Before I get into this post, I realize I’ve only been in ministry for a little over three years.
So I’m certainly no expert in dealing with betrayal; I don’t have the life/ministry experience behind me to speak from great depth.
But there have been two particular circumstances in which volunteers I put a lot of trust, faith and friendship into walked out the door.
Through that, I talked with personal mentors and spiritual fathers to help me process and move forward, and they certainly do have the decades of ministry behind them to speak from great depth.
Here is what they said that helped me most.
“Pray through it.”
I know this is the obvious thing to say and everyone says it, but that’s because it should always be first on the list, so don’t just gloss over this.
Ask God to help you not have seeds of bitterness.
Pray for peace.
Pray for God to help you not project onto others and lose trust in people who don’t deserve it.
“Keep (always) erring on the side of too much trust.”
No matter how many times this comes back to bite you, lead with trust.
Lack of trust leads to isolation and trying to do everything alone.
And doing everything yourself will lead to burnout.
In the end, you’ll regret distrusting people much more than trusting people.
“Don’t internalize; talk about it.”
Don’t try to deal with feelings of betrayal alone; process it with people you trust and are mature enough to handle it.
Note: Those who aren’t mature enough will end up taking on your offense with the other person, instead of helping you work through it in a healthy way.
For me, the most helpful people to talk with are mentors and friends who aren’t connected to my church at all because they’ll have the most objectivity, and I can speak freely without worrying about word getting back to the wrong people.
When you’ve built a relationship with someone and trusted them with important ministry leadership, and they just walk away, it’s natural for you to be hurt.
But don’t operate out of that hurt in a way that will hurt the other person back.
Instead, extend grace to them, no matter how difficult.
Let them know you still care about them and that there’s always a way forward.
Of course, you still need to be responsible.
If they come back, welcome them like the father in the parable of The Prodigal Son.
But also realize there needs to be a process for being restored; they can’t simply walk back into what they were doing before.
“Realize it’s (probably) not your fault, but you can still learn from it.”
Unless MOST of your volunteers are CONSISTENTLY walking away, the issue is probably not with you.
I check myself by asking this question: “Have I ever treated this person in an ungodly way on purpose? Did I ever treat them in an ungodly way by accident? If so, did I apologize?”
I’ll also ask a one or two (trustworthy) people around me this question to make sure I’m not lacking self-awareness.
If the answers are “No,” “Yes/No,” and “Yes;” then I’m not going to blame myself, even if the person leaving tries to put it on me.
That’s not to say I won’t try to learn from each experience.
I’ll explore things like:
How could I have been more sensitive to the early warning signs?
How can I create more opportunities and spaces for those I lead to be honest if they’re feeling burnt out or going through something difficult in the future?
How can I best support this person in spite of my feelings of hurt?
To reiterate, this isn’t my advice; it’s advice I’ve gotten from wise men with decades of experience.
And it’s what has really helped me walk through the couple times I’ve felt really betrayed!
This article originally appeared here.