I received this text recently:
A friend told me today that her family has decided to leave the church. She wants to meet with me tomorrow. Any suggestions or recommendations on how to prepare myself to hear her story?
This is one of a few messages I have received recently around this topic.
I thought I would share with you the advice I typically give in this situation.
1. Validate, don’t dispute
This is more difficult than it sounds.
The tough part of validating someone else’s story is often they have “facts” or “perceptions” that you disagree with.
When someone shares with you their perception, the point is not to validate the perception as fact, but to validate their feelings as if the perception were fact.
For example, if someone who was leaving the church came to you and said, “I can’t do it anymore, I’m leaving. I just can’t remain in a church that hoards all their money and buys all their apostles secret yachts.”
Naturally, I would want to respond, “Where are you getting the idea that the church is hoarding money and buying the apostles secret yachts? There is no evidence of this! That’s ridiculous!”
But instead you validate their feelings as if their perception is fact.
“Wow, yes, I can see why you are distraught over this information. How are you thinking of moving forward?”
You are communicating you are a safe person to talk to who will hear them out.
2.Clearly establish your love and support
After someone shares their decision to step away from the gospel, whether you agree with it or not, it is a great opportunity to communicate your unflinching support and love.
“Whatever you decide to do, I’m here and value your friendship. What else has you frustrated?”
3. Explore their needs
One of the most powerful questions that has blessed many of my personal relationships is asking the simple question, “What do you need?”
“I just need you to hear me out and help me figure out the next step.”
“Sure, I can do that for you.”
Asking this question doesn’t mean you have to give them what they need.
You can still hold your own boundaries.
However, asking this question give you the opportunity to know how you can help best.
When we don’t ask this question we can make assumptions of what they need us to do.
“You should read this book about church history, it will clear up your concerns.”
“Let me share my testimony with you about living prophets.”
“Let’s plan a time to go to the temple together.”
All we communicate with these assumed needs is that we are someone who doesn’t understand them, whom they can’t fully trust, and that they should never bring this up to you in the future.
Simply ask, “What do you need?”
4. Give them to Jesus
These are tough conversations that can naturally make us feel sadness and grief that a loved one is stepping away from something we cherish.
This is a chance to show faith in Jesus Christ and mentally giving our loved one’s heart to Jesus as He will continue to reach their heart in fantastic ways even though they are headed down a path you don’t agree with.
When they see they have a friend willing to sit with them in this transition, they will be drawn back to you when they are ready to re-establish their faith (either in the Restored Gospel or not).
They may leave the church, but they can never leave Jesus.
Unfortunately, not all loved ones will reach out to us when they are contemplating leaving the church.
Some might make these decisions on their own and leave quietly.
If this is the case, we would be blessed to reach out to them and simply ask them to share their story.
You can then start at the top of the list and hear them out.
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