Over the last 5 years of pastoring in Oakland, many people have walked through the doors of theMOVEMENT Church and many people have walked out. Many people who I extended ministry to and did ministry with are no longer here.
Some people have left for great and godly reasons while others have left for not so great or godly reasons (at least in my opinion). But regardless of the reasons for departure, they all are painful.
I’ve actually come to realize that it’s one of the hardest things about pastoral ministry. After having loved people deeply, invested in them generously, and seen God move in them mightily, it is hard to watch them walk away from your community of faith and pursue what God has for them next.
But with every person whose season ends at our church, I have a choice.
I have a choice in how I will respond to the news. I have a choice in how I will love them for the remainder of the time that they are here. I have a choice in how I will talk about them when they are gone.
Unfortunately, I have not gotten this right as often as I would like to, but, in an effort to improve my ability to love people well as they leave, here are a few practical lessons I’ve learned:
DON’T TAKE IT PERSONAL
Though sometimes people will leave because of you, many times it will be for reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with you! Many times, God really does have something better for them elsewhere. Remember, it is Jesus, ultimately, who we want people to trust in and be tethered to, not us. Be sure that how you handle someone’s departure doesn’t become an obstacle to their future relationship with Christ and the Church.
PASTOR THEM THROUGH THEIR DEPARTURE
If allowed the opportunity, pastor the person leaving on how they can honor God as they go. Pastor them in how they can honor the church as they go. Pastor them by affirming their gifts and contribution while they were with you. Pastor them by lovingly pointing out the ways in which you hope they grow in their next community of faith. Don’t be lazy in your leadership just because they are leaving. Finish well. You will be held accountable.
HONOR THEM PUBLICLY AND PRIVATELY
If the situation permits and if the honor is warranted, publicly honor them for their commitment and service to your community. Honor them before the group of people who was most impacted by their presence. God is honored by honor. But, don’t only speak favorably of them in front of others, speak favorably of them behind closed doors as well. God is dishonored by dishonor. People are watching. From how you handle the situation, you want people to see that your church is not only a safe place to come to, but it is also a safe place to leave from.
Too many times I've made the mistake of putting so much emotional energy into those who have left that I've robbed those who have stayed of healthy leadership. You must press forward. Being emotionally present with the people who aren’t a part of your community will cause you to be spiritually absent from the people who are, and that is a huge disservice to them. God has not called you to people who are no longer called to you. Discern the difference, and love and lead accordingly.
FIND YOUR JOY IN CHRIST
No man, woman, or family should determine how confident you are in carrying out your calling. For too long, my self-worth and level of fulfillment was wrapped up in who was and who was not following me. What I’ve come to realize is that looking to someone in your church to provide for you what only Christ can provide is idolatry of the worst kind. Christ alone. He is our joy. He is our reward. Don’t settle for the crumbs of man’s approval when God’s love is a banquet that you can feast from daily!