I’ve been pastoring for six years, and I’ve been on a church staff for 12. There is something that “we” (I mean staff and pastors) do when someone leaves our church that drives me crazy. I am as guilty as the next guy.
When someone tells us they’re leaving (if we’re lucky), and they give us the reason why they have decided to leave, our defense mechanism kicks in, and we immediately begin to think of reasons why their opinion isn’t credible. It’s like when we got dumped in middle school. On Tuesday we loved Becky, but on Wednesday after she dumped us, we told our friends how miserable we had been for the last few weeks, and how annoying she was. I know I’ve done that with members who have left my church. They are great members, but once I find out they’re leaving, I start making comments like, “Well they haven’t been coming to church much anyway,” or “They’re just takers.”
The truth is we’re hurt. We’re wounded, and we try to convince ourselves we’re better off without them. (Isn’t that what our pastor friends tell us to make us feel better?)
While all of this is going on, we usually write off their critique or reasoning for leaving the church without giving it five minutes of thought or consideration. They may say something like, “It’s not Pentecostal enough” or “The preaching isn’t deep enough,” and our fists are up so quickly, we don’t think for a second they could possibly be right. But what if they are? What if they have been bad members, and have had one foot out the door for a while, but they’re still speaking a truthful critique about the current state of the church? Are we mature enough to be able to learn from someone who is walking away from us? It’s really hard.
Let me be sure to clarify, I am not saying we should let everyone’s words or critiques get to the deep places of our heart, and we should not let someone’s jab walking out the door deter us from what God has called us to do, but I do think there are times, if we will be brave enough to evaluate, and still enough to listen, the Holy Spirit might want to teach us something.
Maybe you are talking about money more than you realize. Maybe its is hard to get to know people in your church.
I have had people leave my church because we weren’t “Pentecostal enough” and I think they were right. I let systems and programs take center stage over a life- giving spirit in our service.
I’ve had people leave my church, because the teaching wasn’t “deep enough,” and I think they were right. Yes, I came back with the typical defensive answer, “I didn’t realize loving your neighbor wasn’t deep enough,” but after the sting of their exit abated, I had to be honest with myself and admit I was guilty of trying to “self-help” too much.
The hardest one for me was when a staff member left and told me they didn’t feel like they were part of a team. I thought of all the times I couldn’t get them onboard with other things the team was doing, and I wanted to write their comments off, but they were right. I wasn’t being a good boss, because I wasn’t working to be better. I needed to lead my team better. If they had never left I probably wouldn’t be the boss and leader I am today. I wish they had never left, but I’m better for it.
Words hurt. People leaving is personal, but they’re not always wrong, and they aren’t always bad people. Sometimes God uses their exit and their parting words to get us back from where we drifted. Don’t be a pleaser, but don’t be a pouter either. Be brave enough to evaluate the areas that are most personal to you.
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