"My dear friends, if you know people who have wandered away from God's truth, don't write them off. Go after them. Get them back and you will have rescued precious lives from destruction and prevented an epidemic of wandering away from God" (James 5:19-20, Message).
Let's Go After the Millions Who Have Lost Their Faith
Q. How can I help my friend who has left church and seems to doubt everything he or she used to believe about God, the Bible, and the Christian faith?
A. Since the publication of my new book, If God Disappears: 9 Faith Wreckers and What to Do about Them (SaltRiver, Tyndale House Publishers), I've heard this question a lot.
Here's how to go after your friend in the name of Jesus Christ...
First, love your friend unconditionally.
Second, invite your friend to tell his or her story. When they do, just listen. Don't ask questions. Don't interrupt at all, except to quickly affirm that you're actively listening.
Third, be unshockable. Truth be told, we've all broken the Ten Commandments, at least in our heart. Confession is good for the soul, so let your friend just talk. Don't react to anything he or she says, no matter how ugly or angry. They're not angry at you, even if it sounds that way.
Fourth, after your friend has finished talking, remain quiet. Keep listening. While on business in Orlando I met a man who poured out his heart to me. When he was done, I kept looking into his angry, deeply hurt eyes and didn't say anything. After a minute he finally told me, "All I needed was hope and mercy." What a profoundly sad statement. But if I had started talking, I never would have heard what he needed.
Fifth, once your friend tells you what he or she needs, clarify that list. Make sure you both agree on what was or is needed.
Sixth, don't promise to meet your friend's needs. Often they want to know "Why?" You don't know. Don't even try to guess. Speculation will only ruin your credibility.
Seventh, if you and your friend have a mutual friend who has a strong faith in God, explore the possibility of inviting that mutual friend to join you at some point in the future. If your friend can share his or her story with a second person, it's often helpful. That mutual friend may be a pastor, a professor, a psychologist, or another gifted Christian leader. Or that mutual friend may be an "ordinary" but wise individual you both know you can trust.
Eighth, ask your friend if you can pray for them. If they're in agreement, pray right then. Then remind them from time to time that you're still praying for them. Prayer invites God back into the picture.
Ninth, at the right time invite your friend to read the Bible with you. Read one of the four Gospels together. As you read, pray that your friend will fall in love with Jesus again.
Finally, stay in touch with your friend no matter what. Your friendship can't be contingent on whether or not your friend comes back to faith in God. That's up to God, not you. You may have to hang in there for years before your friend re-embraces faith. No problem. Never get up on your friendship. True, some will walk away. But never let it be said that you walked away.