Friday, February 20, 2009

Leaving Gracefully

As a pastor, it always hurt when someone decided to leave the church. Even when they assured me that it was nothing "personal," I never seemed to have the ability to receive it that way. And of course, there were those times when it was truly "personal." Those encounters usually left me second-guessing myself and in a crisis of confidence for weeks. At the same time, I know it is a part of church life in this present reality. There will be times when someone decides that the best thing for them is to find another place to worship, connect, and serve. It may be a matter of style or personality, or it might be a different vision or understanding of what is needed. Whatever the reason, it happens. And despite the hurt I felt as a pastor, let me say this: I did come to appreciate those who knew how to leave gracefully.

Given a choice between the person who leaves and the one who stays just to be a pain in the rear end, determined to win at all costs, I have to choose the one who leaves. I can appreciate those who are more concerned about the welfare of the church than they are about winning the battle.

Given a choice between the person who disappears without warning and the one who discusses the issues with the pastor before making a decision, I will always take the one who is open and honest. I have to commend those who follow the Biblical directive for handling disagreement and demonstrate the courage and respect to speak with the pastor directly about their issues of concern.

Given a choice between the people who share their reasons for leaving only with those who truly need to know and the ones who broadcast their displeasure to anyone and everyone, I'll take the ones who know when not to speak. Unnecessarily drawing others into our personal issues of complaint will do nothing but spread dissension and disunity, compelling others to take sides.

Given a choice between people who truly leave and move on and those who leave, but continue to try and stir dissension at the church they left, I unquestionably opt for those who know how to let it go. I respect those who recognize that once they leave a church, they are no longer in a position to criticize or try and influence the direction of that church.

Given a choice between people who leave with a spirit of affirmation, love, and blessing, and those who stomp out in anger, bitterness, and the desire for retribution - well, the choice is pretty obvious if we're going to call ourselves followers of Jesus. And yes, it is possible to part ways with a genuine spirit of love, desiring and praying for God's blessing on one another.

I never wanted anyone to leave my church. Okay, there may have been moments when I wished some of them would go away, but in the end, it was a hurtful experience when someone actually left. I also know there will always be times, for a variety of reasons, when it happens. And when it does, all of us need to remember that the way of Jesus is not one of spreading hurt and destruction, but one of love and blessing. So pastor, when they say they are leaving, send them on their way with a genuine prayer for God's blessing. And on the other side, if you believe it is best for you to find another church, please do so with no desire or attempt to hurt and destroy. If you feel you must leave, then leave gracefully.


Heath Countryman said...

How healthy the Church would be if we would all do this...

Ian from England said...

I just read this - as i was searching for some advice about this in considering how we communicate we are leaving a church! We need so much wisdom and may God forgive us and cleanse and change us where we have spoken out of hurt in any way. It's so helpful hearing a pastor's perspective - please pray we do it all GRACEFULLY! Thanks Anon