Collective Neglect, Individual Indifference

That particular Sabbath was a gorgeous day with golden sunlight falling through the large window above the baptistery. The congregation was electrified with shared joy as the mother and her three teenaged children proclaimed their commitment for Christ through the waters of baptism. After the service, a long line formed to shake the hands of the new members. When I reached the mother, I gave her a big hug, a warm smile, and said: “Welcome to the family!” What a joyful Sabbath indeed!

A few weeks later when up front with the praise team, I noticed that the new family was missing from the congregation. Perhaps someone was sick or maybe they were away visiting relatives. Whatever the reason for their absence, no doubt the pastor or the elder assigned to them would contact the family and make sure everything was all right.

But they did not return the next Sabbath or the next. A couple of months passed, and it dawned on me that I could no longer recall their names. A year went by, and the family whose baptism had been an occasion of great joy had been completely forgotten. I felt a little concerned—or was it a pang of guilt? —But it was the pastor and elders’ job to check on church members. My own life was challenging enough without having to worry about a family to whom I never spoke more than a single sentence. Who am I? My brothers and sisters’ keeper? That is not my job…

Or is it?

Friends, perhaps you can relate to this true story. Maybe you have witnessed new members—whether new converts or new transfers—in your own local church be neglected, marginalized, and forgotten. Then they slip away almost completely unnoticed. Maybe the one who was left, for whatever reason, was you and no one from your local church even reached out.

In the ten years since my own baptism, I have attended a handful of churches across the continental United States, and I feel the need to raise a warning regarding a dangerous mindset that is aiding in our complacent attitudes and neglect of our brothers and sisters in Christ. I am guilty of this abysmal indifference, and this message is a personal reprimand to myself. Are you also guilty?

This perilous mindset, this spiritual trap, is the mistaken belief that nurturing the believers at the local church level is solely the responsibility of the pastor and/or elders. When the Holy Spirit pricks our hearts with the question: “Beloved, where is your brother? Where is your sister? Where is the one that I entrusted to you and this local body of my children?” then we, like Cain, feel the guilt of our actions (or in many cases, our inaction) and defensively respond with: “I know not: Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9)

According to the Scriptures, we are our brother’s keeper. The teachings of Christ on how we are to relate to and treat one another are very clear: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39). The disciple John explains the importance of loving and caring for our brothers and sisters in 1 John 4:7-8. “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.”

So how do we demonstrate this love? The apostle Paul gives practical advice in Romans 15:2, “Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, leading to edification.” The word translated here as edification comes from the Greek word oikodome, which in this context means: “the act of one who promotes another’s growth in Christian wisdom, piety, happiness, holiness.”

Beloved, it is not only the pastor and elders of a church who are responsible for encouraging the spiritual growth of the members, but each of us is likewise responsible. The Lord has placed us in a specific congregation at this exact time for a reason: not only to receive edification from others but to allow the Holy Spirit to work through us in the edification of those around us.

Growing in Christ is a life-long process; it does not end at baptism. The Lord has called you and me to promote the growth of our brothers and sisters in the church. That man or woman who was recently baptized in your church needs to be shown friendship and gentle guidance as they face an entirely new set of challenges now that they have pledged their allegiance to the Lord. The new family that recently moved to the area and is transferring their membership needs to be welcomed and included in church life—not a year or two down the road after suspicious church members feel that they have proven themselves–but today. The widow or widower needs companionship. The young mother-to-be needs encouragement as her military husband is stationed overseas and she, herself, is far away from loved ones.

It does not matter if you are not a pastor, elder, deacon, deaconess, or Sabbath schoolteacher. There are many ways that you can encourage the spiritual growth of others such as, inviting visitors and new members over to your home for a fellowship meal, sending a card or call a church member when you did not see them on Sabbath, sharing devotionals or inspiring Scripture verses through email or Facebook, and starting a small group Bible study. What are some of the ways that the Holy Spirit works through you to edify your fellow church members?

As Adventists, we place great emphasis on the preaching of the Gospel and the three angels’ messages, and rightly so. We often succeed in drawing the seeking children of God into the church by providing answers to their questions with sound Biblical doctrine; my family and I are living testimonies. However, once the people have committed or recommitted their lives to Christ and become one of us, our collective neglect and individual indifference results in too many not receiving the spiritual attention they need, and so they slip away, often unnoticed.

I challenge myself and everyone who reads this article to do more to encourage the growth of our brothers and sisters in Christian wisdom, piety, happiness, and holiness. If we did so now instead of falling into Satan’s trap of “it is not my job” and waiting for someone else to do what the Lord has called each of us to do, what a wonderful, happy, and healing place our local churches would be.

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About Jacquelyn

Jacquelyn Van Sant lives in Mesa, Arizona, with her husband Bradley and their one-year-old son. She works as a web application developer for a large American university and is an active member of the Tempe SDA Church in Tempe, Arizona. In her free time, she enjoys singing, writing, drawing, and hiking. Jacquelyn wrote songs for Christian recording artist Jessica (Fisher) Cyiza's debut album New Life (2011).