Mary was well into her eighties when I was asked to make a pastoral visit by the minister of the church I was attached to at the time. She had been attending the same church ever since her parents took her along to be baptised as a baby. It was there that she had met her husband and where they were married.
Faithfully, Mary and her husband had attended services weekly, with their children too when they came along. The family had contributed greatly to church life, not just financially but by supporting many church activities, particularly those intended to provide support for the less well off in the local community and overseas. She was indeed a beautiful lady.
However, as she recounted her life story to me, particularly her church life, a nagging concern started to arise in my mind. This was that Mary was what I call one of the ‘Religious lost’ who actually are fairly common in congregations. This concern was cemented when she told of her awareness that, at her age, she “hadn’t long to go now”, she had tried to live a good life and that “hoped she would go to heaven”.
One of the stages in the Missional Community Process (that is the process of establishing, developing, growing and multiplying) Missional Communities is that of ‘Discipling’.
The ‘Discipleship’ segment must include the essential step of the disciplee actually making a decision to follow Christ, be spiritually ‘Born Again’ as a child of God and becoming a Christian (John 3:3). Otherwise they end up like Mary.
In the Unbounded Church Missional Communities I facilitate or am aware of it is not uncommon to find ‘Mary’. These are often those who have been church attenders for years, even decades, but sensed something missing and no longer, or rarely attend now. They have heard a lot of Sermons and been exposed to a lot of bible teaching in their years of church attendance, and they have often been very involved in church activities, yet they have not taken the essential step of actually transferring from ‘the Kingdom of the World’ to ‘the Kingdom of Light’.
These are what I call the ‘Religious Lost’. They are a tragedy. They are Mary, good and faithful people; faithful to the church and good in the eyes of everyone who knows them, yet never having grasped that it is by Grace, a gift of God, we are saved not by our goodness. (Ephesians 2:8:9). Yet it is the task of those who are disciplers, whether an individual or a group, to lead those they are discipling to understand and grasp God’s saving offer of Salvation by Grace, and Eternal life as a gift. This aspect of discipling is one of the essential functions of a Missional Community.
It was a cold and damp Melbourne winter’s afternoon when I paid another visit to Mary, an afternoon I will never forget. Our relationship had now developed to the point when I felt I could share the gospel with her.
I explained that it was by accepting God’s gift of what Christ had done on the Cross, not by what she had done, her life of good works and faithful church-going, valuable though they were, that she would be saved and have the certainty of eternity with God.
She told me that in all the years of church going she had never understood that, and then said she would like to receive that gift, and as I led her in a prayer to ask God for it, tears started to fall down her face.
It is an essential role of Missional Communities not just to win but to disciple the lost, including the ‘Religious Lost’; of which there are many. Do not be fooled by a record of years of church attendance!
As those tears stated to fall on that winter’s afternoon, a long time ago now, Mary one of the ‘Religious Lost’ entered into God’s Kingdom. She had said that she had ‘not long to go’, and she didn’t, dying a year or so later. But of one thing I am sure, she was lost no longer and her place in heaven was assured.