What do you say to a parishioner when you find out that he or she is caught up in some sin? I am constantly asking myself this question, as I rehearse conversations in my mind over and over, trying to think of the best thing to say to someone. I wish sometimes I could just shut my brain off for a while (I guess there is a way to do this, but I also have to get up in the morning…). Today as I was thinking through scenarios and conversations, I thought of something very simple and straightforward that a pastor could say in just about any circumstances. It is based on the “Two Ways” of the Didache. It is assumed that the individual is baptized, and a confirmed member of the church, so I don’t think that this is out of bounds, theologically speaking. Here is what you can say:
Look, Mr./Mrs. ________, the way I see it there are two ways that you can go, two paths from which you can choose. The first is the way of the devil, the way of unrepentance, of darkness, sin, and ultimately death. This is the path you are currently on, and if you continue on it, then you will find yourself cast out of the kingdom of God on the last day. (One can add certain applicable Scripture passages here). Consider (Cain/David/pick your OT or NT figure) and the end which came to him. This is what will happen if you continue on this path.
The second is the way of Christ, the way of repentance, of turning from sin, of forgiveness and a free and clear conscience before God. It is the way of life, and those who follow it will rise to everlasting life on the last day. There are many examples in Holy Scripture of those who were in the same position you are, guilty before God, and yet they repented of their sins, trusted in God’s mercy, cast the works of darkness behind them, and found life in God. (use some example from Scripture). This way was opened up by Christ, who suffered and died for your sins, and who even now invites you to put those things behind you and live as a baptized child of God.
Which way sounds the most appealing to you?”
I think that pretty much puts things in perspective. Of course, the way these things are thought out never actually goes the way you plan. But it is good to at least have some plan, something that you want to say to the person(s). What is interesting is that you can apply it to just about any sin/vice. When speaking to a person who refuses to come to church, you can certainly put it to them in that way.
What methods have been most helpful for you other pastors out there?