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I was reading John 6 the other day and the headline above verse 60 screamed out at me: “Many disciples desert Jesus.”

I wondered how that made him feel. Seriously. Go with me here.

I know he was God. And I know he knew in advance who would be staying and who would be leaving. But I also know he was human like me, capable of human emotions even when he knew the outcome. Like when his friend Lazarus died. He knew that he was going to raise him from the dead, but the shortest verse in the Bible says that “Jesus wept” anyway. He cried. Like I cried when my best friend died in a car wreck. It makes me feel better to know that he was capable of feeling what I feel.

So how did he feel when disciples started bailing?

You get the feeling that these weren’t just faces in the crowd. By this time, the crowds had grown extremely large. He has just finished a miracle of feeding at least 4,000 people. That’s the second time he’d done that one. People were so desperate to see him that they literally chased him across a lake. When some of them misunderstood something he taught, they started grumbling about it. Some of the crowd decided that he was getting a little too full of himself, and they started to leave. The murmuring grew until many of those close to him, his disciples, decided to quit following. They weren’t just faces, and you get the feeling that they didn’t go quietly.

How did he feel? How did he process it?

At that point, he turned to the ones that he is closest to, the Twelve, and he asked, “Are you going to leave, too?” Hit the pause button. What are the emotions of those words? Words are never spoken in a vacuum. There is always texture and feeling and context. What were his? What was he thinking?

Honestly, we don’t know. He’s God, and we are not. But I think we can learn some things from Jesus about a healthy process when people leave.

Be secure in the Father's love.

There was never any doubt in Jesus' mind about whether or not the Father loved him. I’ve got to believe that he knew his worth had nothing to do with how many were at the synagogue this Sabbath as compared to a year ago. The echo of the words of his baptism,“This is my son, and I am really pleased with him,” can’t be underestimated. A friend told me recently that our first thoughts every morning should focus on how much our Father loves us. Everyone else may think you are a jerk, but hey, what difference does it really make if God loves you?

Try to play for an audience of one.

Jesus says in verse 38, “I have come to do the will of God who sent me, not what I want.” There’s a lot of pressure in trying to please everyone. As the crowd grows, there will be more voices clamoring for your attention and potentially becoming offended if you don’t play their hand. One is a much less stressful number.

Learn to process it with your inner circle.

Even Jesus didn’t go at it alone. In response to his question, Peter says, “Where are we going to go? You have the words of life.” You need people like that. “I’ve got your back” type of people. Sure, you need some who will tell you when you’ve got spinach in your teeth, but you also need a few “I’m not going anywhere, boss” types for situations like these. Do you have people like that in your inner circle? Do you have an inner circle?

Trust in God’s sovereignty.

Jesus knew ahead of time who would leave and who would stay. You and I don’t. It would be a great gift to have. It would certainly save time and a lot of grief. You may not know, but God does. And according to Romans 8:28, he’ll weave it into the plan in a way that serves both his and your best interest.

The bottom line: When people leave for whatever reason, God’s got your back. What else do you really need?

Question for pastors: How does Jesus' example help?

Question for church members: Does your pastor know you’ve got his/her back?



Greg is the founding pastor of Seacoast Church, one of the early adopters of the multi-site model. Located in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina. Greg is also a founding board member of the Association of Related Churches (ARC), a church planting network that has given birth to over 200 churches in the last 10 years and the author of a new book, Ir-rev-rend: Christianity Without the Pretense. Faith Without the Façade.

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Ron Ching

commented on Dec 15, 2011

This doesn't deal with the behaviors and attitudes the preacher/pastor is manifesting that cause people to leave, e.g., condescension, lack of love and compassion, arrogance, etc.

Luis Alvarez

commented on Dec 15, 2011

Seriously Pastor - YOU read John 6? And what you got out of it was that "Many disciples deserted Him." Why Pastor did those disciples desert Him? That is the true question. It was their unbelief in the miracle that He was going to do and last for all time! For He without ambiguity states, "Eat my Flesh and drink my Blood." Does that shock you as well? Pastor - you are also included in the "disciples that deserted Him." Protestantism has rejected the plain meaning of the words of Jesus the God-Man almost from the beginning of the rebellion. Just saying. I pray for the day that all of those people who call themselves Christian will sit and eat at the Eucharistic table of the Lord in His Holy Catholic Church. Waiting for you with open arms.

John Williamson

commented on Dec 15, 2011

Greg, thanks for the good words. As one who experiences hurt and confusion even after 33 years of pastoral ministry (you would think I could grow some thicker skin by now!) when people who I have invested in, prayed with, served with hit the door and leave the fellowship of our church, your words have encouraged my heart today. Yes, it is good (but often painful) to have people "who will tell you when you've got spinach in your teeth," and even better when they stand behind you hand you a tooth pick and assure you that they are not going anywhere!

Samuel Young

commented on Dec 15, 2011

I find that people leave for many different reasons. Some of which is because of leadership but then there are those internal church fights that cause people to leave. More often than not, these people end up at another church. The ones that really hurt are the ones that leave God all together. Those are the ones that need our prayers and often reconciliation.

Doran Williams

commented on Dec 15, 2011

Wow. Just what I needed. I have had people leave in the past and one couple has been restored. There is a lot in that chapter but you were not dealing with the whole thing, I got it. You're intent was clear and your presentation was on the mark for me. Thanks.

Jason Bonnicksen

commented on Dec 15, 2011

Just what I needed as well. Isn't it nice to know that we're all in the same boat (with Christ)? Thank you Greg for an excellent article!

Kari Lynn

commented on Dec 15, 2011

Thank you for sharing...I love that God can speak to us through so many different circumstances. I encourage you to keep on pleasing your audience of one :-) I am hanging onto that myself.

Daniel Leavitt

commented on Dec 15, 2011

Great article. I like the "play to an audience of one". We are to please the Lord first by sharing his words from scripture and not man made traditions. Sola Scriptura, amen!

Don Workman

commented on Dec 15, 2011

Over the years when this would happen in our church, after some soul searching and clearing my conscience to make sure I wasn't the reason for them leaving(and what pastor doesn't take it personally??), I had to remind myself of the little statement: "I need to be faithful, and leave it to God to be fruitful." Christ is the One Who is building His church, and I need to be sure I am cooperating with Him in His plan for us. Then turn the page and keep working hard for Him.

Matt Krachunis

commented on Dec 15, 2011

often the comments on these articles are more entertaining than the article, but not in this case! Very encouraged brother! Great stuff!!!

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