Advice for Your Relationship with an Apostate Family Member

I was recently asked for advice by someone whose sister is no longer claiming to be a Christian. This has caused a rift in their relationship, and she wanted to know what I would suggest. I figured I’d offer my thoughts “out loud” in case someone else is asking a similar question.

First, I told her she should begin (if she hasn’t already) to pray for her sister’s salvation. Too often, in apologetic circles, we put too much emphasis on arguments and reason, thinking we could win over our family member if we just had a better apologetic. Don’t get me wrong, knowing apologetics can help, especially if the person is wrestling with an intellectual objection. I’m an apologist, so I’m definitely in favor of being prepared to answer questions and doubts. Many times, though, we might not know exactly what’s going on inside their soul, but God does. Besides, no person comes to faith in Christ apart from the work of the Holy Spirit. So, making prayer a priority helps us gain the right perspective. The work of salvation is the work of God alone.

One of the things I suggested she specifically pray for is that God would bring committed believers into her sister’s life. Often our family members are resistant to our ideas, thoughts, pleas, and arguments simply because we’re their relative. I’ve often seen God bring someone else like a friend or co-worker into a person’s life who becomes a bigger influence than the family member ever could be.

My second piece of advice was to make her relationship with her sister a high priority. This might seem like obvious advice, but for some people, once their friend or family member has abandoned their walk with Christ, that relationship is relegated to second-class status. That’s a mistake, in my opinion. Relationships are a bridge by which we can tell the truth, show compassion, share the gospel, and simply share life together. They also allow us to gain people’s trust so they can become more open with us. Making your relationship with them a high priority will allow you to have a lasting impact in their life.

The third thing I told her was to take an evening and give her sister an opportunity to share what’s going on in her life, especially with regard to her recent spiritual changes. She should be prepared, however, to allow her sister to share the entire time. In other words, don’t plan to respond. Just give her the freedom to honestly tell her story and what’s going on inside her heart and soul without the anticipation that she’ll be answered or argued with. This will make it more likely that she’ll be open and honest, giving you a more accurate picture of her life.

This third piece of advice is helpful for a couple of reasons. First, it will allow her to be more strategic when she prays for her sister. By better understanding what’s going on in her sister’s heart and soul (e.g. inner conflicts, doubts, fears, etc.), she can use that knowledge to ask God for help to intervene in specific ways that are relevant to her sister’s issues. Second, knowing her sister’s concerns will help her be more strategic about how she could intervene in the future, should the opportunity arise. Realize, though, that talking to her about spiritual matters doesn’t have to occur all at once. Too often we think that if we have a chance to share about matters of faith, we must unload everything we know or think. In the case of a sister (or anyone you’re in a long-term relationship with), you usually have plenty of time and opportunities. There will probably be other chances to share additional spiritual thoughts with them.

Don’t forget, as I mentioned in my first piece of advice, that it’s not your job to make people Christian. It’s not your job to convince them of your arguments either. Your job is to be faithful to your role—being an ambassador for Christ. Share the truth in a loving, persuasive, and gracious way, and then leave the results up to God.

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Alan Shlemon

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