A couple of years ago, we were going through an amazing season of growth at Transformation Church. We witnessed awesome baptisms, record attendance and, most importantly, many people committing their lives to Jesus. God’s gracious hand was blessing us beyond measure.
With all this exciting news, I was on cloud nine—until I heard that a family that helped start the church had left. Just a week before, they had been serving on ministry teams!
Before I knew it, my cloud-nine experience had all but gone. I felt hurt and angry. I was overwhelmed with disappointment. How could people just up and leave? My wife and I, and others on staff, had poured our lives into them.
Pastors, how do we deal with the hurt and disappointment of people leaving the churches we serve?
I don’t know. I’m still pretty much a rookie at the lead pastor thing, but here are some ways I’m learning to walk through it.
I’m learning that Jesus said he will build his church.
It is Jesus’ job and joy to grow his church, not mine. I plant and water, but God causes the growth.
I’m learning to give myself space to grieve.
It’s OK to be hurt or sad when people leave. We just can’t wallow in the disappointment too long because there are others in the congregation who need us to care, equip, protect and lead them.
I’m learning that some people come to our church and some people go through our church.
I received that advice from my friend and mentor Rick Warren. Our churches play a significant role at different seasons in the lives of God’s people. God imprints some of Transformation Church on them when they leave that I hope will bless the next local church they join.
I’m learning to bless people when they leave, when I’m given the opportunity.
If people give you the opportunity to bless them when they leave, do so! Pray for them to connect at another local body where they can use their gifts for the kingdom. Then it’s not weird when you see them at the grocery store or gym. After all, we’re all on Team Jesus.
I’m learning that God moves people on from our church to create room for other people who can take us to the next level.
Over and over again, God replaces people who move on with people who take our church to greater degrees of ministry effectiveness. I’m finding that what I thought was a disappointment was actually God’s appointment that advanced the work of our local church.
And pastor, I’m learning that loving wholeheartedly means that I will get hurt.
If I stop loving people because I’m afraid I’ll get hurt if (or when) they leave, I’ll stop living and leading. The life of a pastor is to love and feed God’s sheep. And sometimes sheep bite. Every wound is a reminder that God’s grace is sufficient.
What lessons have you learned when people have left your church?
Marinate on that.