Reaching Across Burnt Bridges

Image © Providence Collection from

Image © Providence Collection from

Have you burned any bridges lately? Are you sure? Could you have burned a bridge without being aware of doing it? Next time you’re sitting in church, take a look around. Are there some folks missing? I don’t mean like on-vacation missing, but folks who haven’t been to church for maybe a month or two … or maybe a year or two. Maybe you can’t remember when he (or she) was last at church. You don’t know when he slipped away, but you realize you haven’t seen him in a really long time.

Actually, it’s kind of a sensitive situation, isn’t it? We’re not talking about someone who has never heard the truth before. This is a person who has walked in the truth but has turned away for one reason or another. How do we approach a missing member in a way that will not make the situation worse?

Chances are, the missing member didn’t quit coming because he changed his mind about what the truth was. A person quits attending church not on the basis of logic, but of feelings.

The easiest to trace is a situation in which a member had a disagreement with someone and quit coming to church because either his feelings were hurt or he just felt uncomfortable being around the person with whom he’d had the disagreement. That’s an obvious burnt bridge. Even though it’s more easily seen, it may be very difficult to fix. Hurt feelings that have been left to sit are really hard to soothe.

Sometimes, though, it’s not so much hurt feelings. Sometimes a person has lost the person in the family who kind of gave the family direction, or he just can’t imagine going to church without the person he sat next to for the last however many years. The problem isn’t hurt feelings, but too many feelings.

Maybe, though, there wasn’t one pivotal event that caused this person to quit coming to church. Maybe, as the years have gone by, he started feeling more and more invisible or unimportant. So one week he just stayed home. When nobody called to check, he just figured that nobody missed him. He might as well stay home another week or two. And he’s never been back.

I know what you’re thinking. “What’s your point, so-and-so hasn’t been to church in a while – what’s that got to do with me? I didn’t do anything to him.”

You know what, you may be absolutely right. You may have had nothing to do with that person not coming to church anymore … but does that mean you and I don’t have any obligation to try to bring them back?

“‘What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!” I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance.’” Matthew 15:4-7

It sounds to me like every single one of us is important to God. We spend quite a bit of time talking about the prodigal son – he knew he was lost and found his way back, and that’s fantastic. But sometimes, people can’t find their own way back into the safety of the church. They don’t know how to make that first step. They need our help.

“In the parables of the lost sheep and lost piece of silver, Jesus illustrated heaven’s attitude toward the backslidden—They should be carefully and tenderly led and educated as pupils in school. … They need the tenderest sympathy and the most judicious help; they should be carefully instructed; and should be prayed for and prayed with, watched and guarded with the kindest solicitude. Those who have fallen under temptation and have backslidden from God, need help. This class is represented in the lessons of Christ by the lost sheep. The shepherd left the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and hunted for the one lost sheep until he found it; he then returned with rejoicing, bearing it on his shoulder. Also by the illustration of the woman who searched for the lost piece of silver until she found it, and called together her neighbors to rejoice with her that the lost was found. The connection of heavenly angels with the Christian’s work is here brought clearly to light. There is more joy in the presence of the angels in heaven over one sinner that repents than over ninety and nine just persons who need no repentance. There is joy with the Father and with Christ. All heaven is interested in the salvation of man. He who is instrumental in saving a soul is at liberty to rejoice; for angels of God have witnessed his efforts with the most intense interest, and rejoice with him in his success.” (E.G. White, Testimonies for the Church 4, p263-264.)

You may or may not have heard the story of a man named Lt. Hiroo Onada. On March 10, 1974, Lt. Onada became the last World War II Japanese soldier to surrender. Think about that date for a minute – 1974. Wow!

Lt. Onada was just 22 years old when he was dropped off on the island of Lubang in the Philippines on December 25, 1944. His orders were to “carry on the mission even if Japan surrenders.”

For almost 30 years, people tried to convince him to surrender. They talked to him through loudspeakers, trying to explain that Japan had surrendered and was now an ally of the United States. They dropped leaflets to him letting him know that if he would surrender he could go home to Japan. But he would not surrender.

“Over the years he lived off the land and raided the fields and gardens of local citizens. He was responsible for killing at least 30 nationals during his 29 year personal war. Almost a half million dollars was spent trying to locate and convince him to surrender. 13,000 men were used to try to locate him.
“Finally, on March 10, 1974, almost 30 years after World War II ended, Onada surrendered his rusty sword after receiving a personal command from his former superior officer, who read the terms of the cease-fire order. Onada handed his sword to President Marcos, who pardoned him. The war was over.
“Onada was 22-years-old when left on the island. He returned a prematurely aged man of 52. Onada stated, ‘Nothing pleasant happened in the 29 years in the jungle.’”1

Do you know somebody who is out there in the wilderness, who doesn’t know he (or she) doesn’t have to fight the battle by himself (or herself) anymore? Jesus has won the war so that all of His sheep can be safely in His fold. It’s time to bring all the lost sheep home. It isn’t important why they left or who burned the bridge. What’s important is that we reach out to them and tell them that we love them and want them to come back and that Jesus loves them and died for them.

Time is short – we have lots of work to finish!

  1. “Old Soldiers Never Die.” Newsweek 25 March 1974: 51-52.


Reaching Across Burnt Bridges — 21 Comments

  1. Am so touched by the story of reaching across the bridge. I believe there is someone who is reading this, and I absolutely need more help because am one of the victims. I back slided and am ready to go back to where, I once belonged. Thanx

    • God bless you Peter, I am touched by you more than the story. I can feel even knees becoming stronger! Let's find our way back and return home, where we belong!

  2. Peter, you are always welcome back [home] remember the story of the Prodigal son, he indicated that he had enough of the worldly pleasure and went back home, and his father was more than overjoyed to see and receive him, on the other hand his blood brother was not. We will always find that, but remember that everyone in the church are not as Christ-like as they ought to be and does not exemplify God [we all need a Saviour], so go back, hold on to those who are receptive and trust in God, sing your praises to him, no matter what some may say, study God's word, and he will give you that warmth, joy and comfortable feeling which will enable you to serve him in spirit and in truth once again.

  3. I will be praying for your return and that someone from your "where I once belonged" will contact you. Maybe you could just go back and let God do the mending of the bridge.

  4. I must say in walking across repaired burnt bridges we must grow in Christ. We will be strengthened, advancing to Christian perfection, by strengthening others. "The liberal soul shall be made fat: and he that watereth shall be watered also himself." Proverbs 11:25. Like the waters in the great deep, we will keep in constant circulation, continually flowing back to our Source. I do believe that this as well as genuine love, is the secret to growing in Christ, and repairing burnt bridges.
    God Bless.

  5. Good day Dr. Lopez

    Could you explain to me the difference between the lost sheep, and those who are shaken out of church.

    Thank you
    Deborah Paige

    • Deborah, I'm not sure I know what you mean by shaken out of the church. If what you mean is that the shaken have left the truth because they have been offended, I believe that is no different than a lost sheep. Maybe they left on purpose rather than accidentally, but they still need to be loved and nurtured. They are still separated from Jesus who died for them. Jesus wants them in Heaven and we are the ones who need to demonstrate that.

  6. So grateful for the article. This subject has been on my mind for years. I want to start saving souls by starting with the lost sheep of Israel. Those members that have stopped coming. Many years ago the pastor divided the church into parishes and each elder was responsible for 10 families. We had them over for dinner and called when they were not in church. We were able to stop people from disappearing before they left and had people come back. Please pray for me I am at a new church and would like to start this program again and hope that the pastor and elders will see the importance of gathering the lost sheep first.

    • Gina, I love the idea you mentioned -- an elder who keeps in touch of 10 families. That kind of relationship building is so important and yet so very hard to do. I will pray that it works as well in your new church.

  7. Peter, you have been missed by God. I am sure the Holy Spirit has been calling you to return, don't hesitate. God is waiting for you with open arms. 🙂

  8. God sees everyone precious in his sight. Actually heaven was made for us. What else can we ask for? We just need to open our hearts to Jesus and our journey to heaven is assured.

  9. Burnt bridges are a human convention that what has been done cannot be undone. The only thing keeping us separate from Him is our false notion that the way back has been lost. Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life. The way back to Him has always been open. All that it takes on our part is willingness to let Him back into the heart. Jesus, who called Lazarus back from the grave, can heal any relationship if we permit Him to. It is our own selfish pride that prevents His power from working in our lives.

    "The Savior is waiting to enter your heart
    Why don't you let Him come in?
    There's nothing in this world to keep you apart
    What is your answer to Him?

    Time after time
    He has waited before
    And now He is waiting again
    To see if you are willing
    To open the door
    Oh, how He wants to come in."

    • Ken, I believe that Lilliane's point was that we have a part to play in rebuilding the bridges that those who were formerly with us think they have burned.

      The song you quote is one that needs to have "skin on it." It needs to be demonstrated by flesh-and-blood human beings who are so close to Jesus that they can love as Jesus loves. He gave us the job of seeking the lost sheep as He did. He did not stay in His splendid heaven but came down to this grubby world to save us. In like manner He wants us to leave our comfort zone to bring back those who have wandered from the fold.

      It's a challenge for all of us.

  10. Wow! God is always gracious. I was just in a torn world we have such a college prayer group where most of the members have stopped attending the meetings because of the spirit of gossip and unlovelyness, they feel that they are more comfortable away from the group. This has helped me to prepare a sermon on how to repair the burnt bridge.

  11. Blessings Peter, I too wandered away and returned, apprehensive and fearful of how I might be recieved, and it was nothing as I percieved would happen. I was recieved with open arms, and been a blessing ever since.

  12. This is a thoughtful article which has really strengthen me but I want to know how do we approach a member who has been disfellowshiped or one who has been sanctioned from the church due to some behavior or circumstances, is it the same approach? Some members continue to come to church despite such situations but others stay away what do we do with such brethren?

  13. I thank God for the lesson of this quarter. I now understand what evangelism and witnessing mean. God is gloried by faithful reporting. Reclaiming former members is a special ministry.

  14. Praise God for Peter and others like him who are being moved by the Holy Spirit to get back into the Good Ship Zion. Having said that, it's my opinion that we have a steadily growing number of members who are infected by the "itching ear" syndrome--that is, they are indeed leaving the church because they no longer believe the truth as taught by the SDA Church. We so often think folk leave the church because of a hurt, etc. and that is often true. But what about all the former SDA pastors who are "out there" leading the sheep astray. We don't so often hear about that.


Please leave a comment long enough to say something significant and considerably shorter than the original post. First and last name required.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *