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Shepherding Wandering Sheep: An Examination of Elders’ Attitudes Regarding Inactive Christians

Randall Justin Imel
Bachelor of Arts, Heritage Christian University, 1996
Master of Science, Regions University, 1998
Master of Divinity, Regions University, 2004
A Dissertation Submitted to
the Faculty of Regions University
for the Doctor of Ministry Degree in Christian Ministry
January 2007


This study came about as a result of a decline in churches of Christ and the necessity for elders to seek members who have wandered.

The objective of this study was to examine the attitudes of elders in churches of Christ in Lincoln and Kanawha Counties of West Virginia concerning inactive Christians.  An examination is made of the responsibilities of elders toward inactive Christians, reasons Christians become inactive, and practical steps elders can take to restore inactive Christians.

Nine elders participated in interviews that covered their previous experiences with elders and inactive Christians, their present experiences with inactive Christians, and the meaning they make of those experiences.

The results of the study are: the elders in the study are cognizant of their responsibilities toward inactive Christians; they believe they have appropriate communication skills to work with inactive Christians; they do not fear anger’s being expressed by inactive Christians; they do not fear legal action from inactive Christians; and, they desire to know how to work with inactive Christians more effectively.


This work is adoringly dedicated to Tammy LeAnn Imel, the love of my life.  When writing the description of the virtuous woman, King Lemuel could have easily been describing you, Tam.  You have worked diligently that I may obtain this degree – from helping the boys with their homework to making sure I had ample study time.  Now it’s my turn!  Thanks so much.

This work must also be dedicated to my two “buddies,” RJ and Wil.  You two bring more joy to your daddy’s life than words could ever express.  Thank you for the patience you two boys have shown, patience well beyond your years.  Now, “Dr. Daddy” will have even more time to throw a ball, to watch monster trucks, or go to Chuck E. Cheese.

This work must also be dedicated to two wonderful parents, Randy and Cathy.  You provided an environment where Christian values flourished.  You showed faith in all that you did.  You continue to be the best parents a son could wish for.  Thanks for all you mean to me.

This work must also be dedicated to two other parents, Bob and Ann.  You raised a daughter who was everything I always wanted, and for that I am deeply grateful.  You have shown great Christian character from the moment I met you, character which Tammy also exhibits.  Thank you for believing in me.


First, I wish to acknowledge two men who had a vision for Christian education.  Charles Coil founded International Bible College (now Heritage Christian University), where I received my undergraduate degree.  Because of Brother Coil, I learned the text of Scripture not only academically, but I learned the value of helping people understand how the text of Scripture fits their lives.  Dr. Rex A. Turner, Sr., founded Alabama Christian School of Religion (now Regions University), where I have received my graduate and post-graduate education.  Because of Dr. Turner’s vision, I have grown in my academic knowledge of Scripture, but also in my ability to apply that Scripture to my own life and the lives of those who hear me.  Even though they have gone to their reward, they still speak (cf. Heb. 11:4)

I must also acknowledge my family for the sacrifices they have made in making this degree possible.  My wife Tammy has done more than her fair share around the house to make sure I had ample time to devote to my studies.  My two children, RJ and Wil, have put up with Daddy’s reading a book when they wanted him to play.  Those days are over!

I also wish to acknowledge Dr. Leon Estep for his patience and for his wise counsel.  Dr. Estep has always been available by either telephone or e-mail, and I am deeply appreciative.  Drs. Kimberly Estep and James Crabtree have also been available and helped refine this dissertation.  Dr. Dale Bertram helped make sure this project met the rigors of qualitative research.  Dr. Bill Bagents critiqued the proposal and offered invaluable input.  For all their help, I am truly grateful.

I also wish to thank Joyce Williams at the Kanawha County Public Library for her unfailing support.  Joyce has been able to find books and articles no other librarian could find.  She has found books in several states and in a few foreign countries.  Without her, my studies would not have been nearly complete.

I also wish to acknowledge my deep gratitude for the brethren at the Alum Creek Church of Christ.  During the past six years, they have treated me and my family with the utmost love and concern.  I am deeply indebted to this family of believers.

Finally, I wish to thank the elders who participated in this study.  Their willingness to share freely their ideas was a great benefit not only to this study, but also to me personally.  I left each elder feeling more certain about the state of the church as she enters the twenty-first century.  Thanks so much for your help and your inspiration. Copyright © Dr. Justin Imel