sure they are aware that righteousness is also a choice.
Clearly, from hindsight, the first young woman was not as innocent as you had supposed. You weren't interested in her as a potential wife and she had joined a different congregation. Of course the lines of communication will fade. The fact that her family stopped attending services tells me that sin was taking hold in the family. Usually one of the first signs of sin is a lack of attendance because the person feels he is no longer a part of the congregation because of his sins. Without frequent contact, the person spirals further into sin. Remember, too, that she is 18. Even though her family stopped attending, she could have continued if she wanted to do so. It is sad that she ran off with a man, but you never had control over such. You only heard about the problems after the fact and she didn't come to you for advice. There were no opportunities for you to help.
In the second case, you didn't make any difference in the outcome. If you had taken an inactive part, she still would have not gone to the church. The only thing that happened was that because you pressed, she finally decided to tell you why she wasn't going. Likely she was avoiding mentioning it to you because she didn't want to hurt your feelings. You didn't force her away by encouraging her to go. She decided not to go and got annoyed that she had to admit it.
You can't be everywhere, nor can you stay in constant contact with everyone you have ever met. You do the best you can as each opportunity arises. "Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith" (Galatians 6:10).
I remember one young man whom I trying to help, but he slip out of my hands, so to speak. It wasn't until a year later did I find out that he had been using marijuana. Once it was pointed out, I realized that all the signs were there, I just missed them because I assumed it was a part of his personality. I do wish I had known because I would have taken different steps. But I didn't know. Instead, I used that as an opportunity to learn more about the signs of drug use and what needs to be done in response. I've had several opportunities to put what I learned into practice, some with success and some not, but each time I learn a bit more.
I did get to talk with the young man twice so far since he has disappeared, but he isn't interested in coming back yet. Still, he knows my door is open and I am willing to help him leave drugs if he is ready. That is the best I can do in that situation.
What I'm saying is that you can't undo the past, only learn from it and take those lessons with you into the future. Perhaps later you will meet a young woman and realize that she is much like the girl who ran off. Then you will be able to use the opportunity to perhaps strengthen her faith so the past won't be repeated. Just keep doing the best you can and realize that you will be learning and refining your dealings with people for the rest of your life. That is what comes from experience, the wisdom to know when to apply what to given situation.
Don't take responsibility for other people's poor judgment. Keep moving. While you didn't succeed with one, there are easily ten more out there whom you might reach. "Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest! And he who reaps receives wages, and gathers fruit for eternal life, that both he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together" (John 4:35-36). You have sown some seed in two people's lives. Perhaps someone else will reach them later own when that seed takes root. You might not get to see the effect you made in the lives of each person you come into contact with, but the important part is that while you had the chance you moved them a little closer to God.