Ritual Not Relationship (ATP)  

Question: Something I have noticed is there have been people who show up to church regularly, decide to get baptized and then you never see them again. Why do you think that is?  If you’re seriously giving your life to God, you’d think they’d come back wanting to learn more.

You are speaking to every pastor’s heart right there. I cannot tell you how many people over the past decade, have come to us for a time looking for something, then poof, you never see them again. It’s perplexing at times, but common for sure. Let’s dig in!

Romans 1:21 (NIV) says, “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.” All people have been born with an inherent desire to know God. When something is created with purpose, it will always seek to fulfill that purpose. Even in the animal kingdom we can see this. I have heard about horses that are instinctively workhorses. They thrive under the challenge of labor. In some ways, the harder they are pushed, the happier they are, fulfilling what they were designed to be. Humans are no different.

We were all created for God’s purpose, because as we see in Genesis 1, we were created in His image. People who have never heard of God, long for Him. Sometimes in their ignorance they try and make Him up, but they seek to fulfill their purpose. So why would people, once they discover this truth, not stick around? Selfishness, I think, is the best answer. 

Because of sin, humans are self-seeking. Although they know they need God, they still want what they want. I have experienced time and again, people who come until they get what they want or think they need, and then disappear. On the other hand, there are people who will come until the Lord starts dealing with them about changing some things or to sacrifice something, and then they leave. Then there’s the specific instance that you have said, involving religious ritual.

Baptism is one of those things that people, even unchurched people have heard about. I once ran into a man who I knew from my past. This man may have grown up going occasionally to some sort of church, but he knew very little of the things of God. In fact, I only knew him to live completely opposed to religion. What was interesting is something happened that often happens when I run into someone I used to know. In catching up, when I tell them (always to their surprise) that I am a pastor, they always seem to start talking about religion. I usually have to say nothing more than I am a pastor, and whether we are in a store or a coffee shop, I will end up in a long conversation. More about that in a minute. He said to me, “Yeah, I’ve been thinking about being baptized.” You see, this man is getting older, and as many do, started considering eternity. Now he has no idea what baptism is about but like many, he  figures maybe he better, just in case. I offered to get together and talk about it any time and invited him to church, just as I usually do, and as usual have gotten answered with, “Oh yeah, maybe, we’ll see.” 

I have found that I have had similar encounters with many people from my past, many times. I see them, they find out I’m a pastor, they start talking about God, often going into quite a conversation about how much they’ve really been thinking about Him. I have made it a specific point not to push religion on people, though I will gladly engage any interest. Then, more often than not, something even more interesting than that happens. This person, whom I have not seen in years, I will run into many times over the next few weeks. You can even see it in their faces. Sometimes they even verbalize it. “Wow! This doesn’t seem like coincidence!” Honestly, I don’t believe it is. I fully believe God sets it up this way. This is a very similar way to how I came back to God.  

These are divine appointments. Most often, unfortunately, people get more amused by them than anything. And then, as fast as our meetings happen, they end. See people recognize the supernatural, the need for it even, but they get distracted easily. It’s easy many times to make the decision to get baptized. It’s another thing to actually do something with it. They know God’s gift is free, they just ignore the fact that it comes with responsibility. The question I always ask people when I baptize them is this, “Have you made Jesus the Lord of your life?” Though the answer is always yes, the actions don’t always prove it. If I’m completely honest, this applies even to some of those who do still keep coming! If Jesus is your Lord, you will not be. However, at least if people come back I have time to work with them. 

In closing, let me say why I encourage people so much to be faithful to church. There is so much that comes against us and distracts us in life. As believers, we congregate too little. Many Christians remain as only spiritual babies their whole lives, never doing very much for the Lord. They never grow into the fullness of what God has for them, trading His glory for things that will burn away. Sure they will go to Heaven, but without experiencing the true life God sets aside for them. This is why we encourage each other, whether we come to church together, run into someone at the store or coffee shop, or sit and have dinner and fellowship with one another. Hunger for God never disappoints but many people are sadly full on too much of everything else. We can be different, brothers and sisters, we can be examples.

Romans 1:28 (NIV)

Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done.

Be Blessed,

Pastor Jeff