Most pastors have been there, struggling over the news that someone they love and care about has left the church in a tizzy. It doesn’t matter if the church has a hundred people or ten thousand; it always leaves at least a little sting when they go. This is especially true if they go away mad. We cannot control what people do, but we should attempt to pastor them even on their way out the back door.
Some current realities:
- Unfortunately, we live in a consumer-driven culture. There are a lot of options if they don’t like your church. “Tick me off,” they think, “and I’ll just take my church-business down the road.”
- Too few truly understand the value of connecting and belonging to a local church at a meaningful level. People have a hard time staying the course in marriage these days. Bailing on a church is even easier for many.
- Too often people come and go for the wrong reasons. They might have come to our church for the wrong reasons, and if so, they will probably leave someday for the wrong reasons.
Good reasons to leave a local church:
- Heretical teaching.
- Continued unrepentant sin in the leadership such as moral or financial failure.
- Neurotic, controlling, and unbiblical leadership.
- A major change in the church’s vision, values, doctrinal beliefs, or practices.
Ten important questions to encourage them to ask before they go:
- Are you possibly reacting to something out of fear or a past wound?
- Are you being proud or petty?
- Are you being self-centered?
- Are you being unrealistic in your expectations?
- Do you realize that there’s no such thing as the perfect church or the perfect pastor?
- Are you being divisive?
- Do you realize the ripple effect of your decisions on others?
- Do you have an unhealthy pattern of church-hopping?
- Will it matter to anyone if you leave (i.e. will anyone care)? And if not, why not?
- Do you understand the value of working through hardships and conflict?
What to say and do if they must go:
- It may be hard, but it doesn’t have to be ugly. Let’s commit to loving each other no matter what.
- Please don’t slide out the back door and hope no one notices. Talk to people who are connected to you in a God-honoring way.
- Leave graciously, kindly, and in love. Bless rather than curse. Resist the temptation to concentrate on the warts and wrinkles of the church. You’ll find out, soon enough, that your new church has a few of these too!
- As the pastor, you can lead the way by confessing your sin (own it). Ask God to heal any wounds, and ask for forgiveness of anyone you’ve hurt.
The church is a family of faith. As any family does, we will fail each other from time to time. We will wound and disappoint each other. It should be difficult to go because we’ve lived our lives connected with a group of people whom we love and who love us.
That being said, people will go, but how someone leaves is important. As leaders and pastors, we have one last opportunity to teach those who move on. We have the privilege of speaking into their lives for the benefit of the Kingdom. So speak the truth in love for the sake of His Bride.