After losing my business, my home, and most of my friends in the 2008 crash, my family and I moved from the small town of Eugene where I’d grown up to take a new job in Seattle. Out of the millions of people living in the area, we knew exactly no one. During this time, I was confused and alone and broken with only my wonderful and supportive wife, Anna, to help me through—who of course was relying largely on my support in return.
Before hitting the interstate, I posted a message that we could use some help unloading our huge, overstuffed Penske on the Mars Hill Church website. We found a group waiting for us when we pulled into the drive of our new home six hours later. That was when I met Ryan and Annie, who—among several others—welcomed us into their community, based on nothing more than random message posted by a stranger on their church website. Ryan and Annie have become pastors to me and my family in the sense that they are friends; and more importantly, we become better followers of Jesus because of their presence in our lives.
For the last four years, we met many other families like Ryan and Annie. In their willingness to call each other to live more like Jesus, the people who made up Mars Hill Church were truly a unique group. In many big churches, Community Groups become a needed source of personal pastoring and mentoring. But Mars Hill is now dissolved and many of the families we’ve known for the last few years are moving on to join other congregations. We’re not just losing our lead pastor. We’re losing all the friends and lay-pastors who have made a difference in our lives.
When Is It Time to Move On?
Like Ryan and Annie, all of us have the opportunity to be a leader to someone. All of us can be a pastor when we guide others in their spiritual growth, even if only by our example. And in the midst of Mars Hill pastors resigning, members and non-members moving on, lay-leaders looking forward to “new seasons” elsewhere, a question occurred to me:
When is it right for a leader to quit a relationship?
As I thought about this question, a passage popped into my mind.
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.” — Jesus, from John 10:11-13
I believe there are good reasons to leave. There are times to walk away from the sheep. There are times when resigning leadership is the only way to get our point across in a broken system. Or when we can no longer affect change and can’t in good conscience continue to support a stubborn leader with our presence. There are times when the Holy Spirit calls us to move on from a friend, or a relationship, or a leadership position for any number of reasons.
But I wonder how often we are too quick to quit.
The Mars Hill story has caused me to reflect on my own nature within the many leadership roles I play in life as a father, boss, co-worker, pastor, friend, spouse, and member of my community. How do I respond during my most testing trials? How do I react when my people are threatened? Or when my friends are at risk of being hurt?
Yes, there are times to leave. But there are also times to fight. Staying with someone in the midst of danger, pain and conflict is perhaps the truest, the most rare, and the most beautiful example of leadership there is.
Ryan and Annie, like our family and many others at Mars Hill Church, are now in the uncomfortable position of being forced to find a new church family. It’s likely we will not end up at the same church as many of our friends. These are the families who welcomed us to our new area when we were at our most vulnerable. They were pastors to us when we needed them and I believe those friendships will remain, even if they change as the season turns.
As leaders, sometimes we are called to quit a relationship. And sometimes we are forced to quit. But the lesson resonating most with me today is a desire to seek a little harder to stick with those God brings into my life, no matter how hard it gets.