What do I do if my friend is falling away from Christianity?
The problem at hand is keeping either a fellow brother or sister in Christ from not walking away from a saving faith in Jesus. There are many circumstances that surround this situation and many variables that determine how best to handle it. This article will focus on how to deal with the situation of a friend who has told you that they doubt their Christian faith. Before I get into some helpful insights into how to deal with this, know that this person’s doubt has the potential to knock about your own faith, particularly if they are someone who you respect or has impacted your own Christian faith.
Don’t panic, thank them
A common gut reaction is to panic, but try your best not to. Instead appreciate the great level of trust they must have for you. Let this appreciation lead you into thanking them for their honesty. Thanking them for sharing their struggles will go a long way and will help you create a safe space where they can explain how they got to this point. Many who struggle with their faith do not have the courage to confide in others. Too many people slowly disengage from the church family and then disappear without anyone really being aware of their struggles. Keeping a calm state of mind is important because it is likely that they are asking for your help.
It is your job to love, encourage, listen & pray
After trying your best not to panic, guard yourself by keeping in mind that doubt is a normal part of the Christian life. The Christian life is full of trials and calls for faithful endurance.
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. James 1:2-4
With this in mind, do not condemn them as a non-believer, or judge them for their lack of faith. Get used to the fact that doubt will come either to you or your friends on a regular basis. Be prepared to love them by being by their side for as long as it takes. Do not be tempted to abandon them.
Many who struggle with doubt can begin thinking that their doubt is just unbelief. Know that their doubt will eventually begin manifesting itself into action, as they slowly transition to living as a Christian to living as an unbeliever. We are to continually encourage them to live their lives as a Christian, even if they don’t feel like one anymore. Remind them that their faith journey is a race of endurance and they are not alone.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us. Hebrews 12:1
The majority of Christians normally go through times of doubt because they are sincerly thinking about their faith and are carefully examining it. Listening to them can therefore offer you some great insight to what exactly it is that is causing their doubt. I know and understand how tempting it is to jump in and interrupt them with great words of wisdom, however let them do most of the talking first and then ask for an invitation to reply.
Know that doubt can sometimes not be over quickly. Be patient and be prepared and dedicated to pray for as long as it takes.
It is not your job to rescue or convince
Doing the above is taking on the responsibility to bear this burden with them. Beware of taking on the responsibility of bearing this burden for them. Do not be fooled that is up to you to rescue them and save their faith. If you place this burden completely on your shoulders and your friend does lose their faith, you will naturally feel great loss, but you will also feel unnecessary guilt. You will go back over and over again in your mind, that there might have been something more you could have said or there was something more you could have done. However, unless you deliberately caused them to fall away, you are nowhere near to blame. Being a Christian is first and foremost about having a personal relationship with God. That relationship is then played out in Christian community. And that’s where you come in.
Despite the fact that you must prepare mindfully and carefully for what may arise in conversation from now on, it is not your job to convince them with the perfect answers. Sometimes it is not even your own answer that will convince them. Asking them the simple question ‘What do you still believe in?’ can uncover such powerful truths and realities for them.
Furthermore rely less on your own words and rely primarily on God’s Word. They may not wish to read the Bible, but constantly encourage them to seek out answers from God's Word. By graciously asking if they would like to read the Bible with you, you are reinforcing where they should be seeking the answers to their doubt. The Bible speaks the truth with authority and has power to save and transform lives.
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. Romans 1:1
I wish to end with this encouragement and also warning from Hebrews 3:13.
But exhort one another every day, as long as it called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.
This is a call to endeavour in our relationship with God and to encourage our fellow brothers and sisters to do the same. We are specifically called to not allow the unbelief of a hardened, sinful heart to be the cause of one to fall away from their faith. We are to do our upmost to strengthen each other’s faith through mutual encouragement and we are to be dedicated to this cause until Christ returns.