The topic of leaving a church can be taboo. We, I included, tend to run wild with our assumptions of someone’s leaving. Sometimes, it can seem easy for people to just get up and leave that it feels so personal. The members who remain think, “why aren’t we good enough for you?”
Frankly, I’ve struggled to know how to talk about it. I’ve recently left my church and it’s been a very difficult experience. I’m overwhelmed with gratefulness for what my church has been for me. I don’t know that I’ve met a people with more integrity and commitment to one another. I will say, I’m blessed to be leaving on good terms. I’ve discovered that deciding when and how to tell people you’re considering another church can take courage. When is the right time? What are the right reasons to go? How do you be cognizant of the feelings of your church community?
Why do people go?
Sometimes people leave because of specific preferences they’re looking for, such as member demographics, service length and structure, and so on.
Sometimes people leave because they don’t feel they connect with other congregation members.
Sometimes people leave merely because they’re moving geographically.
Sometimes people leave due to theology differences too large to get past.
For me, it happens to be the latter.
I’ve wrestled for some time now what constitutes someone’s leaving. Truly, there’s no one right mix of reasons to make it any easier, but I’ve come to believe we cannot choose for someone what we think constitutes their leaving. We make it so complicated and honestly, we can be pretty judgmental. We ask, “are they leaving for a legitimate reason?”
What should I do as a leader when a member goes elsewhere?
It’s tough to see someone you’ve invested time in choose to go elsewhere. It can be tricky as a leader to not let the offense take over when someone who is part of your ministry decides to go. I’ve personally been blessed to have incredibly supportive leaders respond well to my leaving and openly support my next endeavor.
As leaders, we focus on bringing out the best in our members and building them up, and sometimes, that member ends up leaving your ministry. Despite the emotional challenge that may face you, it’s vital that you bless them and, despite how you feel, tell them you are proud of them, and that you support them wherever they go next. Even though it’s hard, thank them for all they’ve done, and tell them you are still there for them. That word of encouragement you can pass on could mean more to them than you know.
Lastly, a reminder to all church members
Let’s remember, we’re on the same team. We’re all God’s kids doing our best to love one another. In the moments we should choose to let go, we are called to wish someone well. Better yet, pray for them and thank them for all they contributed to our church community. I’m proposing we choose to honor one another.
Now, am I saying it should be easy? Or you shouldn’t be sad? Of course not. It’s hard when you won’t be serving alongside each other at church or seeing each other regularly.
In church, we can become like family. It’s painful and it’s okay to acknowledge the difference that may come in relationship.
Nevertheless, let’s vow to be better.
Let’s do our best to stay in touch and keep friends. Reach out, ask how they’re doing, seek them out, hear them out, and above all else, make sure all that is said is in love.
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