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My heart has been increasingly occupied in recent times with a group of people who, I think, have been largely overlooked by the Church. I look back over my years as a Pastor and my sense is that this group - very much larger than we have realised and growing larger every day - has been put in the "too hard basket".

We would prefer to evangelise the lost than make a commitment to reach this group. Maybe that's because we don't (or can't) recognise their existence in our community or explain their absence from our Church. You see, these are the people who used to attend your church and mine. There was a time when these folk used to be faithful, church attending, committed-to-God Christians.

Today they may still live in the district but they have walked away from the Church some years ago and have chosen to not link with any other community of faith. The issues that prompted their decision to have done with "church" as they had known it were rarely theological but often relational.

In some ways they are an enigma, a puzzle we just cannot resolve. They now live a life alienated from the Church but they still believe in the God they once so passionately worshipped and served. For the purposes of this article, I want to call them "enigmatics". Every Church has them...or had them! These are the people who have sworn off ever going to Church again. Something happened during those years of active service that wounded them. The wound was not a mortal wound in the sense that it destroyed their capacity to believe, but it was of such a kind that they never fully recovered from its impact in their lives.

"Something happened...."  But what? Let me suggest some of the issues and attitudes that have brought these people to a place where, in the name of integrity, they can no longer continue playing the game they call "Church".

Some of these enigmatics were the victims of spiritual abuse. They somehow managed to get on the wrong side of the leaders in their Church and were subsequently marginalised and demonized by those same leaders. The way they were treated can only be described as "abusive" and they were unable to take that treatment anymore.

Other enigmatics were deliberately misrepresented and they were powerless to make a response to the half-truths spread by so-called friends and leaders.

Others felt they were ignored and treated as outcasts. No one in the Church took them seriously. Their point of view was treated with disdain. They felt they were "gagged" and that their insights were not worth considering.

Still others had experiences that they could not reconcile with the God whom they had served only to feel let down - even betrayed by God. Rather than pretend, they simply walked away determined never to allow themselves to be hurt like that again.

Their experience/s may have involved the death of a loved one; the death of a wife after a prolonged and cruel disease process....a son who was killed in a car crash....a major financial reversal that had left the family bankrupt. In any or all of these experienced there was an expectation that God would protect and provide. However, these folk found they served a God who did not meet their expectations, a God whom they did not understand.

So the reasons for their decision to walk away are many. Mind you, sometimes these enigmatic people brought some negatives upon themselves. They responded to their circumstances in ways that could be best described as "unwise". I am not taking up their case as though they are without fault. What I do want to challenge is the idea that "the Church" is blameless. I've heard too many stories over the years of people who, in desperation, and because they could not gain a hearing of anyone in their local church, have withdrawn quietly into a shadowy world of struggling faith, wounded hearts and an uncertain future.

The suggestion that a local Church ought to consider these enigmatics as a mission field of a different kind has, in my experience, never been greeted with anything that vaguely resembled enthusiasm! That's where the "too hard basket" comes in handy.

So let me test the waters by raising the subject with you, dear reader! Let me assume for the purposes of exploring the possibility of reaching out to these folk that you are at least open to considering the idea.

Imagine a meeting of your Church leaders being called for the specific purpose of addressing this (radical?) subject. A visiting preacher  some weeks back really opened up this 'can of worms' and challenged the congregation to look at ways of reaching out to these folk. In the aftermath of his departure a number of folk have come to the Leadership and urged them to "do something about this".

Not surprisingly, the too-hard-basket is placed front and centre in the meeting and it offers a quick response and a short meeting!!  But that guest preacher was too effective and his challenge would not accept such a superficial response. Those who initiated this meeting would not accept such a response either.

So, if there was a growing conviction within the local church that this emphasis was from the Lord, the Head of the Church, as He began to impart His own heart for these "enigmatics" (many of whom are still members of His flock), where do we begin to address this challenge?

I have a couple of suggestions to share in part 2 of this article that I hope might stir your heart in  hope and your will to action.


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