James A. Cress was the General Conference Ministerial Secretary when he wrote this article.

The condition of those who are lost is not always apparent. Three parables in Luke 15 merit a closer study as several areas of our world field launch an intensive search for former and inactive members.

 Although their individual journeys are unique, those rep - resented by the lost sheep, coin, and son all end up the same: Each of them begins as part of the “saved” and ends up lost. They start out as part of the group and end up all alone.

The sheep wandered off alone. Its journey away was not a bold move or a mad dash; if it had been, the shepherd would have noticed immediately and launched a rescue mis - sion. More likely it was unintentional drifting of such a grad - ual nature that neither the group nor the shepherd (or even the sheep itself) realized it was leaving until it was all alone.

The coin never left the premises. It remained in the gen - eral vicinity of the group and was found right where it had remained. Nevertheless, it was alone. A person can be lonely even in a group of familiar faces!

The son deliberately chose to leave. He put Palestine in his rearview mirror and probably slammed the door as he left. His choice was clear, and his exit was announced. Every - thing but the end result was carefully planned. He did not plan to end up alone!

Alone! Perhaps the worst part of “lostness” is the sepa - ration—from Christ or from His body. Regardless of how people exit our fellowship, far too many are left alone at the very time we should be searching for them. 


These three parables offer helpful insights into what it takes to find those who have ended up alone, regardless of why they left!

Count. The shepherd would never have known that one sheep was missing if he had not counted the others. A careful record of those who are regular in their attendance and who participate in fellowship is essential in determining who is missing or inactive.

Risk. The shepherd risked the safety of the 99 sheep to search for the one that was lost. Somehow I had always pictured the group safely protected within the sheepfold. My perception was that the shepherd ventured out into the wilderness only doing everything possible to assure security and comfort for the group. But the text says the shepherd left the 99 exposed to the dangers of wild places while he sought the lost.

Labor. When the woman determined to find the coin, she went to work! Nothing of value comes without effort. The greater the value, the greater the effort that is demanded. To find her coin, the homemaker stirred up some dust as she cleaned thoroughly. Stirring up dust probably aggravated her allergies. Have you ever noticed that some people are allergic to soul-seeking? We need to cure these allergies.

Wait. God’s timing is not my timing. The parable of the lost son reminds us that God never gives up—and neither should we. At the very point when all seems hopeless, heaven becomes most patient. How can I know what circumstance or event might trigger an awareness of need?

Pray. Prayer—that key in the hand of faith that unlocks heaven’s blessing—is not for the purpose of changing God’s attitude toward the lost. Prayer changes my attitude and my efforts toward the lost as I begin to see them as Jesus sees them. And what a thing to pray for—to view every person’s potentialthrough heaven’s eyes!

Love unconditionally. Jesus does not picture the father as placing any conditions upon his love for his runaway son. Love, acceptance, and forgiveness were always ready. This was what the father also offered the son who remained. In fact, loving those who remain is sometimes the greater challenge.

Welcome. The whole atmosphere was conditioned to embrace the prodigal. The father ran to meet his son. His boy had nothing to prove except that he understood which direction to head when he wanted to go home. Everything expressed warmth and welcome.

Restore. The prodigal son has squandered much with his foolishness, but all was restored when he returned home. The robe, the shoes, and the ring declared his status. The prodi - gal came home expecting to be a servant and discovered that he was a son! He expected little; he received everything!

Rejoice. Throw a party when the lost are found. Invite the crowd and celebrate the good news of resurrection. Dead sons and daughters are alive! Lost souls are saved! All of heaven rejoices when one sinner repents. The least the church can do is sponsor a potluck lunch and a special wor - ship service to welcome the wanderer back. God won’t give us more blessings than we are happy to receive!

Yes, we need to seek even those who may not appear to be lost.

James A. Cress General Conference Ministerial Association Secretary