Of all of the topics pastors have asked me to write on, this one has come up a lot lately. Now let me say: I write this blog from a very full heart and a very good place.
This month, Anne and I celebrated completing 8 years at Kfirst. We are in a great season in our church community. I’m a pastor who LOVES my job. So, in essence, this blog is not the ranting of a wounded leader but the ramblings of a pastor who loves the Church (not just Kfirst). My heart is for the Kingdom of God. I serve Christ and desire for people to find and follow Him.
But I often find myself fielding calls from a pastors about those who have left the church community they lead. A vast majority of the time, it’s a humble voice on the other end. He/she isn’t spewing hate or rage. The pastor is simple looking for introspective answers to what may have caused the disconnect and/or what personal changes may need to take place. Honestly, I love that type of heart. As the scriptures say,
“God opposes the proud but favors the humble.” – James 4:6
As I say so often to them and to those who have left a church: Sometimes there isn’t a “fit” and I’m okay with that.
It’s not a generational thing nor it is always that a bad event occurred to drive someone away. Sometimes it happens when there is a change in the church community (leadership, vision, atmosphere/style, etc). I’m okay with all of that. It happens. We’ve experienced that here at Kfirst. I was warned by countless pastors that my transition into leadership, over the course of a few years, would solidify people in the community as well as help people feel a release. I was forewarned that it’s a part of church life as the church, as well as myself, continues to grow and gel together.
Again, leaving doesn’t have to be a terrible event. There are a number of those whom have left that I remain friends with and have even hung out with. I interact on social media with quite a few people who see that there is more the “Church” than your “church.” If your version of the body of Christ only includes those you attend a weekly gathering with, you’ve got a shallow and incorrect understanding of the Church.
Don’t get me wrong, challenging things happen. From misunderstandings and offenses to personality conflicts and burnout. And unfortunately, sinful decisions by either leadership or attendees (or both) can drive people to deciding to leave their present church. If you expected the Church to be perfect and to act perfect, you are always going to find someone or something to be disappointed in. But every time you leave, you can take steps of healing or perpetuate the hurt. I’m not trying to justify any hurtful action. I just want to see the Church get healthier. And I think that we ALL can do better with church transitions.
A few months back, I dealt with this from the pastoral perspective as I challenged pastors on how to respond to those leaving the church in the blog, “How Do You Deal With People Leaving the Church?” So I thought I’d approach it from the other perspective: How to leave a church and find another.
Depart in a Christ-glorifying way.
Leaving a church doesn’t have to be dramatic and malicious. You don’t need a “mic drop” moment to make a splash on your way out. Don’t rally people together through texts, phone calls, or small group meetings. There’s no need to blast people, pastors, or churches on social media. Every time I see this happen, my heart breaks. A thread of hate on social media feeds our own self-righteousness and prevents anyone toward moving forward in healing.
If you see the need to leave where you are at, I can understand that, but make sure you leave in the most Christ-glorifying way. You may “feel” justified in some of the above actions, but no glory goes to God from purposely leaving emotional shrapnel stuck in the hearts of those you used to worship with. I love the words of Christ, in regards to those who may have hurt or mistreated you: Love, do good, bless, and pray for them.
Don’t look for or demand “exit interviews.” Stepping away is fine. Maybe if you have “membership” at a church then I think it’s very appropriate to give the pastor a “heads up” on the new direction you are taking. Over the past 8 years, I’ve appreciated simple connections where hugs and prayers were exchanged instead of opinions and preferences; blessing and goodness was given over frustration and offense.
You bring forward what you took away.
While writing this blog, my mind went to how Israel left Egypt. It says in Exodus 12:36, that they “stripped Egypt of their wealth.” 20 chapters later, when they were tired of waiting on their leader, they took what they left Egypt with and made gods to serve. These slaves were set free with a wealth they had never lived with. And they needed to choose how to harness it.
What you left with from the last church, you WILL bring it with you (both good and bad). It’s not a mind-blowing concept but an extremely underestimated fact. In college, the church I attended starting going into a direction that didn’t sit well with me. My dread of going to church far outweighed my passion for church. I tried getting involved, but the more the church shifted, the more I discovered that it wasn’t a “fit.” When I settled at a new church, it shocked me what I carried with me. I realized that, when I left, I brought more with me than I realized. And I could use that to grow, or I can respond like Israel, use what I took to form an idea to follow.
When you leave a church, you leave with the good and the bad. And your decision is simple: Will you grow forward with and properly utilize experiences you received or will you serve the hurt that you walked away with? Nobody else can make that decision but you.
Don’t develop atrophy.
Sitting may feel profitable, but it’s an easy place to get stuck. Even for those who are “burnt out” on volunteering, I recommend rest, but serving is some the best therapy for a burnt out soul.
Before you react, here me out. I’m not asking for a massive commitment to leading or launching a new program. I am speaking out of positioning yourself in a place where you rest can turn to a place of atrophy.
When I went through rotator cuff surgery, I didn’t go back into massive commitments to activities. I went to physical therapy. The trauma I incurred prevented me from doing ANYTHING I did before the injury. But in PT, I did small, subtle movements. And because of my amazing PT and the appropriate amount of time, my shoulder was restored and stronger than ever.
If anyone has faced some hurt and/or burn out, step into a simple place of serving. For example, here at Kfirst we have “First Impressions” ministry. It’s as simple as greeting at a door once a month (or ever two months). Not a huge commitment but vital ministry. And that level of serving mixed with the appropriate amount of time, can restored and strengthen a wounded soul to be stronger than ever.
Root where you land.
Fruit doesn’t come from a plant that doesn’t take root (I’m sure I’ll get a note from a botanist on that one). When you find a church community, go all in and make connections. It may take a few tries and attempts, but take the responsibility to put your roots down.
Far too often we place our “rooting” on the pastor or the congregation. While I’m not relinquishing responsibilities from the leadership and the people, the “reaching” and “connecting” must go both ways. And while the “rooting” is happening, you’ll discover ministry and relational sweet spots. For me, my volunteering and involvement didn’t come without bumps or bruises. I remember wanting to get involved in a few ministries that I loved but were overcrowded with volunteers. But you bloom where you are planted. So I planted myself with some areas of need in that church and, through serving, I found greater connection. Don’t make leaders or people chase you. Go after them and begin developing roots in your new church community.
Leaving a church is more than deciding to attend a different gathering during the week. There is a transition of heart, background, and a positioning for future Kingdom growth. And my challenge to anyone reading this would be to consider the full gambit of what this type of change brings so that you, and those around you, can see the Church become a healthier entity.
If you’re a pastor reading this, I highly recommend “How Do You Deal With People Leaving the Church?” as there proper way for YOU to deal with this.
None of this is easy. But I believe that, together, we can create a stronger Church.
Love you all.
Thanks for letting me ramble…