I’ve left churches for good and bad reasons. The best reason I’ve left? Moving to a new town. The worst reason I’ve left? Because I was bothered with something and opted not to fully reconcile it. The church was
big gigantic so I figured they wouldn’t need me anyways. And I didn’t make much so I couldn’t give much. Now, pastoring a local church, I’m on the other side of people leaving.
When churches have change—and The Chapel has had quite a few over the past five years—people go. Not lots of people (usually), but some. It could be because of their allegiance to the person who left, because of their disagreement with the decision, because (in the case of a church relocating) they have other churches nearby, because the new person brings too much of a different culture, or a mix of all of those. I’ve seen them all in one way or another.
While I’m often a little zealous in my youthfulness, and could come across as the guy who says “Good riddance!”, I do want to say this: I hurt too. . .
- I hurt because leaving a church usually means a season of bouncing around. Unlike coaches who don’t leave a job before securing another (unless, of course, they are fired for foolishness), people often choose to leave a church before they find another. That means that a whole season of life may go by that gets filled up with other events. It also means that there will more than likely be a round of visiting other congregations before settling—but that may take months (or even years) before committing again to a local body.
- I hurt because it often means something is not completely resolved. This certainly isn’t an airtight case, but when I see friends leaving their churches, I usually also see some kind of unresolved strain. Greater than having more sheep in the fold, I want God glorified, and reconciliation is a large theme in the Bible. When people leave churches, they often leave something undone that I believe would give God glory if they fix (Matt 5:24)—even if they still leave.
- I hurt because I love people. I just got a text message out of the blue from a friend that said “Smile, Googer.” Apparently, I have a reputation of not being the most approachable person—my friend knows that and often reminds me to smile. But I love my congregation, and any movement of people disrupts something within that congregation. I haven’t figured out how to get over that.
- I hurt because I have an ego. You probably weren’t expecting this one. But when someone leaves, I sometimes take it personally. “How on earth could you leave? It can’t possible be the pastor!” I wonder. I sometimes take it as a vote of rejection of me and my ego takes a hit. I hate that reason, but it’s in there.
- I hurt because others hurt. “Weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice” is something I think I’ve heard before (Rom 12:15). So when I hear that people are hurting, I hurt. When I hear of others rejoicing, I rejoice. The weird thing is that, more often than not, those things are happening simultaneously within a church body. While one is hurting, another is rejoicing—and so we both hurt and rejoice at the same time.
There are good and bad reasons people decide to leave a local congregation—more bad than good, it seems. But, by God’s grace, we hurt and—at the same time—keep moving. I look forward to the Day hurting (of any kind) stops.