If you are a pastor, you know how it feels.
It’s the phone call, the appointment, the whispered news. “We’re leaving the church.”
As much as they say “It’s not about you,” it usually feels like it is. It starts as a lump in the pit of your stomach that slowly makes its way up the twists and turns of internal plumbing, until it gets stuck firmly in the back of your throat. You didn’t see it coming and the hurt is commensurate to the level of the relationship. The closer the connection, the more intense the pain.
I watched my Dad and Mom deal with it in churches when I was growing up. Dad externalized, Mom did the opposite. She would hide her hurt behind the duties of raising a family, but I’d see her tears and wonder what was really going on. You didn’t have to wonder with dad. He would sometimes vent his hurt on those who didn’t leave, using thinly veiled references in sermons or conversations. These days I see evidence of the same in hurting pastors' twitters and blog posts. It’s hard to keep communication above the fray when your heart feels like it’s been kicked to the curb.
None of us are immune. In the early days of starting Seacoast, I used to wince when someone asked for an appointment. I’d think to myself, “Was this another ‘core team member’ hanging up their spurs?” It seemed to happen about once a monthm and I’d become a little gun-shy. Even these days I’ll feel that lump from time to time.
Occasionally, when I meet a newcomer who has transferred from a local church, I’ll wonder how much pain our “success” has caused area pastors?
Why do people leave?
- Sometimes people leave because of a misunderstanding. Some of the people who left in the early years thought that Seacoast was going to be different than it was. Some couldn’t understand the vision or wanted it to be more like the mother church or another church they had been comfortable in.
- Some people leave because of an offense. A lady told me once that her family was leaving the church because I had not acknowledged her or her husband in several social settings. Truthfully, I couldn’t recall any of them, but they had left an impression on her, so they left. Often they are offended with others in the church and rather than facing the issue, they just leave.
- Some people leave because the excitement of the new has worn off. Long term relationships are difficult to maintain, whether it be in a marriage, a friendship, or a church relationship. In our bigger, better, faster culture it’s easy to become enamored with the new and shiny rather than put the investment in renewing what seems old and dull.
- Some people leave because it is the sovereign will of God. He has a new assignment, a specific mission, or a better fit somewhere else for this season of life. Almost everyone who leaves chooses door #4, and for some, it may actually be the true motivation.
So, how do you respond?
- Some leaders internalize it—they become paralyzed by the rejection. They risk isolation and distancing themselves from future relationships in order to avoid further pain.
- Some leaders externalize it—they lash out to anyone who will listen. They risk collateral damage as they are processing through their pain.
- Some leaders learn from it—they realize that sometimes people leave. They learn to process it in a healthy way and move forward stronger from the experience.
Does this ring true to you? Have I missed anything so far?